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Times Media’s acquisition of Ferroprint has resulted in a massive boost for Uniprint’s Labelling & Packaging business. As general manager Leal Wright puts it: ‘We’re now entering the final straight, and we’re set to cross the finishing line with greatly improved growth prospects.’

A merger of this magnitude is no simple matter, but, says Leal, the integration of the two companies was managed through the change control procedures instilled by Uniprint’s ISO certification.

 

The procedure, driven by Lorne Andersen (production & technical manager), included moving equipment from Ferroprint’s premises and preparing the Uniprint site to receive it. ‘This involved all sorts of logistical gymnastics,’ comments Leal with a degree of understatement!

‘A major constraint was electricity,’ adds Lorne. ‘We built an entirely new transformer room but the municipality advised it would take six months to supply electricity. And it did!! But thankfully all is now in place.’

With the move came an opportunity to improve operating procedures, as machines could be grouped together to streamline workflow. This included moving six presses, eight rewinders and the shrink sleeve seamers and inspectors. ‘It was quite an exercise!!’ Lorne remarks.

According to Leal, target dates for the integration have been met. ‘Obviously, certain aspects such as new racking were delayed by the metal workers strike, but we coped with that. One of the biggest challenges was maintaining production while moving the presses – customers still needed deliveries throughout the process. This meant the presses awaiting removal had to keep working, and those transferred had to be back in operation very quickly,’ Leal explains.

Talking of customers, Natalie Ward (commercial manager) takes up the story. ‘We set ourselves a target to maintain the entire Ferroprint customer base, so service levels had to be maintained throughout the amalgamation process. That meant transferring Ferroprint’s customer data to Uniprint’s database. It was a massive task to ensure that customer specs, colour standards, bills of material, and details of dies and anilox rollers were all recorded, while simultaneously tackling on-the-job training and incorporating Ferroprint’s filing system into ours. We couldn’t have achieved this without buy-in from a team of dedicated staff prepared to put in extra hours to ensure customers were properly supplied. It was a huge challenge but after three months we have made good progress.’

Focusing on the effect of the merger on competitiveness and corporate culture, Reuben Glenny (national sales manager) has this to say: ‘Over the last year, Uniprint has experienced above-average growth in a tough economic environment, and this acquisition provides the further critical mass required to remain relevant and competitive. Following the trend in Europe, we’re seeing consolidation in the South African label printing market, and we believe early adaption is critical to future success.

‘Merging two corporate cultures is always a challenge – people are used to different systems, processes and leadership styles,’ Reuben continues. ‘We needed to get the integration process started quickly, so we moved the sales team from Ferroprint to Uniprint even before dismantling any machines. The sooner we could run both businesses on one system the better. As a number of customers are common to both businesses, it was important to find best practice early on.’

While both businesses operated in similar markets, Ferroprint also brought Uniprint some fresh customers in the food and private label markets. ‘Our combined strengths in pressure-sensitive and shrink sleeves will increase our technical capability,’ Reuben adds. ‘At the same time Uniprint has upgraded to 11 colours in offset litho to meet key multinational customers’ demands when manufacturing global brands locally.’

The team is also excited about the Cape Town office that Ferroprint brought to the party. Uniprint has long enjoyed strong representation in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, but needed an office in the Western Cape – a rapidly growing market for Uniprint. Ferroprint’s sales office in Cape Town has meant an additional service for customers in the region.

‘Multinationals are rapidly expanding into new regions and require strategic partners prepared to invest and expand with them. The need for strategic suppliers and partnerships is greater than ever, and Uniprint and Ferroprint’s combined expertise will be put to good use in building a dynamic service offering for all labelling solutions,’ Reuben asserts.

Another complicated exercise took place in the DTP department, where two managers – Asheen Sharatkumar (Uniprint) and Terry Ferrow (Ferroprint) – worked together to ensure control of plates and artwork. The two departments are now operating as one and a central filing system has been established.

‘Ferroprint customers are now benefitting from our workflow systems as well as our CyrelFast platemaking system,’ says Asheen. ‘As we optimise quality, we’ll change some work to offset or digital. The merger has resulted in huge customer interest in both our expanded capacity and wider services and products; and Terry has been freed up to focus on trials, mock-ups and new business presentations. Terry has created a number of imaginative presentations to answer customers’ questions and to illustrate the solutions we offer. These have already translated into new orders,’ Asheen reports.

Speaking on behalf of the finishing teams are Ravi Govender (finishing foreman) and Cello Dladla (team leader). They’re finding it very exciting to see bank upon bank of finishing machines lined up in the factory.

The finishing department now takes in rewinding and quality checking of pressure-sensitive labels, plus seaming and inspection of shrink sleeves. With the combined market mass of the two companies, Uniprint has now become one of South Africa’s largest producers of shrink sleeves.

‘Pharmaceutical packaging also falls under our care and is controlled in a separate, secure area, where work is locked away in specified lockers and waste immediately destroyed,’ Ravi explains. ‘The Medicines Control Council has approved our operating procedures, and labels are individually quality checked by the software on the winders.’

Another strong development is in booklet-type labels. ‘Thanks to changes in pharmaceutical legislation, we expect rapid growth in this type of label format, and we’re more than ready to service this market,’ Ravi insists.

 

Shobana Chunilall (customer service representative) refers to last year’s digital production of the ‘Share a Coke’ labels (PPM February 2014). Phase two of this project is now being implemented with a launch into Central and Southern Africa – including Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana. At the same time, a second phase is being launched in the local market and this will be followed by the East African project covering Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

‘We’re looking at printing in excess of 180-million labels and we’re working closely with Afripack Consumer Flexibles on the project, as we did last year,’ Shobana explains.

But hardware and software aside, a merger of this magnitude is largely about human resources. As Aasha Mehta Bobat (HR director) and Fatima Paruk (HR manager) explain, ‘In any acquisition, taking on new staff is one of the most important considerations and we wanted to ensure that Ferroprint felt welcome. We moved approximately 140 staff across in phases. On arrival, new staff went through a detailed induction programme, in which Uniprint procedures were outlined. It was an opportunity to discuss their concerns so that any issues were managed as sensitively as possible. Overall, the integration has gone smoothly, and that’s no mean feat for two companies that were traditional competitors.’

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