This latest implementation joins an impressive suite of Esko packaging technology, including the CDI Spark XT, DeskPack software, Nexus workflow, and ArtiosCAD structural design software. K-1 Packaging Group continually looks to Esko for solutions in the packaging arena, because it “is the only supplier in the world that offers true comprehensive integration to packaging design and prepress,” says Mike Tsai, President and co-owner, K-1 Packaging Group.
A second-generation family-owned company, K-1 Packaging Group was established in 1993 as a duplicator shop with a single used A.B. Dick one color press. This was the shop’s mainstay of production through 1997, when the company’s original founders decided to move the business into packaging, following tremors that the Internet was spearheading a migration to a paperless society.
While that dire prediction has not yet fully materialized, the shift for K-1 was fortuitous; from its humble beginnings as a small duplicator shop, the company has grown into a successful packaging converting specialist with 88 employees and an annual turnover of $25 million, serving clients in the processed food, cosmetics, nutritional and dietary supplements, and personal care products industries.
Running Mark Andy and Nilpeter flexo presses, two KBA Rapida 105 presses, and an HP Indigo WS6000 digital press, K-1 produces folding and litho laminated cartons, rigid set-up boxes, flexible packaging, and pressure-sensitive labels. It also possesses a complete spectrum of finishing capabilities, including foil stamping, UV coating, embossing, die-cutting, and folding/gluing. Until 2003, all of K-1’s printing presses were purchased second-hand. That year, K-1 purchased its first brand-spanking new KBA Rapida 105.
“It was a historical moment for us,” says Tsai. “When it was being installed, my father and uncle, K-1’s original founders, were quite emotional about it. The press cost over $2 million and years before, they had wondered whether they would see the day before their retirement that the company could afford a new printing press. And there it was, happening in front of their eyes.”
From there on in, K-1 has continued to make use of the most advanced technology, particularly from Esko. A CDI flexo plate imager, installed in 2004, gave K-1 chemical-free thermal plate processing, a 50% reduction in total imaging and processing time, and the ability to image finer and more consistent dots, improving the overall print quality of the image as well as press productivity.
“We were one of the first flexographers to move into direct-to-plate,” says Tsai. “We wanted the better image quality and improved productivity it offered. Our offset department had already been using CtP for three years, so we were well aware of its benefits in terms of productivity, cost savings and quality improvements. When Esko launched the CDI series it was a no-brainer; it was really just a matter of deciding which size to get.”
K-1’s involvement with Esko expanded again in 2007, when the packaging specialist installed ArtiosCAD structural design software, replacing the original general purpose CAD software. There is a significant difference, notes Tsai. “ArtiosCAD is developed specifically for packaging; our older software had to rely on packaging plug-ins,” explains Tsai. “Now, all the material thickness allowances are considered automatically when a design is being created.” Parametric design capabilities within ArtiosCAD also allows K-1’s structural designers to quickly re-size and fine tune designs that have been standardized.
“If you don’t use ArtiosCAD for structural design, then you’re using second tier technology,” emphasizes Tsai. “ArtiosCAD is so mainstream now, if you use anything else people in the industry look at you funny. We use it every day – we take it for granted. If I had to go back to my old software now, I would feel like I lost an arm – it’s that important.”
ArtiosCAD also works seamlessly with the Kongsberg table; design files are output from the ArtiosCAD workstation to the Kongsberg XL22 for cutting and creasing of structural samples.
Over the years, K-1’s product line has expanded beyond simple folding cartons, to include rigid set-up boxes constructed from a variety of materials — wood, acrylic, foam, leather and suede — for customers that produce luxury goods, cosmetics, skin care products, and very high-end candles. “We’ve manufactured rigid boxes for Italian leather boots, where the box is made from the same leather used on the boot,” says Tsai. “The core of the box is made from compressed fiberboard but the outside is finished in Italian leather.”
The Kongsberg XL22’s wide range of tools includes one that uses a bit to rout through materials instead of slicing it. “This capability allows us to make samples that require the use of more exotic materials,” notes Tsai. “Until we got the Kongsberg table, our samples’ cutting process frequently required the use of full-blown steel rule cutting dies because our previous CAD table couldn’t cut through the more unusual materials. Now we can produce prototypes for premium packaging faster and more economically with the Kongsberg table.”
The Kongsberg XL22 is also used for “spotting” of coating blankets used in offset printing. The Kongsberg XL can cut to precise depths — and in registration with the print layout — making it the perfect tool for the preparation of spot coating blankets.
“Previously we had to cut coating blankets by hand, which meant the printing press had to wait 20-25 minutes while the blanket was being cut,” notes Tsai. “The Kongsberg integration with the ArtiosCAD lets us do the cutting offline without tying up the press, while also achieving greater accuracy than we previously could.”
Esko’s Studio Visualizer, purchased along with the Kongsberg installation, allows K-1 to create realistic digital renderings of designs in 3D space. “Cosmetic companies rely on a lot of specialty finishing techniques such as foil stamping, embossing, UV coating, and metalized foil board to create a visual punch,” explains Tsai. “Unfortunately, design programs such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop cannot simulate the appearance of texture, relief, elevation, and gloss level. Visualizer is a powerful simulation tool that brings the various visual elements of a design to life in virtual space.”
K-1’s customers can propose several design concepts, create the renderings of each concept by using Visualizer, and submit the renderings to marketing focus groups for evaluation and selection.
Adds Tsai, “Our customers are blown away; Visualizer is something they really embrace, because it makes their job a lot easier. We can create animation that rotates a design in space, so our customers can see the package from all different angles. Ambient lighting conditions can be accounted for; so, for instance, you can see the design under various lighting conditions in a retail environment. Our account managers love it; they have something truly of value to offer our customers.”
K-1 Packaging Group, clearly on a growth path, has no intention of standing still. Plans are already in the works to install Esko’s Automation Engine to integrate the company’s MIS system with its comprehensive suite of Esko packaging technology, bringing further efficiency and productivity to its operation. Tsai’s father and uncle would be proud to see how the company they created has thrived, no longer relying on second hand equipment but, instead, on the most advanced technology available.