Mike Taylor reports from Italy's machinery builders
According to manufacturers’ association ACIMGA, 2001 closed on a positive note for Italy’s converting machinery industry. Its total turnover of €1,560M was 5.4 per cent up on the previous year, with exports accounting for €1.140M. ACIMGA says the industry has reacted well to the downturn following September 11. There was also an upward trend in national consumption levels (8.7 per cent more than 2000) to the benefit of Italian manufacturers (up 23.6 per cent). This year also seems to have got off to a good start.
Silvana Canette, chairman of ACIMGA, commented: “Even though ours is a fragmented market, going through a period resulting in a reduction in the number of companies and level of concentration, it is in good health and withstanding the period of stagnation the industry is going through in other countries.
“In the last three years, exports for converting went up by 13 per cent, confirming the greater penetration of Italian graphic arts in foreign markets. What’s more, never as in 2001 did technological investments in Italy increase compared with abroad. 2002 also got off to a good start in terms of turnover from exports which are up on 2001,” she concluded.
“Our industry has made production and technological specialization its strong points,” added Dr Guido Corbella, ACIMGA president. “Italian companies offer a complete range of products for the industry with points of technological excellence. In fact, Italy is the world’s leader in machinery for both rotogravure and flexo printing, and the board and converting industries.”
“Today, the crucial factor for success is to keep the level of customer satisfaction high,” he stressed. “The Italian industry has accepted the challenge to move on from a product/market logic to that of managing the customer, who is no longer considered a simple receiver of goods, but as a collaborator and supplier of ideas. Today, more than ever, companies are called upon to demonstrate their ability to recreate alliances with different partners and in various forms, whilst at the same time modifying their own production systems and business models.”
One of Italy’s leading suppliers is gravure press manufacturer Cerutti. Sales director Carlo Ardizzone told Converting Today: “Converters have always complained about the profitability of their business and the picture has hardly improved in recent times.
“However, converting is a dynamic market that changes very quickly, taking into account the time it takes to start a new plant. As everywhere, in Italy there was a trend towards consolidation between converters. However, medium sized companies seem to bet on the future, with new investments in gravure presses. This compares with a different situation in other countries, such as Germany, where the medium sized gravure converter seems to be at a consolidation stage and less prepared to face new investments.”
He continued: “The medium sized Italian company has a reputation for top quality in a niche market, such as for example, Carcano, in Mandello del Lario. That company specializes in the very competitive market for alufoil, with very thin products, converted to the highest standard.
“Cerutti’s ability to supply ‘customer tailored’ equipment has been confirmed by the recent order for an eight colour R960 press that will join the six colour model already in operation and the Cerutti off-line coater delivered recently.”
The machine will feature state of the art features, such as ELS shaft, washing cycle integrated in the machine at the end of the run, and extensive pre-setting of machine functions – including doctor blade – to cut downtime. Additional features include coating capabilities.
Carlo Ardizzone continued: “Another trend visible in the Italian converting scene is the productivity and speed the gravure presses are run at. In Italy most of the converters use inks with ethylacetate only, since they have recovery plants. Not long ago, inks with one solvent only and able to print a wide range of materials were considered a dream. Today, several Italian converters are ready to operate in such conditions at speeds of nearly 500m/min. GT Polifilm is taking delivery of two model R 940 gravure presses capable of such performances,” he revealed.
“Those two trends – customer designed machines and the capability to run over 400m/min – open many challenging questions for converters, starting from compatibility with existing cylinders, standards, designs, to organization of the shopfloor and capability to restart the production in less than one hour, on average,” he noted.
Business has been good for Cerutti not only in the home market, but also for exports. “Next to several ‘standard’ model R 960 presses for customers spread all over the world, we have orders for high speed presses from multinationals such as Alcan (for the UK and Canada) and RJ Archer, in the USA,” he reported.
Uteco Converting asserts it is now on a sound financial footing following the recent buyout by the Finvetro Group. “This is a new Uteco,” emphasized Leonardo Gobbi, vp marketing and sales, who joined from Schiavi last July. “We have new strategic plans, mainly to concentrate on flexo, where we aim to remain a leader in the field.
“We will also continue with gravure presses, but with a different strategy from the main manufacturers. We see a market for two lines: special machines and less sophisticated presses. Also, we offer coaters and laminators, for special markets, such as adhesive tape coating, and we will continue to manufacture extrusion coating lines,” he confirmed. French subsidiary Uteco Usimeca will also maintain its production of slitter rewinders.
“We have improved our service backup in different ways,” Leonardo Gobbi added. “We have employed new printing, coating and laminating technology specialists to provide customer support. A new customer service manager has been appointed, with a team of 20 people. And we have improved our local service. For example, Uteco North America, at Marietta, Georgia, has three people just for customer service. This is only the beginning,” he stressed. “A demo facility will be established there with an eight colour Emerald press.
“Also, in South America we are developing the customer service side. In Europe, we are now represented in the UK by Eurograv, and will appoint a field technician for Germany. We plan to appoint new sales agents in both existing and new areas – first to reinforce our position in Europe and the USA, then the rest of world. We have many machines in North America and we need to maintain that business. Customer service is really a must for us – especially spare parts – not just technical service. It is a very important part of our business.”
He concluded: “All these objectives can be reached because the new owners believe in the company and have invested a lot of money to strengthen it. We now have a stronger economic basis and image for Uteco.”
The company’s main product for the flexo market is the Emerald press, with over 80 installations worldwide. It is available in both geared and gearless versions – with eight or 10 colours. A version with in-line die cutting is available for folding carton work. At IPEX, Uteco displayed an eight colour gearless Emerald equipped with quick change-over sleeve and auto-wash systems.
“We have incredible skill in flexo technology and have kept quiet about it before,” claimed Leonardo Gobbi. “Our direct drive system is the only one with a motor in axis in the CI drum.” He revealed that a new quick change eight colour press will be introduced soon. “It will be of lower specification and cheaper than the Emerald.”
Uteco claims to offer an unrivalled range of flexo presses using a flexible modular approach to cater for web widths ranging from 500-2,800mm, repeat lengths from 300-1,800mm, and speeds of over 600m/min.
The company’s latest Programm 2011 ‘electronic line shaft’ gravure unit was also on show at IPEX. With auto-wash facilities and a lightweight interchangeable trolley for reduced downtime and quick change-overs, it can be manufactured in widths from 500-1,900mm and for speeds in excess of 650m/min.
Another Italian flexo press manufacturer exhibiting at IPEX was Bielloni Castello, who displayed – and sold off the stand – the second production model of its new Theorema gearless model. Lorenzo Castello told Converting Today: “We showed the first Theorema at K. It was a big success: we sold that machine to an Italian film converter and printer and received orders for two more. We believe in the Theorama. With the gearless technology, it prints to near gravure quality. It also has a very good price. So we took the second one to IPEX – and we sold that one, as well.”
The Theorema is offered in three widths: 1,050, 1,250 and 1,450mm. The CI drums available have diameters of 1,900, 2,200 and 2,400mm, for repeats of 800, 1,000 and 1,200mm, all with sleeve technology. The tolerance of the gearless system is guaranteed within 0.0010-0.0015 degree. All stations, including the unwind and rewind, are driven by vector digital drives. Inter colour drying is effected through stainless steel drying boxes, which slide out for easy cleaning and maintenance. Top speed is 350m/min. A 10 colour version will be available soon.
A new rewinding system is included on the Theorema. The lay-on roll system is said to ensure perfect contact at high speed and allow in-line cuts and trimming, if required. There are four tension controls: a brake control through vector digital drives on the unwinder; a pneumatic dancing roller system to control the chill rolls after the overhead bridge; a pneumatic dancing roller before the rewinder; and a taper tension system on the rewinder. Control is said to be extremely accurate, due to the digital vector drives.
The workstation can store up to 1,000 recipes for job repeats and includes an algorithm to ensure tension values set by the operator to comply with the type of substrate width and web thickness. It also includes a trouble shooting system. Extreme precision on repeats of stored values is attributed to a ‘closed-loop feedback’ system incorporated in each deck. While the stepping motor will move back and forward according to the number of steps required, two optical lines will feed back the ‘real position’ to the computer and ensure the deck attains the position previously stored.
“Business is good generally for Bielloni,” Lorenzo Castello told Converting Today. Machines currently under construction in the factory at Biassono include a three-layer coex line, several six and eight colour presses, and three solventless laminators. Customers range as far afield as Guatemala and Canada, and Belorussia and Nigeria.
Business is also good for slitter rewinder specialist Euromac. According to Hendrik van Rooijen: “We are doing extremely well – almost the best in 30 years. Last year there was a 20 per cent increase in our turnover. It’s mostly exports, but our domestic market is also up. There is a trend to increased use of cast PP in Italy, and we are one of the best qualified to handle this type of material.”
The company sells its machines mainly to primary film and foil producers. Exports account for 85 per cent of the business. “Large companies are our main target,” he reveals. Now we are getting into customers who were with the other slitter suppliers. Last year we sold five machines to VAW Europack, in France and Germany, for foil laminates, and Klockner Pentaplast, in Holland and Germany. These are big orders from big customers.
“We’ve got into this through our ability to be cheaper and flexible with special machines, whereas other manufacturers have standardized their models. The customers now want faster machines. We build to suit their needs; that’s our strong point. Each machine is tailored.”
To cope with its growing business, Euromac is building a 7,000m² extension to its factory at Villanova Monferrato – a 30 per cent increase on the total site. This will provide extra space for assembly and small machining operations, as well as new offices and more staff. “We are strength- ening the whole operation,” he added.
Polytech is a leading specialist supplier of film production and coating lines for the adhesive tape and flexible packaging industries. Its converting division builds coating and laminating lines, and gravure presses, for a wide range of applications. It also has the considerable support of the Polytech Research Centre in Marano Ticino. Exports account for 90 per cent of the business (for example, a current $10M plus converting contract from the Near East for a multi stage machine to extrusion coat board).
In a recent initiative, the company has added a dimension to its specialist approach, as Mario Benzi, the Converting Machinery Division director, explained. “Polytech machinery is not usually perceived as the so-called ‘volume product’ or ‘standard equipment’. Now we are investing in a new generation of equipment with a new philosophy: not specialized, single purpose, but catering for a broader customer base – those who understand the technology.
“This HiMiR range of converting lines for flexible packaging offers a basic machine that can be expanded to maximum configuration,” he explained. “It’s a ready made coating and laminating system where the customer can do different jobs on the one machine. The technology is established – winding and unwind, the motors, the cartridge concept – different elements according to the job. It will also suit different markets. We have engineered it to enable our agents and representatives to offer it as a tool for customers who don’t need to specify.”
He continued: “In an industrial environment that tends to concentrate and specialize, whilst acting in an extreme flexibility of offerings, the way Polytech acts could be seen as pioneering the present trend. But we cannot deny there is a certain market segment that is ready to purchase quality equipment, while not yet involved in the extreme sophistication connected to critical technologies or output levels.
“These customers are not ‘newcomers’,” he mphasized. “They may already be in the business, but equipped with machinery no longer up to the task, or simply looking for expansion and willing to invest in technology suitable for better profitability and returns.”
Rather than considering the HiMiR range a ‘new product’, Polytech is stressing that it has built equipment based on the same philosophy since 1986, mostly for emerging countries; and that today’s technically updated version still reflects the modularity and competitiveness concepts the flexible packaging industry wants. “The most important advantage offered by the new lines is represented by the extreme rationalization of the engineering,” concludes Mario Benzi.
“HiMiR is a product directed to an educated and skilled customer, who can immediately appreciate and understand whether our proposal matches his expectations. This will reduce the timing necessary for the project, as the basic engineering is fully developed, leaving the customer the possibility to concentrate on his product, rather than understanding how to do it.”
Svecom PE, located in Montecchio Maggiore, has specialized for over 30 years as a supplier of devices used for mechanical and pneumatic expansion of shafts, chucks, bearing housings, and systems for extraction, injection, manipulation and conveyance of shafts and reels. The company, which has a worldwide network of agents, claims its products are used with every kind of material that can be wound or unwound on reels. Latest offering is a new type of friction shaft coated with different materials according to customer requests.
“Approximately 70-75 per cent of the business is with original equipment manufacturers,” explains Flavio Marin. “In Italy, we have more than 90 per cent of the market, and we supply all the main machine builders in Europe and the USA.”
He also revealed a new venture in which Svecom has co-operated with Italian engineering company Hokum to build an extrusion machine to produce three-layer, high oxygen barrier shrink film and bags for food packaging applications. The first production model is due to be ready shortly. It will be capable of extruding the bi-oriented EVA/PVdC/EVA film at 100kg/hour and in thicknesses ranging from 40-80 micron.
|Schiavi has restructured its internal organization and worldwide presence in line with that of the parent Bobst Group. Its flexible packaging business now comprises three product lines: Gravure, Flexo and Converting (which includes coaters and laminators). Machines from each line are on permanent display (and available for trials) in the company’s Training and Testing Centre, in Piacenza. In the UK and Ireland, Schiavi is now represented by Bobst’s Redditch based operation.|
|Gravure press and coating machinery specialist Grafomac reported “positive” results from its participation in IPEX 2002. “The quality of visitors was really good,” says Laura Rolla. “We had many requests in the field of quality packaging print and special machinery, especially for short run work.”|
|At IPEX, Cargraf Carraro and its representative Carint introduced the SLP flexo press. Both sleeves and conventional plate cylinders can be employed on this new machine, which features computer control and full use of stepper motors. It comes in eight and 10 colour versions, with print widths of 1,000-1,200mm and a top speed of 300m/min.|