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Durban-based Ceramic Anilox Engravers has become a key anilox transfer technology player in the flexographic industry. As the company celebrates its 20th anniversary, Malissa Spies tracks its history and future plans. Photography: Dean Demos.
FROM humble beginnings in a shed in Witbank (Gauteng), Ceramic Anilox Engravers (CAE) now occupies a 3 500m2, ISO 9001-accredited facility in Redhill (KZN). This family-owned and operated business has grown from three to 25 staff members and become a well-established and trusted name among South African printers for manufacturing and refurbishing high-quality anilox rolls.
Seated at the boardroom table that’s been part of the company’s assets since inception in 1998, founder and MD, Tony Rich, proudly recalls how his idea of creating a ‘one-stop’ proudly South African facility for the local printing industry has become a reality.
Today, CAE produces a wide variety of anilox technologies, ranging from mechanically-engraved to ceramic anilox rolls and sleeves, and lightweight anilox rolls for the narrow-web labelling and flexible packaging markets.
The company also offers a growing number of ancillary products and services, including ultrasonic anilox cleaning and related chemicals.
Out with the old
‘In the beginning, my vision for CAE was to reduce South Africa’s dependence on imported technology and to increase the country’s export potential,’ Tony explains. ‘Today, we pride ourselves on our ability to provide the industry with top-quality products that compete on a global scale.’
Reminiscing about CAE’s establishment and subsequent industry developments, he remarks: ‘After two decades, we’re replacing all our old equipment with state-of-the-art models.
Although older machinery, such as our first-ever laser – a five-metre ZED Instruments model commissioned in December 1999 – is still working, we’re focusing on radically improving production efficiencies and results.’
And while touring the facility, we spot this laser right next to younger-generation models from the Applied Laser Engineering (ALE) Meridian Hercules range.
Back to basics
Tony Rich’s two sons, Paul and Neil, have always been involved in the business, even if initially it was just cleaning the production facility! Today, Paul is technical director and Neil is operations director.
Browsing through photos from 1999, one of a much younger Paul, working on the ZED Instruments laser, catches my eye.
According to Paul, CAE utilises the very latest world-leading anilox engraving and coating technologies, offering a wide range of technology options. ‘In certain areas, we’re even running ahead of international trends, thanks to our specialised coating methods,’ he asserts.
And brother, Neil, remarks that CAE is moving back to this core business – the development, production and supply of advanced anilox transfer technologies – because that’s where the team’s expertise lie.
In Tony’s view, there’s still a gap in the market for locally-produced anilox rolls.
‘We have all the latest equipment to support the local printing market. By producing these locally, we help reduce commercial, label and flexible packaging printers’ lead times on imported anilox rolls,’ he argues.
The future is now
The Rich brothers believe that CAE’s new-generation laser-engraved anilox transfer and coating technologies are what sets the company apart from competitors.
‘This includes a bold revolution in advanced cell geometry that’s taking flexographic printing to new levels,’ Paul enthuses.
CAE’s HD MBT system from ALE – the first of its kind in the country and one of only a few worldwide – produces high-definition standard anilox cell geometries from 60 to 2 000lpi, and creates an assortment of custom cell engraving designs.
This HDLE (high-definition laser engraving) features a 500W fibre laser with the latest multibeam set-up for anilox engraving, micro anilox displacement, accurate pulse height and frequency control, and specialised software called Custom Cell Design.
‘The Cobra HDLE anilox transfer technology has been designed with an advanced open cell technology,’ Paul says. ‘We refer to it as Cobra due to its snake-like shape and configuration that allows for high-density coverage while still accommodating finer screen printing.’
This is complemented by specially developed new-age coating technologies for CAE’s anilox transfer systems. These are applied via P-Coat thermal coating equipment, allowing for optimum energy transfer and precision.
Coating technology is one of the most critical aspects to producing unsurpassed quality levels. ‘We’re South Africa’s leading thermal coating expert and our P-Coat system produces two specialised coating technologies – the Pegasus Plus and Black Pearl HD – used extensively in the production of our yCell, xCell and eCell anilox transfer technologies,’ Neil explains.
CAE is also able to satisfy printers’ requests for an anilox that can produce a high-density, low-viscosity opaque white on various films.
‘A good-quality white makes a substantial difference to final print results; and our eCell for white has helped many customers meet this requirement with their preferred ink suppliers,’ Tony maintains.
Because its advanced anilox transfer technology has been refined and developed using a combination of HDLE techniques, Tony confirms, the eCell is the company’s best-seller.
‘Offering all these related products and services has enabled us to help printers around the world,’ Tony adds.
Proudly South African
‘Innovation is a core part of our culture and we’ll continue offering more than our customers expect, whether they’re in South Africa, the rest of Africa, the Middle East, Europe or the US,’ reiterates Paul.
In Tony’s opinion, CAE has achieved these milestones because of the team’s passion for continuously thinking out of the box and opportunities grasped by becoming a proudly South African company, creating cost-savings and quality enhancements for the local and global printing industry.
‘We’re proud to be the first to make huge capital equipment and technology investments that bring advanced anilox engraving solutions to the South African printing market. Furthermore, we’re the first local company to develop and design new anilox technology that’s been adopted on the global stage,’ Tony avers.
‘We’re here to stay and service printers’ needs for many decades to come!’ he concludes.