Catty Corp.: Flex-Pack Converter

Catty Corp. is so proud of its success and its new equipment, including a Deacro slitter and a Bobst Champlian press, it wants to let... THE CAT OUT OF THE BAG

Throughout its nearly 100-year history, Catty Corp. has remained a “very, very private company,” says president Bruce Scott. So private, in fact, that sometimes it seemed only its customers knew of Catty's existence as a flexible packaging converter.

“My father's philosophy was that we're a private company, we serve our customers well, so let's just keep it quiet,” explains Scott, who purchased the Huntley, IL-based converting operation from his father and took over as president in 1996.

“I've taken a little bit of a different approach,” notes Scott. “We've grown so substantially in the last couple of years, I think we should be proud of what we're doing.” And, he adds with a laugh, “We've gotten enough attention with some of the business we've picked up, I think we're noticed anyway.”

Growing with the Industry
While its recognition may be recent, Catty's growth mirrors that of the flexible packaging industry. The company was established in 1907 and carved its niche first as a converter of paper, then cellophane packaging, and later aluminum. In fact, Scott says Catty produced the shredded-aluminum “chafe” that was jettisoned by US and British fighter pilots to divert heat-seeking missiles away from their aircraft during World War II.

Later, Scott says, the company was the first to convert thin, 0.0035-mil foil in four-color register using a Kidder flexo press in the 1950s. Typically, that foil was used for wrapping confectioneries or converted into labels for bottle necks. Catty later expanded its capabilities to include printing and laminating on unsupported films and foils, which led to its entrée into the food, confectionery, and pharmaceutical packaging markets that comprise the bulk of the company's current business.

Catty customers now include the likes of Unilever, Schering-Plough, Brach, and Nestlé, as well as many small, gourmet confectionery companies.

In a recent magazine survey, Catty moved up 20 spots to rank as the 59th largest flexible packaging converter in the country.

On to Eight Colors
But its robust growth — and new-found recognition — is largely the result of Catty's installation last year of a renovated eight-color, 54-in. Bobst Champlain board press with a Bobst 2000 registration system that Catty converted to a foil lamination press. Prior to installation of the Bobst “foil” press, the company was limited to four-color printing on seven other 32-in. rotogravure and flexo presses. Those included a four-color Kidder stack flexo press, a four-color Hudson-Sharp CI flexo press at its 36,000-sq-ft Huntley headquarters, and five proprietary rotogravure presses Catty first built in the 1940s and '50s to print on unsupported films.

“The biggest change was going from four-color to eight-color, which is a huge jump,” Scott says. “I know it's not cutting edge in the marketplace, but it was certainly a big change for us.”

That upgrade essentially was dictated by several of Catty's largest customers, who offered the company a “substantial amount” of new business if it could increase its printing capacity from four to eight colors. Not only did Catty add the new press, the company also built a new 30,000-sq-ft facility that went into production in August 2001 in nearby Chemung, IL, to house it and a new Deacro 653D slitter.

That 50-in. Deacro slitter is ideal for unwinding foil and incorporates a differential rewind shaft that allows the operator to switch slit sizes “fairly easily,” says Scott. (The company also operates a Deacro unit at its headquarters.) Adds Scott, “We had an older Deacro at the one plant, so we bought a newer version for the new plant because it worked so well unwinding foil.”

The 653D Deacro unit can use shear or razor slitting technologies alternately. Scott cites both the “rapid” set-up times and “unmatched” tension control as key reasons for choosing the Deacro. The slitter is capable of running at speeds to 2,000 fpm and can slit down to 1-in. widths.

Catty also added a Fife video web inspection system that replaces a more rudimentary rotating mirror unit on the Bobst press and offers far greater quality control.

Installation Adds Business
Of course, the customers that initially encouraged Catty to make the substantial capital investment command a significant portion of the new equipment's press time. Currently, about 25% of the company's new business — and 10% of its overall sales volume — is a direct result of installing the Bobst, says Scott. Plus, the addition has given Catty the flexibility to schedule jobs where they can be converted most economically to better meet customer needs.

“When you retrofit a board press,” explains Scott, “it takes a while to get everything up to speed. That's the direction we're going. We're taking a lot of bigger runs from our smaller 32-in. presses and shifting them to our new facility, so our capacity for both narrower and wider web jobs is vast right now. We've literally quadrupled our capacity by adding this one press.”

In transforming the Bobst Champlain from a board press to a foil lamination unit, Catty added an Allen-Bradley computer-based logic system to work in conjunction with its upgraded Bobst unwind and foil laminating units, a Black Clawson rewind station, and a Northern Engraving dual embossing system. The company also installed a Magnetic Power Systems (Magpowr) custom tension control system “to pull it all together,” Scott explains.

“It's a nice way to expand a company, when a customer is willing to swing a large volume of business over to you,” says Scott. “It was nice partnering. I think it was a huge vote of confidence that they liked what we did for them in other areas, and they wanted the same service over here [at the Chemung facility].”

Scott continues, “Still, we're trying to maintain the quick turnaround. Obviously, with a huge press like that you're limited mainly to the big runs. But we think we've positioned ourselves where we can handle runs from a couple of hundred pounds to 50,000 or 75,000 pounds.”

He says the decision to build a second plant to house the 150-ft-long Bobst Champlain, rather than expand the first facility or combine the two operations in a single location, was made for several reasons. First, the 25-ft height requirements of the Bobst press made it an impossible fit at the Huntley headquarters without literally “tearing the roof off the place.” Plus, he adds, “customers like the idea of [our] having two plants that each produce most of what they need.”

More Improvements
Prior to installing the Bobst press, Catty already had improved the print quality on its four older proprietary presses substantially. In 1995 the company was experiencing registration problems on those presses when it expanded into the pharmaceutical market and began using thinner structures, materials, and foil laminations. Catty engineers replaced mechanical line shafts with custom-built vector drives from Baldor Drives that used motor pulses to coordinate register between drives on the four-color presses. It was, to Scott's knowledge, the first AC vector, non-shaft-driven printing press.

Customers Are King
As evidenced by its investment in the Bobst press, this is one company intent on customer service. In fact, its production schedule is determined in large part by the customer service department itself. “If someone needs an order really quickly, we tend to be responsive,” explains Scott. “They'll call up and say, ‘Oh, I forgot to order this item.’ We can break into a job and be up and running that particular product within hours. Almost 100% of the time, we've been able to get them product when they need it.

“I like to tell the people here in customer service: ‘Do their job for them,’” Scott adds. “‘Track their inventory; look at their history and be ready to help them out.’ We do a lot of stocking of raw materials for customers, even though we don't have orders yet, so we're prepared to convert their product. Some of our customers also require us to have a certain amount on hand to be able to deliver it almost on demand, because their needs change. So, we definitely do a lot of inventorying of product, which I think is another reason customers are attracted to us.”

Even with its wider web and longer press runs, Scott says Catty has been known to fill orders in just 24 hr, even on the Bobst. He points out those are typically repeat runs for larger customers, so the print cylinders, inks, and stock are already in-house. (Inks are supplied by INX Intl. Ink Co.; cylinders and stock are from various suppliers.) Employees even put in overtime on holidays to help meet deadlines for product launches in the pharmaceutical industry, for example.

“We've built a process and systems here so we're able to do that pretty quickly,” says Scott. “We don't like doing it all the time, but we take our responsibility to the customer very seriously. We have a number of customers where we're their sole source. And when I ask them, ‘Why Catty?,’ they say, ‘Our plants like you because you make deliveries on time, and you're responsive to what our needs are,’ and that seems to be the key to it all.”

Expansion, upgrading, customer service. Secrets of success Catty is proud — and willing — to share.

CONVERTER INFO
Catty Corp.

11117 Church St., Huntley, IL 60142; 847/669-5161; cattycorp.com


SUPPLIER INFO
Deacro Industries,

Mississauga, ON, Canada; 905/564-6566; deacro.com

Bobst Group, Roseland, NJ; 973/226-8000; bobstgroup.com

Kidder, Agawam, MA; 413/786-8785; kidderpress.com

Hudson-Sharp Machine Co., Green Bay, WI; 920/494-4571; hudsonsharp.com

Fife Corp., a Maxcess Intl. co., Oklahoma City, OK; 405/755-1600; fife.com

Allen-Bradley, Milwaukee, WI; 414/382-2000; automation.rockwell.com

Black Clawson Converting Machinery, Fulton, NY; 315/593-7121; blkclawson.com

Northern Engraving and Machine, Green Bay, WI; 920/437-0848; northernengraving.com

Magpowr/Magnetic Power Systems, a Maxcess Intl. co., Denton, MO; 636/343-5550; magpowr.com

Baldor Electric-Motors, Drives & Generators, Fort Smith, AR; 501/646-4711; baldor.com

INX Intl. Ink Co., Elk Grove Village, IL; 847/981-9399; inxinternational.com



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