‘WE’RE among Africa’s largest printing houses, specialising in the manufacture of polyethylene films and derivatives, printing and converting of flexible packaging in various forms, and lamination,’ declares Tropic Plastic & Packaging’s MD, Ismail Simjee.
‘We print more than 2 000t/month and extrude over 3 000t/month of high-quality film primarily as a result of our investment in innovation, and our partnerships with great suppliers such as Comexi, Hudson-Sharp and Reifenhäuser, which have similar values to ours,’ he continues. ‘All three have the backing of local representatives, who, as our first point of contact, provide excellent technical service and after-sales support.’
Tropic’s other partners include ink, reprographic services and plate suppliers.
Hi-Tech Inks and Flint Packaging Inks each operates a fully-fledged laboratory and 15 on-site ink technicians ensure that Tropic’s 12 flexographic presses reach their full potential. These services are complemented by Repro Flex and Polyflex, whose satellite operations ensure timely replacement of plates.
In addition to strategic technology and consumable product investments, employees are Tropic’s greatest asset.
Says Ismail: ‘We have a very low staff turnover, most operators have 15 years’ service, allowing them to evolve with customers and technology improvements, and to know how to adapt materials to run more efficiently.
‘Additionally,’ he continues, ‘our management team averages 25 to 35 years’ service, a valuable tool in ensuring our blue-chip customers receive top-class pre- and after-sales service, and technical support at plant level.’
Another important component in the quest for ‘zero-defect production’ and just-in-time customer delivery is the 50-strong quality control team, who conduct checks at the end of each process. Samples are retained for a two- to five-year period allowing packaging to be traced back to inception in case of queries.
Over the past two years, Tropic has invested in three Comexi F2 MB flexographic presses. These eight-colour presses reach speeds up to 400m/min, printing on various substrates.
As part of a long-term commitment to expanding its product portfolio and capacity, as well as ensuring the production of world-class flexible packaging, Tropic has a history of state-of-the-art extrusion technology investments – since 2005 working exclusively with Reifenhäuser Blown Film, based in Worms, Germany.
‘Tropic operates Reifenhäuser’s mono-, three- and five-layer blown film systems to provide the local and export markets with the highest-quality film specifications,’ comments Sascha Skora, Reifenhäuser Blown Film’s senior sales manager. ‘This modern extrusion equipment enables Tropic to downgauge the film while maintaining the same or even better film properties, using recycled polymers in its recipes, accommodating small order sizes and increasing operational flexibility.’
The latest three-layer Evolution line, commissioned at the end of last year, adds an annual capacity of 5 200 tons of high-quality film. This new line features the unique Evo Ultra Cool cooling system to facilitate a high output rate of 550 to 750kg/hour, depending on final application and recipe.
According to Sascha, the line was installed in record time, thanks to the excellent 15-year partnership and teamwork between the companies.
‘It went straight into production a few hours after testing the first bubble, providing a perfect start to 2020,’ he notes.
The Evolution line features universal low-temperature barrier screws – made by Reiloy, a member of the Reifenhäuser group – facilitating consistently high output rates of a wide variety of polymers at perfect melt homogeneity.
Other notable features include a low-pressure, low-volume die head, rigid take-off unit, fully-automatic winder, and Smart software modules. The die head ensures accurate individual and total gauge tolerance, a high output rate and fast job and polymer changes.
The take-off unit is equipped with S-wrap cooling rollers to avoid blocking, even at Durban’s high ambient temperatures; and the winder guarantees perfectly cylindrical film rolls through automatic adjustment of taper tension and pressure settings. Smart software modules – such as gravimetric dosing, profile control, width control and energy registration – in combination with an intuitive HMI, ensure efficient, reliable and economic operation.
In addition, rounding out the partnership, is the motivated and experienced local service team from Sabre Equipment, which supports the installed base with two trained service technicians.
And Tropic is well prepared for the future: Sascha reports a further Reifenhäuser coextrusion system investment is scheduled for later this year.
Tropic’s latest three-layer line features the Evo Ultra Cool cooling system, which facilitates a high blown film output rate of 550 to 750kg/hour, depending on final application and recipe.
In 2019, Tropic installed a Comexi F2 MB central impression flexographic press, its third Comexi within the last two years and its fifth in the last eight years.
Tropic’s relationship with Comexi started in 2011 with the purchase of an FPLUS flexographic press. Its next purchase was a Comexi F2 MP, and its last three acquisitions have been the Comexi F2 MB. This press was chosen because of its operational savings: using 58% less power, 72% less gas and 80% less compressed air than the previous model. Ink consumption is also optimised by enabling quick and intensive cleaning, depending on the aggressiveness of the colour change.
Other notable features include the most advanced electronic systems to achieve the best quality print in up to eight colours at high speeds (up to 400m/min) and printing on different substrates from paper to laminated or unlaminated films. ‘This means almost unlimited possibilities for African brand owners, many of whom export their products and have to compete on the international stage,’ Ismail insists.
Miquel Gironès, Comexi area manager for the region, comments: ‘Our partnership with Tropic is based on mutual trust and allows us to grow together. The sale of five machines means Tropic is happy with every department, from sales to after-sales service, and this is very important to us, especially as our machines always run to maximum capacity! Always being there for our customers is how we do business.’
Ismail Simjee confirms his satisfaction with Comexi’s after-sales service and technical support. ‘The Comexi team continuously pushes the boundaries when it comes to machine performance and efficiency – allowing us to gain a competitive edge in the southern African market,’ he stresses.
Gary Kieswetter, director of Advanced Packaging Technology, local distributor of Comexi and Hudson-Sharp lines, and Tropic Plastic & Packaging MD, Ismail Simjee, have developed a good partnership over a number of years.
Comexi and Hudson-Sharp are represented in South Africa by Cape Town-based Advanced Packaging Technology, whose director, Gary Kieswetter, is very pleased with the confidence Tropic continues to place in both of these market-leading brands. ‘We’ve come a long way with Tropic, which is always among the first converters to invest in the latest technology advances,’ he states.
With Hudson-Sharp’s Apollo wicketing machine, the first sold in the country, Tropic will achieve a maximum output rate of 450 bags/min. Speed-enhancing features include state-of-the-art dynamic servo technology, high-performance motors, a ten-arm configuration and auto-correction.
Weaving wicketing magic
There are 16 Hudson-Sharp bagmaking machines in the factory to meet the needs of the bread, poultry, frozen food and other industries.
During K 2013 in Germany, Hudson-Sharp technicians used an Exxon Mobil/Tropic formulation to determine that Tropic is one of the most efficient wicketing companies in the world – running 22µm film at over 500 cycles/min with minimal waste. According to the technicians, other converters average less than 400 cycles/min.
‘To maximise wicketing efficiency, the production teams ensure they extrude and print well so that the wicketer is fed good quality film at all times,’ Ismail explains. As Exxon Mobil’s largest customer in region, Tropic enjoys a big competitive advantage, with benefits such as global tier-one exclusivity before a product launch. ‘This, alongside on-site technical assistance to tweak blends, has helped us to downgauge films ahead of the rest of the industry,’ Ismail reveals.
The latest wicketer investment, made during K 2019, is a sixth-generation Hudson-Sharp wicketing machine. This will allow Tropic to reduce scrap rates and improve changeover times and accuracy on recurring orders.
According to Gary Kieswetter, the Apollo model’s Industry 4.0 intelligent features are designed to increase converters’ production output and bottom lines. Its Accelerate remote monitoring system provides details of operating status in real-time. It enables management to access reports about uptime and downtime (including insights into occurrences and causes); it also allows access to changeover times and production statistics (per job, shift, day or week) on PCs, tablets or smartphones. Additionally, it collects key downloadable improvement metrics that can be used to guide production decisions.
Operators can call up support pages on the touchscreen menu to access up-to-date instruction manuals, schematics and troubleshooting tools. They can send SMS notifications when requesting help from technicians or other team members.
Another major advantage of the Apollo model is maximised ergonomics. ‘Once the system has recommended the next job to run, the operator confirms the automatic set-up procedure on the intuitive interface control panel,’ Gary explains. ‘These quick changeovers – designed for short-run batch work – are enabled by four features: auto-positioning of all attachments, recipe-based sensors, easy belt-table set-up, and a one-step conveyor.’
Operators can also avoid repetitive strain injury with the wicket automated stack processor, which simplifies the checking of stack quality and the ergonomic unloading of stacks.
The Apollo is available with an end-of-line integrated automation option to provide fully-automated boxing; another option is camera inspection on certain actions, enabling one operator to run two machines.