Exciting things are happening at Alberton Labels. And the company may well have to reconsider its name soon, as it will no longer be a citizen of Alrode. New, larger premises have been secured in Midvaal close to Vereeniging and MD Johan van der Merwe is like the cat that’s cornered the market on cream. ‘The new site will give us and our equipment room to breathe for many years to come,’ he enthuses.
Johan is the fourth generation Van platemaker in the driver’s seat of the company, whose roots were planted 60 years. But, he is quick to point out, he doesn’t really run things. ‘This is a true family business. My wife Alicia is a designer and the accountant. My sister Belinda handles orders and her husband Iain oversees the presses. Gerda, my mum, is our resident workaholic. She’s been a packaging designer for centuries and is always on hand to correct me when I make a mistake. The women run the show. I just do as I’m told. (Johan even has an uncle in the flexo business – Nick, owner of Flexographix).
Johan’s grandfather, Hakkie, wrote the opening chapter when he started Van’s Repro in the 1960s, fresh from KB Polymers. Then dad Andries branched into printing in 1996, setting up an operation in the family garage in Randhart with a one-colour press running two shifts.
Alberton Labels has never been a slave to technology, preferring ‘old school’ with home-manufactured plates for better control and improved turnaround times, and no computer-to-plate facilities. This conservative approach is no deterrent for the many loyal customers who know they can rely on the team to meet their design, repro and label printing needs.
The AZ Compact PA 66-86 platemaker has been slaving away for longer than most can remember and is still turning out perfect plates, and the ECRM Mako 56 imagesetter has also earned its long-service award, says Johan, whose motto seems to be ‘If it ain’t broken, why fix it?’.
Until recently, the print and finishing department relied on seven dependable workhorses including a three-colour Mark Andy 830, one- and two-colour Bobst 160s flexo die-cutter and a Rotoflex VSI 330 slitter/rewinder.
But riding in on Covid-19’s coat tails were enticing opportunities that prompted Johan to venture into glorious technicolour. He contacted the Aengenvoorts from Rotocon, whom he knew only by reputation. ‘Unlike others who hung back during level five lockdown, wary of where things were heading, Rotocon’s attitude was “let’s go for it”,’ Johan elaborates.
Johan settled on a second-hand eight-colour flexographic press to capitalise on new work and eliminate outsourcing.
Rotocon impressed immediately, he adds, even delivering a much-needed flexible die well after business hours one evening and hastily remedying a minor commissioning hiccup.
‘Ask Rotocon for the impossible and the team will deliver it in record time. The Aengenvoorts are great to have in your corner,’ he stresses.
It’s a privilege to work with Johan and his team, states Rotocon’s Patrick Aengenvoort. ‘We worked closely to have the second-hand press moved from Durban to its new home in Johannesburg, where we are happy to learn it’s adding value to Johan’s label and plate divisions.’
In its first day on the job, the machine produced 2-million labels and has been keeping a steady pace since, running now at an average speed of around 38m/min, about a quarter of its capacity, signalling much scope for growth.
With its easy setup, quick changeover capabilities, and improved drying and curing, it has allowed Alberton Labels to improve pricing and shorten lead times.
Building and renovation are underway at the new Midvaal site, where a spacious 1 000m² factory plus 200m² offices will replace the current 450m² facility.
‘More than enough space for a new MPS press,’ says Johan, with a glint in his eye.
This is a man who clearly loves his work. ‘Enjoy what you do,’ he confirms. ‘The rest is sorted.’
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