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  • 16 Jan 2013

South African carton converter banks on Bobst

A Bobst Expertfold 80 with Accubraille is helping South African carton converter Britepak diversify its operations beyond the pharmaceutical and healthcare markets
Johannesburg-based Britepak, part of the Transpaco Group, has invested in Bobst carton converting equipment as it looks to diversify the markets it serves, but using the expertise it has built up after four decades supplying the country’s pharmaceutical and healthcare packaging segments.
Established in 1973, Britepak is one of South Africa’s leading suppliers of folding cartons to the pharmaceutical and healthcare markets.
Company managing director John Latter (pictured, left) says: ‘We opted out of the high-volume, packaging sector and focused on value-added offerings and building a good reputation among the major drug manufacturing companies as a reliable extension of their own plants, where industry controls are stringent and errors likely to have serious consequences on public health.’
Stunted growth
However, this policy restricted company growth and, by 2005, the partners in the private company sought a financial backer to provide investment capital to take Britepak to the next level.
It found such a backer in Transpaco, one of South Africa’s leading packaging groups, who was strong in flexible packaging manufacture and the production of cardboard cores and tubes, as well as having the only ISO-certified plant for the manufacture of cast film for pallet wrap. Transpaco lacked a dedicated carton converting operation, and in Britepak it secured the technical skills and know-how it was looking for.
Investment program
The investment by Transpaco in Britepak allowed the latter to embark on a program of equipment installations that included pre-press, printing and converting technology.
The result had a positive effect on Britepak’s existing customer base, according to Latter, because they saw a key supplier investing in new technology that would enhance the service it offered.
Ownership by Transpaco also offered long-term financial sustainability, and the knock-on effect was more business and more resources to fund the next tranche of investment.
Britepak sales director Nick Swan (pictured, left) says: ‘We were aware that we needed to expand our product offering into new areas.
‘We studied the market and elected to move into the food and confectionary sectors, but only for products that utilised the skills and quality control that is everyday practice for us in our pharma work.’
Braille embossing
One of the areas that proved attractive was the small but growing demand for Braille embossing on carton packaging for those who are blind or visually impaired. Unlike Europe, where EU legislation regulates use of Braille on packaging, in South Africa it is still voluntary.
In spotting the niche, Britepak soon found itself in the unusual position of being a converter that was driving demand.
With various means of Braille application available on the market, Britepak eventually decided that, for reasons of quality control and fast make-ready, it made most sense to produce it on a folder gluer, rather than the die cutter, where the process would impact production.
Bobst Autoplatens with full stripping capability carry out Britepak’s die-cutting, and it ordered a Bobst Expertfold 80 (pictured, above), fitted with an Accubraille unit, to suit its requirements.
‘To us, it made no sense to emboss Braille on the die cutter because it reduced its production speed and disrupted other work,' Latter says. 'It’s also more accurate on the folder gluer, and meets the ECMA Euro Braille standards.’
Installed at the end of 2011 it was, and remains, the only such unit in Africa, and according to Latter is currently showing an encouraging ROI with daily improved output, although the volume of Braille work passing down the line is still relatively small.
Essentially a single low-cost tool that can be mounted onto the Bobst Expertfold folder gluer, Accubraille can emboss any of the four panels, irrespective of Braille language. With no off-line tool set-up, downtime is kept to a minimum, and the unit is automatically synchronised to reduce waste and allow the folder gluer to run at top speed.
By embossing after the feeder, jams associated with in-feed problems are avoided and the unit can be made-ready in less than five minutes using just one tool. Bobst says that the accuracy of the unit allows embossing to be achieved close to cut or folded edges, and the quality of the Braille dots remains stable throughout the run.
Kuben Pillay, gluing manager at Britepak, is full of praise for the latest investment, saying: ‘Our overall performance output on the Expertfold has met and exceeded our expectation, with enhanced quality and surety of consistent glue application.
‘Our client base is becoming more and more driven to improve throughput on their automated packing lines, with some having packing speeds of 260 units per minute, so under- or over-glued cartons would not do. Our investment in the glue detection device has proven we can deliver side seam glue performance to aid in delivering the desired efficiencies.
‘To put this in perspective, the Bobst Expertfold with Handypack GT produces at an output rate of 130 percent of our other two folder gluers combined, and has revolutionized our business.’
Press and pre-press pride
The company is also proud of its in-house pre-press capability. This includes a Heidelberg Suprasetter, which, according to John Latter, has sped up the whole process of converting artwork to plates and proofs, and improved the quality of finished cartons.
Printing at Britepak is carried out on a bank of Heidelberg and KBA offset litho presses, which Latter believes will remain the first-choice process of carton houses for many years to come, despite the advance of digital print technology.
‘I’m aware of it, and will monitor its progress, but see it more as a complementary process for the time being,’ he says.
Further investment
According to Latter, the company’s continued success can be attributed to four key factors: a loyal and growing customer base; support from a financial backer in Transpaco that understands the industry because of its other group companies; a well-motivated and strong management team onsite, which is empowered to act; and a strong and ongoing relationship with Beswick Machinery, for the supply and support of Bobst equipment, as well as other service partners.
As Transpaco is keen to increase its stake in the packaging market, Latter believes there are exciting times ahead for Britepak.
And with customers cutting volumes by shortening run lengths and looking to pass the responsibility and cost of inventory back up the line, investment demands are constantly changing.
‘Our next tranche of equipment will be a printing press, a die cutter, and a folder gluer in that order,' Latter says, 'or preferably all at once.’
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