Representing a whopping US$65-million investment, the ultra-modern plant is the first BOPP manufacturing site built by SRF Flexipak – part of SRF Group (formerly Shri Ram Fibres), one of India’s largest and oldest chemical and industrial dynasties.
‘Not surprisingly, our 18-month construction project, completed in November, was closely monitored by local converters, eager to discover our modus operandi,’ comments Prashant Mehra, SRF president and CEO (packaging films business). ‘Our decision to invest in the best BOPP manufacturing operation is a reflection of our faith in South Africa and our commitment to providing Africa’s packaging converters with consistent, high-quality material and service,’ he adds. ‘What we’re unveiling now is phase one of our long-term strategy to establish up to four film lines on the site. We’ll be closely monitoring market drivers to determine future requirements.’
The ergonomically-sound factory includes a spanking-new five-layer coextrusion plant and an imposing 150m-long and 8.7m-wide Brückner BOPP film line, complemented by a top-of-the-range 2.8m Applied Materials metalliser, a Kampf rewinding and slitting hall and a world-class warehouse terminal. Also on site is a central service building, an administration building and canteen – all sized to cater for the proposed expansion to four lines.
Manufacturing operations are carried out by a 160-strong workforce, supported by highly-experienced management and sales teams.
SRF strength and vision
Over the years, SRF’s packaging films business has emerged as a prominent and trusted global player. Primarily engaged in manufacturing BOPET (biaxially oriented polyethylene terephthalate) films, priority is given to creating films that create safe and environmentally-friendly packaging.
In 1995, SRF launched its first 3.2m-wide wide PET production line in India, producing both thin and thick PET films from 8µm to150µm, with a capacity of 5 500 tons/annum.
Since then, 8.2m and 8.7m-wide lines have been added, propelling SRF into second place in thin PET film manufacturer in India, with a capacity of 60 000 tons/annum. This is fully supported by backward integration into PET resin manufacturing. Additionally, in mid-2013, as part of SRF’s global growth strategy, a fourth BOPET line was commissioned in Thailand.
Now, having crafted a significant global presence in the packaging films arena, the focus is on relatively untapped markets such as central and southern Africa, ranking among the five fastest-growing regions for flexible film consumption.
‘As African economies grow, and as transport and distribution infrastructures improve, more and more multinational brand owners are recognising the potential for packaged food production in Africa. In turn, they’re asking packaging converters to deliver sophisticated flexible packaging solutions that offer excellent barrier properties for extended shelf life and are easy to transport,’ remarks Grant Page, SRF Flexipak’s country head.
With its first-world infrastructure and stable economy, South Africa is the perfect base for SRF to implement its African growth strategy. Local BOPP film demand alone sits at 31 000 tons/annum, with most converters relying on imports.
‘This line has the capacity to extrude 80 tons/day, providing local and export markets with consistent quality, high-clarity film, produced using the world’s foremost equipment and processes,’ declares Grant.
Full-time production commenced in late November and, he adds, has run smoothly since day one: ‘From the very first mill roll, the 8.7m-wide line has been producing high-quality five-layer plain and coextruded films between 15µm and 40µm – in line with local converter demand.’
Built for efficiency
According to Grant, every detail of the Cato Ridge factory was painstakingly designed according to SRF’s tried-and-tested global manufacturing model.
‘In line with the tagline, “We always find a better way”, SRF has established a production site that’s both efficient and environmentally friendly,’ he remarks.
There’s no denying that, the Brückner line makes for an impressive sight, but one needs to examine the plant in its entirety to fully appreciate the extent of expertise and attention to detail that delivers a truly world-class operation.
From resin loading at the silo to shipping finished goods, Cato Ridge is a truly contemporary turnkey plant. Since the early days of film construction, Brückner has set the standards in biaxial stretching – building the largest, most flexible and fastest production lines to date – and SRF’s model is the most modern line so far from the German powerhouse.
‘The African packaging industry is developing very positively and, in the flexible packaging arena, specifically BOPP, South Africa leads the way,’ comments Brückner COO, Ludwig Eckart, who was present at the unveiling event.
‘The entire construction project was planned and executed in the most professional manner and the factory is a milestone in South Africa’s packaging industry concerning size, organisation and cleanliness. We’re very proud to have realised this challenging project with SRF and to co-operate with such a competent partner,’ he declares. ‘With the plant now in operation and equipped with our film line, I’m confident SRF Flexipak will be a serious player in BOPP production, specifically speciality films.’
Despite the sheer size of the plant, the production process is relatively straightforward. Five-layer coextruded film is fed via conveyer to the sequential line system where it’s stretched in the machine direction (MD) through a system of rollers. Stretching is achieved by increasing the speeds between groups of rollers. The MD-stretched film then enters the tenter, an oven-like device that uses a chain to grip and stretch the web in a transverse direction on diverting rails.
The fully-stretched film is automatically spliced and wound on jumbo reels brought off the line via an automated conveying system and delivered to the jumbo storage where 60 stations provide a buffer for unslit stock. From here, film is moved to the primary slitter, where it’s slit into intermediate and production rolls. These reels are immediately conveyed to a metalliser and/or secondary slitters for further splicing and prompt dispatch or they’re transferred to the warehouse terminal.
‘Combining the vast process know-how of SRF and Brückner, the BOPP line incorporates a direct fluff recycling system and Brückner’s well-proven TDO heat recovery technology, installed to create considerable energy savings,’ relates Grant Page. ‘Every aspect of the fully-automated process is designed to maximise uptime, yield and raw material efficiency,’ he continues. ‘This ensures flexibility, production stability, fast product changes and, ultimately, superior film quality.’
Other plant design highlights include water run-off to a holding dam, air conditioning along specific sections of the line, a production process with 100% reusable internal waste and a pallet recycling programme.
Overseeing production quality is a professionally-staffed laboratory, featuring cutting-edge testing facilities.
The SRF way
Although South Africa-based SRF Flexipak is a standalone manufacturing site, its production and management team is supported by a formidable global SRF network. ‘Overall, the focus is on providing the highest value to converters, while supporting them throughout the life cycle of their products with a high level of professionalism, confidentiality and transparency,’ Grant asserts.
By upholding the guiding principle of ‘people satisfying customers efficiently’, SRF has adopted a TQM (Total Quality Management) approach, creating a climate of continual improvement to deliver premium-quality products and services to customers and internal stakeholders alike.
TQM cuts across all aspects of SRF’s business, whether product or process design, or in the management of customer relationships. It’s a fact-based management practice that uses systematic methods for resolving plant problems and softer issues of people management. By combining SRF values with tried-and-tested methods, systems and tools, each site continues to improve cycle times and operational efficiencies while reducing waste and minimising its carbon footprint.
Judging by this current investment and future plans, SRF Flexipak looks set to dominate the southern African packaging film market, propelling the SRF Group one step closer to achieving its 2020 aspiration of achieving global leadership.