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Sareltech turns 15

Sareltech is one of Cape Town’s entrepreneurial successes thanks to its engineering service excellence and selected spectrum of wide- and narrow-web flexible packaging technologies.

Back in September 2009, we dubbed Sareltech founder Sarel Oosthuizen ‘Entrepreneur of the Month’ and our confidence was not misplaced. Now Gill Loubser provides an update as the company marks its 15th anniversary.

The Sareltech story started in 2003 when Sarel Oosthuizen bravely took the plunge and branched out on his own with a mission to provide service excellence in electrical and electronics engineering. Fifteen years on, the business has expanded beyond all recognition and today can be hailed as one of Cape Town’s entrepreneurial success stories. It’s a tale that underlines the advantages of remaining focused on customers in a distinct niche market, offering an equally well-defined variety of products and services.

Having rented accommodation in Milnerton in the early years, in 2010 the business moved into its own purpose-designed premises in Prime Business Park, in Cape Town’s Montague Gardens, boasting state-of-the-art electronics and mechanical workshops, plus a mezzanine floor to accommodate administration offices.

‘That move in 2010 doubled our space, which was a good indication of our growth pattern at that time,’ Sarel remarks. ‘And since then we’ve continued to flourish, as relationships with our customers have gone from strength to strength,’ he happily reports.

Sareltech is now in the enviable position of being a preferred supplier to any number of well-known printing and packaging businesses, including Tropic Plastics, DBC Plastics, Constantia Afripack, MCC Paarl, Coastal Labels and Polyoak Packaging,

providing engineering solutions and machinery upgrades.

These customers benefit from quality automation systems that allow increased production, enhanced quality, reliable repeatability and reduced wastage.

As an adjunct to offering engineering services, Sareltech also represents an impressive list of overseas manufacturers, covering a carefully selected spectrum of technologies – with a particular focus on the wide- and narrow-web flexible packaging market.

Initially, products on offer for printing and packaging operations were web-guiding and web-vision systems from BST, surface treatment systems from AFS and Softal, static elimination technology from Fraser, and Gama International’s ink quality control systems.

More recently, Uteco’s gravure and flexographic presses and laminators have joined that already-impressive collection, along with Bandera’s extrusion systems, Doteco’s gravimetric blending technology, Temac’s slitter-rewinders, Praxair’s ceramic anilox rolls, and plate-mounting equipment from Camis.

By continually cementing relationships with such suppliers, Sareltech has been able to bring leading-edge technology to the South African market while providing customers with strong local support.

iPQ-Spectral, developed in tandem with X-Rite, measures colour data in real time using a high-resolution spectral photometer located inline within the press and compares it with specified reference values.

Dynamic quality assurance

First on board, in 2009, and immediately changing Sareltech’s course, was BST (since merged with eltromat to form BST eltromat).

Initially, Sareltech handled sales of BST equipment in the narrow-web sector, but has since taken on the entire local agency for both narrow- and wide-web applications.

However, while flexible packaging converters are an important target market, BST inspection equipment can be used for paper, board and sack converting operations – indeed, as Sarel remarks, ‘anything on a reel’.

The history of BST eltromat International’s modular iPQ-Center system is just one example of the dynamism with which flexible packaging quality assurance (QA) has developed over the decades.

Going back to the beginning, BST Servo-Technik was founded in Germany in 1979 when the company introduced an innovative web-guiding system with infrared edge sensors and its EKR 1 analogue compact controller that allowed webs to be guided through the press with previously unheard-of quality.

Soon, though, printers were no longer satisfied with merely regulating a web’s passage through a press and in the early 1980s BST introduced Rota-speed, a monitoring system developed for running webs. This was followed in 1986 by a mirror drum system, Webscope, and then Videoscope, based on video technology with high-definition cameras and high-quality lenses.

Just a few kilometres away, eltromat was simultaneously working on the development of an inspection system for 100% inspection in security printing. Developed jointly with KBA, it was used on sheetfed presses for inspecting bank notes. At the same time, BST was developing similar systems – for instance, VIDEOCheck that allowed automatic identification of print defects, such as ink splashes, streaks, ink mist, register deviations and colour variations.

With these separate but similar developments from BST and eltromat, QA systems for flexo and gravure printing were undergoing a quantum leap, and at drupa 2012, BST – with its QCenter – presented a modular product that merged QA functions, such as web monitoring, 100% inspection and spectral colour measurement.

Based on these strong foundations, the iPQ-Center was developed following the merger of BST and eltromat in 2014. The iPQ-Center comprised four modules: iPQ-Check for 100% print inspection, iPQ-View for digital web monitoring, iPQ-Spectral for spectral inline colour measurement and iPQ-Workflow, taking complete control of web printing quality.

However, the history of the iPQ-Center continues to be written!

Surface treatment systems – ‘adhesion guaranteed’

It was at drupa 2012 that Sarel secured local representation for AFS and Softal surface treatment systems for paper, plastic, metal and fabric surfaces. Over 50 years of market experience have made Softal and AFS key players. ‘For many of our customers, Softal and AFS systems are the benchmark. We’re very proud of this fact,’ says Sarel.

With its 30-year history, AFS (based in Germany) is a market leader in the production of corona treatment systems and some two-thirds of its output is purchased by world-leading OEMs for integration into their extrusion, printing and lamination systems.

A subsidiary of AFS, Softal Corona & Plasma was founded in Germany in the 1950s during the early days of industrial application of corona technology, which has since become indispensable. Among early pioneers, Softal witnessed advances in this fascinating technology and took an active part in its development.

Although there’s a world of difference between early products and today’s systems, one thing has remained constant: the Softal promise of ‘adhesion guaranteed’. The slogan clearly defines Softal’s goal of providing specific adhesion solutions, with each corona system designed and custom-made to meet the requirements of each customer’s budget, process and material. The numerous hardware and software solutions on offer ensure seamless integration into customer-specific systems and processes.

With an installed base of some 250 BOPP treatment stations and more than 10 000 corona stations manufactured, Softal clearly counts among the industry’s most experienced suppliers.

A revolution in controlling static

Soon after drupa 2012, Sarel added UK-based Fraser Anti-Static to his growing list of overseas principals.

Static electricity can be a major problem for printers, causing waste, slow machine speeds, shocks to operators, unacceptable quality and reduced productivity.

Static eliminators use high voltage (HV) to ionise the air, which in turn supplies ions of the opposite polarity to neutralise the static charge. Traditional static eliminators have an AC-powered external power unit to generate the high voltage, which is then transferred to the ionising bars via a cable. This technology is 70 years old – the first shockless static eliminator was launched by Bill Herbert in the US in 1948 – and nothing much changed for the next 60 years.

However, Fraser Anti-Static was among the first companies to recognise that developments in advanced electronics and the miniaturisation of HV components provided an opportunity to design a bar where high voltage generation was inside the eliminator, removing the need to run HV cables through machinery (often the most vulnerable part of the system), and allowing the use of 24V DC for power – a great benefit to machinery manufacturers.

The first Fraser product to use these new technologies was Jupiter, launched in 2009, and soon recognised as the most powerful long-range static eliminator available.

In 2012, Fraser launched its 3024 bar, the first truly compact 24V DC static elimination bar that quickly became the best-seller in Fraser’s range, widely adopted by major German machinery manufacturers. They brought many benefits including better performance – by having a dedicated emitter for each polarity, ions had a longer life than conventional technology where both polarities are emitted for the same pin.

Other benefits were square wave forms producing more ionisation at a higher voltage than the traditional wave forms of conventional equipment; long-range operation (by slowing the frequency of the emission, the electric field is propelled outwards giving a range up to 1m); remote operation (the 24V DC is simple to turn on and off as the machinery requires; remote monitoring (the status of the operation can be shown by an LED on the bar and is also available as a signal through the PLC); and an improved effective length (the effective length is the same as the overall length).

These benefits made them suitable for countless applications throughout the packaging and plastics industries and 3024 bars also became standard equipment on wide-format UV digital printers – the 24V DC is available in the print carriage, eliminating the need to route a high-voltage cable through the energy chain.

The next major step was to introduce intelligent sensing of static electricity – if for instance the charge in the material is positive, the bar produces more negative ions for a faster, more thorough neutralisation. This can double the performance of the static eliminator.

The three Neos static eliminators add intelligent operation to the many other benefits gained from 24V DC operation.

In 2015, Fraser launched its Neos line of intelligent static eliminators. Available in 12kV, 20kV and 30kV versions, they offer high-performing static elimination and are now used on the highest-speed machines in the flexible packaging and plastics industries, running at speeds up to 1 600 m/min.

At that time, Fraser was also approached by a customer who wanted to convert from traditional AC static eliminators (using external power units and mains electricity) to 24V DC bars. They required three bars on each machine and used nearly 1 000 bars a year! They wanted a 24V DC bar the same size as conventional bars – and at the same cost! This was a major challenge.

The result was the 3014, the most compact 24V DC bar available, measuring 32mm x 20 mm in cross-section. It also offers all of the benefits of this technology, with a cost structure that’s competitive with old technology.

‘We believe the 3014 is the final nail in the coffin for AC static eliminator bars using technology invented in 1948,’ a company spokesman declares. ‘Now all the advantages of 24V DC in terms of performance and control are available at the old price. It’s like buying a Porsche for the price of a Trabant!’ he quips.

Key Italian marques added to the line-up

Moving on to 2017, against a backdrop of record sales of BST eltromat products throughout Southern Africa (the tally for Tubescan installations alone reached an impressive eight during 2016), Sarel Oosthuizen went on to reveal a fresh array of agencies.

‘From being a company that has traditionally focused on sales of ancillary equipment for printing and converting – such as web-inspection and web-guiding systems, surface treatment and static eliminators – we’ve taken a big leap into sales of the big machines themselves,’ Sarel announced with a grin.

It all started in Düsseldorf – first contacts were made at drupa 2016 in May and final negotiations took place at K2016 in October – culminating in Sareltech’s appointment as the South African representative of Uteco Converting, Bandera and Doteco – three technology-leading Italian companies offering highly complementary product lines.

Sarel and his son, Ryno, the latter now firmly acknowledged as Sarel’s operational lieutenant, returned to Cape Town from their Italian sojourn where they’d undertaken orientation and training at all three factories (and incidentally visited the Ferrari Museum in Maranello and taken a test drive in a Ferrari in the snow!).

Anyway, back to business matters, Uteco Converting is among world leaders in the production of flexible packaging printing presses, both flexographic and gravure, and laminating machines.

The range of CI flexo presses includes the well-known Onyx, Crystal, Diamond, Topaz and Quartz presses. At drupa 2016, the spotlight was firmly on the latest concept of Onyx XS (pictured below), suitable for very short runs and offering inline integration of four different processes – EB flexo printing, EB lamination, automatic slitting and automatic unloading of multi-reels.

For gravure printing, the drupa 2016 exhibit included a printing unit of the latest Next 450 press, a multipurpose unit featuring ink consumption management (also on the Onyx XS), colour matching and Uteco’s patented Cube system for ventilation.

Local sales of Uteco presses have been remarkably successful, with the latest installation at DBC Plastics in Durban featuring on page 52 of this issue of PPM

Visiting Uteco's Italian headquarters in 2017 were Sareltech's founder, Sarel Oosthuizen, and heir apparent, his son, Ryno. Behind is a Next 450 gravure press – part of the comprehensive Uteco line-up being marketed by Sareltech in South Africa.

It was contact with Uteco that led to an introduction to Bandera, another Italian company keen to appoint a reliable South African representative for its extensive range of blown film and flat-die extruders.

Operating since 1943, Bandera is among global frontrunners in the supply of extrusion technology. At K2016, converters were ‘wowed’ by Bandera’s latest high-tech five-layer coextrusion blown film line featuring impressive flexibility – suitable for producing both polyolefin and barrier film, equipped with an innovative device specifically designed by Bandera engineers to enhance film quality.

As Sarel related at the time, the Bandera engineers act as pacesetters, developing equipment that offers both specialisation and flexibility. Its SmartFlex and TechnoFlex extruders are good examples, with their ability to manufacture different types of film, maintaining top-level performance and unrivalled quality. A further example is Bandera’s BarrierFlex seven-layer extrusion line, offering top-quality polyolefin film output together with high barrier and lamination film production. Another Italian agency, Doteco, brought local converters an extensive array of gravimetric feeding and automatic gauge control systems such as those found on leading extrusion equipment brands.

Doteco has been operating in the plastics processing industry since 1994, and offers flexibility combined with a talent for rapid updating that’s fundamental to remaining abreast of the sector’s relentless technological evolution. For this reason, Doteco has been chosen as a partner by many leading OEMs.

Ink quality control systems added to the mix

Another key agency was signed in 2017 when products from yet another Italian company, Gama International, joined the growing selection offered by Sareltech.

Founded in 2012, Gama International introduced advanced ink quality control systems to the flexographic and gravure printing sectors. Four years later, causing considerable interest on the company’s stand at drupa 2016 were its latest systems (such as the G33 pictured below) for the control of temperature and viscosity of EB inks, used in the production of flexible packaging.

Advantages are cited as a lower environmental impact, plus the widening of colour stability through ink control and correction.

Also on offer is the company’s GI automatic sleeve storage system that solves the problem of storage of sensitive items, such as gravure cylinders, film and paper reels.

Gama’s products and services are compatible with Uteco, Cerutti, Bobst, Flexotecnica and other gravure and flexo presses.

Italian slitter-rewinders are ‘a win-win combination’

Last year, a series of slitter-rewinders from Italian company, Temac, were added to Sareltech’s armoury.

Founded in 1999, Temac has gained a leading global position in the production of slitter-rewinders, offering both standard and custom-made machines.

‘As Temac’s core values are similar to ours – ensuring customer satisfaction, and offering high-efficiency machines that contribute to reduced energy costs – taking on this agency was a no brainer,’ comments Sarel.

‘These slitter-rewinders are Temac’s answer to growing demand for reliability and productivity, guaranteeing high efficiency and continuous innovation,’ he adds.

Temac slitter-rewinders can work with paper, plastic films, laminates and other materials used in packaging. They’re user friendly and CE approved, operate at high speed, and reduce downtime. ‘Together with the specialised support we can offer converters, this is a win-win combination,’ Sarel contends.

Taking on more of the best

Also last year, there were two more additions to Sareltech’s armoury – Praxair Surface Technologies and Camis. Both companies have caused significant waves in the printing sector.

In 1979, Praxair Surface Technologies produced the world’s first laser-engraved ceramic anilox roll. For more than a quarter century, printers and converters around the world have turned to Praxair for anilox rolls and coatings that fit their applications and offer long service life, reduced downtime and high productivity.

Recently, to help determine the ink-carrying cell volume of anilox rolls, Praxair developed the first anilox measurement method ever produced, the Urmi system, launched at last year’s Labelexpo Europe. Based on a footprint obtained by a specific quantity of special ink spread and metered over the anilox, this system relates the ink volume to the footprint area, determining the unit measure of the anilox. The ink is metered by a pharmaceutical pipette, and then transferred over a paper sheet and the area of the footprint obtained measured by a polar planimeter.

The Urmi app allows volume measurement of ceramic anilox rolls through an application directly on a smartphone; and is able to measure the footprint area and calculate the volume, giving immediate and useful information that’s easily shared with the entire printing team through the common messaging services.

Plate-mounting made easy

Assisted by Eurograv in the UK (global distributor for Camis), Sarel decided to take on the Camis agency for South Africa, bringing world-class plate-mounting machinery to this country.

According to Eurograv director, Mike Attard, his company has particularly admired Sareltech’s achievements with sales of BST and Uteco products. ‘We’re pleased to be working with such a like-minded and forward-thinking organisation,’ he comments.

‘Sareltech’s core knowledge of both the narrow- and wide-web sectors and the company’s reputation throughout the trade for personalised customer support was a major factor in appointing Sareltech as our exclusive sales and service partner for Camis plate-mounting machinery,’ says Mike, who was present at last year’s Labelexpo Europe, where the new Camis Label Mounter Auto was unveiled. This fully-automatic mounting machine handles all formats up to 600mm wide.

‘We’re proud of the high-quality products we can offer,’ remarks Sarel Oosthuizen. ‘Working with companies such as Praxair and Camis makes it easy to uphold our standards.’

Local service excellence

But it isn’t only a sales agent that these overseas companies require. As Sarel reiterates, they also need reliable service.

Sareltech’s already impressive list of customers in the printing and packaging sectors benefit from world-class systems that allow increased production, increased quality, reliable repeatability and reduced wastage – all backed by local service support.

‘Our team includes dedicated technicians, and our staffing level enables us to provide customers with what we believe to be the best 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year technical backup service,’ Sarel claims. This, he maintains, is the type of service that customers buying the latest products expect.

Questioned about the possibility of adding further agencies to his current arsenal, Sarel is adamant! ‘No,’ he answers. ‘With our current line-up, we have a well-balanced spectrum of products meeting the precise requirements of our core customers in the narrow- and wide-web sectors. We’re not in the business of collecting agencies just for the sake of having more,’ are his closing words.