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Depth of manufacturing integration, strategic alliances and single minded targeting of flexible packaging converters make Comexi a company to watch, writes Pauline Covell

Most converters know Comexi for its flexible packaging printing presses and probably its expertise in coating and laminating.

But how many would put the Girona based Spanish company at the top of the list when it comes to the number of flexo presses sold worldwide? How many would realise that one of the few things the company doesn’t do in its fully integrated manufacture is chrome its cylinders (it even has its own foundry company Fungisa on site)? And how many would know it has the majority ownership in a slitter rewinding manufacturing company (Proslit), an environmental equipment and logistics systems manufacturing operation (Enviroxi), retrofitting and special equipment builder Metecor and alliance/minority holding in the sheeter/label cutting machinery/coating equipment builder Kmec?

That’s just for starters. A major announcement to be made at this month’s CMM is the 50 year old company’s “intelligent association” – a strategic alliance – with the Schiavi family’s company Acom (Advanced Converting Machinery) which has developed the RG Platignum press. With this agreement gravure presses are added to Comexi’s offering. It is to distribute them from its sales network around the globe, revealed marketing and sales vice president Josep Soler. If all goes well in the future, it is understood that Comexi could take a minority shareholding in the venture.

Top three aim

Just as the whole area in the North East part of Spain has developed in leaps and bounds with the advent of a Ryan Air hub at Girona airport, so one of the largest metal working companies in the area has come out of its shell. The plan now, says executive vice president Manel P Xifra (son of the founder and chairman Manel B Xifra) is to tell the world about what Comexi has to offer. And the aim is to be in the top three in the world with each of its companies.

Explaining the strategy of the group he told Converting Today: “We decided to continue as a family company in the mid ’90s. We realised that there is continuing market globalization and market concentration. Last year 60 per cent of converting was in the hands of just 10 companies.

“Therefore the only way to survive was either to target becoming a leading group or otherwise join another group.” The decision was to go for the first option and become “a leading supplier group to the packaging converting industry.”

“We have a good position in flexo presses, number one in machines sold.” It sold 44 CI machines in 2003 and 46 in 2004, despite the overall market decreasing from 420 to 360 over the two years. With 12 per cent of the cake it claims to have been market leader since 2002. Fourteen presses were on the floor during Converting Today’s visit. “But we want to achieve a leadership position in flexible packaging by the end of 2006. We were not achieving the necessary dimension so we decided to go into other lines of equipment – to grow by diversity.”

So Comexi is in the continuing process of setting up independent units for each technology. They each take advantage of “the group level to get the synergy, sales network and purchasing, and IT for example”. Under the group umbrella the plan is to launch a new company in the coating and laminating field by next year to build Comexi’s Nexus range.

In 2004 it founded its slitting and rewinding company Proslit. With the growth of juxtapositioned Enviroxi, the decision has been to move its production to another new site, freeing up more much needed space for Proslit. When Converting Today visited, there was hardly room to move around the slitters on the floor.

Proslit was born out of a co-operation with Kmec and is headed up by managing director Agusti Combis. “Our double turret slitter rewinder, the Eikon, offers a significant increase in productivity compared to conventional systems,” he said. “We can show this through the decrease in downtime, which can be reduced by some 10 to 15 per cent.”

Describing the Eikon, recently appointed sales executive Mike ‘Wilkie’ Wilkinson said: “There’s a choice of unwind from the basic low investment one metre diameter roll with a normal brake through the mid range motorized equipment with web guide and splice table with clamps if required, to the jumbo unwind stand. This has a driven unwind able to handle 1,250mm diameter reels and 2,150kg weight, and a width up to 1,650mm.”

“The Eikon is designed for a 600m/min production speed, depending on material,” said Agusti Combis. “But the mechanical speed is up to 1,000m/min.”

The company offers its own automatic knife positioning system, claimed to be more reasonably priced than alternatives. “In all older machines it was a hassle to take out the bottom knives. We have an easy change system for the female knives,” explained Mike Wilkinson. “Another interesting feature is the waste trim, which includes a patented trim recognition. Operating on both sides of the roll independently, it stops the machine if the trim is not present – when it could become stuck in the equipment.”

Good geometry

“The lay-on roll is linear tracking, that is to say as the diameter of the reel increases, so the lay-on carriage backs horizontally. This means we can achieve good slit reel geometry and prevent air trapping. In addition, the carriage carries the anti static bar and the reel transverse cutter.”

One example of synergy across the group is the standard inclusion of lightweight carbon fibre rolls developed by the flexo printing press company. Loadcells are incorporated into a closed loop system as standard.

There is a choice on rewind shafts – pneumatic, differential and friction. “What is different on our friction unwinds is that we have far more friction segments. That means better control,” explained Mike Wilkinson. Offloading can match customer requirements, from the basic tree right through to electronic versions with pushers and conveyors. Here the synergy may be provided by the logistics expertise of Enviroxi.

Neat design points include the fan space being enclosed in the motor cabinet and the ability to have a left or right hand reel take-off at no extra cost. “This would allow one automated take-off to serve two machines,” pointed out Mike Wilkinson.

This third generation of Eikon slitters was launched at drupa, since when some 22 have already been sold in Finland, Sweden, Germany and Denmark, reported Agusti Combis. Proslit also has a new version of its twin shaft Duo on the cards for the end of this year with “lots of goodies” promised. And its Compack simple, “reasonably priced” duplex 300m/min equipment, a doctor machine and a core cutter (the Blade) complete the line-up.

Comexi group exports stand at 90 per cent of business with 50 per cent in Europe and 40 per cent in the Americas. In North America the Comexi company was founded as early as 1988. Last year it appointed Peter Medlicott as its new president.

In 2002 Comexi do Brasil, based in Montenegro, was founded to serve the Mercusur markets. “We decided on a manufacturing plant as the only way to ensure an increasing market share,” explained Manel P Xifra. By producing machines in Brazil there is no import fee. Currently one line of laminators, and eight colour and six colour flexo sleeve presses are produced there. Certain critical parts, for example CI drums, are sent to Brazil from Spain. Another sales organization – Comexi Latinoamerica – looks after Mexico, Central America and the countries outside Mercusur.

Market diversification plays a strong role in the company’s strategic plan. “Today around 95 per cent of our business is with flexible packaging, with about eight per cent in folding cartons. We really are trying to get more into cartons and corrugated,” he said.

For example, during, Converting Today’s visit final acceptance trials were running on an FB 2108 CNC GL press for Bentoel, of Indonesia. The substrate was 150g/m2 cartonboard for cigarettes and the order also included a Nexus Evo laminator and a sheeter from Kmec. “This is the future,” said Manel B Xifra, as he made one of his frequent visits to the plant. He had also just returned from a fact-finding mission to China.

Innovation is clearly another important arm in the strategy. In its EZCure, Comexi claims to have the one commercially operational EB curing system designed not only for print, but also for lamination. The first is in operation at Plastosac, in Israel. Main issue in the EB development is the inking system, confirms the company, but that is being developed. If successful, then it would mean a completely new design of press in the future. With the further VOC restrictions in 2007 there is real interest in developing alternatives. This is driving the EB innovation.

Its Neopack company has developed a process to print holographic effects in register and in colour and is expected to bring it to the market shortly.

Tripled sales

Sales turnover in the Comexi Group has leapt in recent times, at least tripling over the last decade. “Of course to grow further we need new customers,” said Francesc Xavier Gomez, recently appointed general manager of the group. “Sixty per cent of our customers are new, but equally important almost 80 per cent of old customers buy Comexi, with less than five per cent changing to another manufacturer,” he said.

Changing circumstances have seen continuing development at Comexi. There have been new investments, new headquarters, new production facilities, changing personnel and the restructuring into different companies. And although it is doing no more than keeping a weather eye on digital print, the company realises there is likely to be exponential development of technology in this area.

First in flexo it may claim now, but the quiet Spaniard is after more scalps in the flexible converting arena.


Tel: +34 972 477744
Tel: +34 972 477744

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