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Leftech’s foil adventure

Leftech CEO Martin Fraire with the foil slitter from Hangzhou Hansoar Machinery

The entrepreneurial spirit of the label industry is often – and rightly – celebrated. Though increased consolidation among both suppliers and converters is creating behemoths with global operations, there is still room – particularly in developing markets such as South America – for an individual or small company to employ ingenuity and agility to create a successful niche in the market.

This is one such story. Argentina-based Leftech Group is the Latin American distributor for Japanese water-wash flexo plate manufacturer Toyobo. In recent years it has added Aura CtP equipment from China to its portfolio, rebranding it as Ecoflex for the Argentine market.

Now it has moved into slitting and distribution of foils, in a move that has also seen it set up a dedicated facility in Brazil.

‘I began to investigate the foil market two years ago,’ explains Martin Fraire, founder and CEO of Leftech. ‘Label converters in Argentina tend to buy from just two major international suppliers, via local distributors. According to my research, between them they supplied roughly 85 percent of the market. I felt there was room for a third player.’

With extensive contacts in China, Fraire toured five or six manufacturers of slitting equipment in the country, before settling on Hangzhou Hansoar Machinery. ‘Hansoar has a slitter dedicated specifically to foil. Because it is designed for slitting foil, the machine is more delicate and can handle material as thin as 12 micron. Rather than being a machine that can also handle foil among other products, it is designed specifically for foils. It’s a company that knows what it is doing.’

Fraire ordered a machine and shipped it to Argentina. It arrived at Leftech’s premises in the Buenos Aires suburbs in July last year, and was in production a few weeks later

The Hangzhou Hansoar Machinery slitter has a width of 1.28m, which allows clients the flexibility to order the widths they want, according to Fraire. It runs at 500m/min when slitting cold foil.

Quality
So what of the foils themselves? An industry friend in Argentina had showed Fraire a catalog from Scodix, which listed a digital cold foil from Dragon Foils. The friend, knowing Fraire was a regular visitor to China, asked him to buy him some. ‘If the foil was being sold by Scodix, I figured it must be a top-quality product,’ says Fraire. He met with Dragon Foils, and Leftech is now its exclusive distributor in Argentina. 

Because of Fraire’s established relationships with Argentina’s leading label converters – he supplies most of them with plate processing equipment and Toyobo Cosmolight flexo plates – the new project was quickly off the ground. ‘We’ve had great success since we started,’ says Fraire. ‘We have learned a great deal. The product works. The machine works. Gold cold foil has sold particularly well, while copper – which is popular here for wine labels, a key market in Argentina – has sold better than I thought. It is still early days, but in the first year we have done five orders for a container-load of foils each time. The foils have been very well received by our clients.’

Among these clients is Argentina’s biggest label converter – and one of the leading label operations on the continent – Artes Gráficas Modernas, led by the indomitable Fernando Leiro. General manager Matias Caletrio is enthused by Leftech’s latest venture. ‘We are very satisfied with the new Leftech foil cutting center. It has allowed us to reduce the raw material web width by having special cutting with rotating blades, which reduces dust getting into the cut. This allowed us to reduce the cold foil supply widths by 1.5cm on each side. Furthermore, the response times are admirable – there is no amount that we have requested that has not been supplied the very next day. The service has been excellent.

Label and carton converter JM Ramos Mejía, based in Buenos Aires, has also begun buying foils from Leftech. ‘We produce fine packaging in luxury rigid cartons and high-quality folding cartons, as well as flatbed offset and narrow web roll-to-roll labels,’ reports Fabian Brey, the converter’s president. ‘We employ countless processes, including hot stamping with manual, automatic, flatbed and rotary in-line equipment. For each we use different widths, lengths and winding tensions. So supplying hot foil has always been a challenge for our suppliers, but now we have integrated everything into a single provider – Leftech Group. The quality of the cut is incredible, and the delivery speed is surprising: within 24 hours we have everything we asked for, with regard to both quantity and quality, with the cuts and lengths that are required.’

Brazil 

A conversation with a Brazilian label converter at Label Summit Latin America 2019 in Medellin, Colombia, was the catalyst for Martin Fraire to see potential for his foil project in Argentina’s neighboring country. As in Argentina, the foil market in Brazil is dominated by a small number of international suppliers, who generally serve the country’s label converters from distribution centers in São Paulo. Fraire decided to open a facility in the south of the country – close to Argentina, and a region home to several leading label converters. Another slitter was swiftly ordered and shipped to Brazil, where Leftech do Brasil has now been established in partnership with Alex Spitzner, an Argentine friend of Fraire’s based in Brazil who has 25 years’ experience in the packaging industry and is a former general manager of packaging company HZ Group.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Quirk is group managing editor of Labels & Labeling.

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