All4Labels ramps up shrink sleeve and flexpack capacity
Nuceria Group, part of the All4Labels global converter alliance, has boosted its flexible packaging and shrink sleeve capacity with the installation of a 1,300mm-wide 10-color Uteco Crystal Central Impression (CI) press at its Nocera, Italy, plant. The press adds another dimension to the group’s growing film converting capacity, joining a dedicated Bobst mid-web press in Nocera and the Folienprint operation in Germany.
‘Consumers are becoming more and more demanding and smart technologies are shaping new consumer trends,’ says Guido Iannone, general manager of Nuceria Group and vice president sales at All4Labels. ‘This means we need to be more innovative than ever. Thanks to our successful experience diversifying into folding boxes, we wanted to strengthen our cross-selling proposition with the clear aim of evolving from a pack supplier to a provider of packaging solutions.’
Iannone says all the company’s big customers are moving volume from PS to sleeves. ‘Our existing customers have pushed us to invest in this market and increase our capabilities for shrink sleeves, in particular with embellishment and premium effects.’
The Uteco press is configured with a gravure station for metallics, white, special effects and thermal adhesives, and runs at speeds up to 500m/min. ‘Along with our 14-color in-line Bobst UV flexo press with lamination and UV screen this combination allows us to offer something the others don’t.’
Iannone maintains that in a fast-changing world, no single technology has all the answers. ‘Some applications need to have solvent inks and coatings, especially in the food arena, and this requires central drum. And then there are considerations of width and speed. But that does not mean that all flexibles and sleeves can be produced CI. Solvents have some limitations and UV flexo is better if there are complex graphics, for example. We chose the Uteco press machine because it could produce 70 percent of the products we are looking for.’
Around half the Uteco press production is currently shrink sleeves, with 25 percent wraparound labels and 25 percent flexible packaging.
The CI operation also includes a Uteco Rainbow 4 solventless laminator, designed specifically for short runs. It can produce multi-layer laminates up to four layers. Each layer contributes to the pack’s required performance properties, such as anti-fog, oxygen and light barriers.
Making the move to CI flexo required new skills. Matteo De Martino, who has extensive experience with flexible packaging, joined the Nuceria team, adding his expertise to the existing know-how spread throughout the group’s divisions. De Martino now has a dedicated team of ten operators. Existing digital platemaking facilities service both the Uteco and Bobst presses.
The Uteco press is running one shift, with 4-5 job changes per shift. Job changes take around 25 minutes with a dedicated off-line makeready crew. The operation is completed with a full battery of flexible packaging test equipment and a shrink tunnel moved down from the Milan plant for customer tests.
‘Shrink sleeves and flexible packaging now fit to our core business model and extend our product offering where we see niches – where the big flexible packaging suppliers are not playing, or do not have strong offers,’ says Iannone. ‘We are offering agile solutions, shorter-to-medium runs and a combined offering of lids, flexibles and labels.’
This combined approach is demonstrated by Nuceria’s ‘Multi/verso’ multi-stage, fully integrated production process that starts with the printing of film/laminates and ends with bag making and label application.
The flexible packaging operation is already making an impact, says Iannone. ‘Nuceria in the south of Italy has very competitive labor rates and now we have the right equipment. We are starting to do print trials with our top five customers, so our initial project is already starting to pay off.’
According to Iannone, the next investment will probably be an offset press to complete Nuceria’s sleeve and flexible packaging capability.
‘Flexo quality is able to serve 95 percent of all the artwork. But you do have customers who have certain requirements and certifications, and for some larger brands flexo has historically had the perception about the quality of gradations and fades to zero. You can spend two years convincing them to go flexo, or you can offer offset. We have so many offset presses in the group already so we have great experience to draw on and complete the menu.’
Another investment focus has been hybrid presses, with a Nilpeter Panorama recently installed in Nuceria’s Milan plant. ‘This is our first test in hybrid, and we are even talking about shrink sleeves in hybrid,’ says Iannone. ‘We are learning here from the rest of the group. In Hamburg we have one of the biggest digital rooms in the world. All4Labels has also invested in hybrid and we have learned a lot from that. We are a testbed for many different technologies – so we can test, for example, an Indigo versus a hybrid.’
All4Labels state of play
The Nuceria group became part of All4Labels in May 2018 and since then great progress has been made in integrating the group’s operations. ‘In these months we have worked hard to get to know each other and I believe that these months have been for everyone a source of experience and mutual learning,’ says Iannone.
Adrian Tippenhauer, CEO of the All4Labels group, adds: ‘We did not lose any employees, and in fact attracted new employees, and no customers were lost, especially on the Nuceria side. We have such a strong team here, with Paola and Antonio to handle local customers and fight back against the idea this is now a big group that does not care about them. In fact All4Labels’ Italian business is growing by 7 percent.’
Tippenhauer stresses that both companies share the same entrepreneurial culture. ‘We are still 100 percent family owned, so our employees and customers know who the owners are. It is this that sets us apart from the CCLs. Even with a 500m euro turnover, our customers still call us personally. Our corporate governance guarantees that these family values remain. Guido is part of our global management board and this meets on a constant basis to work on progress of the group.’
With All4Labels’ operations now spanning three continents, a key challenge is to work out what should be managed locally and what centrally, and how far integration should go.
‘One of my big learnings is you cannot do everything centrally otherwise you lose the sense of ownership which is our important differentiating factor,’ says Adrian Tippenhauer. In practice, functions such as sales, supply chain, finance and R&D each have different
levels of responsibility.
‘Finance must have the same understanding of figures and reporting. In sales we have built a strong common team where we have set rules and have become an integrated team. Sales work in both ways. Our regional Italian and German customers are handled locally, while for global customers we have a global sales organization and Guido has responsibility for those customers. Account managers then run those accounts in their region and report to Guido.’
‘Global brands today do not open themselves to new suppliers,’ stresses Tippenhauer. ‘It’s very hard for any of us to get into new customers, so the door must be opened from the local regions and we are already seeing business synergies from the global customers side. Now we have access to all global customers in the food and beverage and personal care markets and our platform continues to grow. To expand into North America is now our number one priority.’
After finance and accounting, the other centralized function is quality control. ‘We have set up a global quality control system which operates independently of the factories,’ explains Guido Iannone. It is run by Andreas Bertram, the former head of global QC for Beiersdorf. ‘After a year setting up, the group is up and running and working with quality control managers in each region, and we are creating same mindset on KPIs and standards. We are still at the very beginning of this process.’
The constant improvement mentality already exists locally, but the challenge is bringing that into one cultural system talking the same operational language. ‘It is about measuring progress on waste and set-up time and becoming better at sharing global best practice,’ says Tippenhauer. ‘For example, if a flexo press is set up twice as fast in Brazil, why is this and how can we share that knowledge? We need comparability on figures to know if we are running well or not, and if not, how we can help.’
All4Labels is currently examining how far production should be integrated. ‘Does it make sense to produce certain products closer to certain customers? Or to choose certain plants with the right technology for a certain job? These are the questions we are asking,’ says Tippenhauer.
Rako and X-Label have made the most progress in integrating production workflows, with connected ERP systems now shifting jobs between factories depending on capacity. ‘The process of moving jobs between factories is delicate, because a lot can go wrong and you can lose the trust of customers quickly. We are currently in the process of connecting the dots,’ explains Tippenhauer.
‘When we receive a customer order an algorithm detects SKUs, run length etc and determines first if it goes flexo or digital. If the order comes to a flexo factory, it looks at capacity, and places, for example, 60 percent in this factory and another 40 percent in another factory. It checks if they have the up-to-date artwork files and if not transfers data automatically into the other ERP system, then schedules the job without a person touching it. Before, you had a person who manually organized jobs and typed in order information. All this changes our agility and our cost basis. We need to take this technology and use it to change the way we play the game. And this is what sets up apart. We will re-digitalize our entire value stream.’
Not just production, but creativity is being shared. ‘Where we have products in the pipeline it is important not to overlap, but to combine our ideas to create something unique,’ says Guido Iannone. ‘We have run a workshop in Milan for all our teams and we are working on a new creative marketing project for wine and spirits which we will launch after Labelexpo. This workshop discusses trends in wine and spirits and we invite partners and suppliers, customers and agencies.’
Today’s key market dynamic is a dramatic shortening of innovation life-cycles, explains Adrian Tippenhauer. ‘Before, a relaunch was every two or three years, but now we see two relaunches a year plus several line extensions for brands. We see a high level of customization, premiumization and personalization. Digital plays a big role because now every manager has to come up with a digital agenda, and this plays in our favor because we are seen as consultants for digital label and packaging solutions. We are being invited to management meetings at brands like Colgate. So the question is, how will this massive increase in complexity and relaunches be managed?’
Brands like P&G want global suppliers who act regionally or locally. ‘To understand a market you need to be close to it and you can’t have a central R&D developing for all markets. But you can share what works in different regions.’
Along with faster design cycle times, brands and consumers now ‘want it tomorrow’. ‘To make this work will require de-centralization of market approach, otherwise you can’t match that agility, and this will change the entire supply chain,’ says Tippenhauer.
‘In the past if Tesco wanted one SKU of shampoo it had to order at least one full shift running shampoo. Today we know our customers are changing their filling behavior. From a full shift they are moving to one hour of filling at 15,000 bottles/hour, which is all the inventory they want. So you have to adapt and be agile. No-one wants scrap or inventory.’
For this writer it has been a fascinating journey watching All4Labels pioneer a new model of global cooperation among independently owned label converters. This latest move to increase capacity in flexible packaging and shrink sleeves moves the group further along the road of a one-stop shop, while the continued progress of secure, cloud-based integration, offers exciting possibilities for the future organization of the group’s production assets.