- April 01, 2001, Stanley Sacharow, Contributing Editor
Headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, Amcor Flexibles Europe (AFE) ($250 million) is the European flexible packaging arm of Amcor, one of the top five global packaging companies. The firm is the dominant flex-pack converter in both the Netherlands and Belgium. Its Dutch operation in Haarlem was discussed in Paper, Film & Foil CONVERTER last month. This article will cover exclusive visits by PFFC to AFE's two major Belgium plants: Transpac Halen and Transpac Ghent.
Designed to be a Major Player
About an hour's ride from downtown Brussels, AFE's plant in Halen is located in a 22,000-sq-m building on the site of a large industrial park. The operation was founded around the turn of the century by M. Jean Saels and was owned by Belgian-based chemical multinational UCB (Union Chemique Belge) until May 1996. Acquired by Amcor, Transpac Halen rapidly became a major player in AFE's flexible operations.
The plant is designed and organized superbly as well as fully equipped to produce a wide variety of flex-pack constructions. Sales director Jan Geudens told PFFC that “within the food and beverage markets, our specialty is value-added confectionery packaging plus expertise in selected other market segments such as coffee, processed foods, and powdered products.”
The operation serves many leading European end-users, including Mars, Philip Morris, Sara Lee, and Elite Coffee.
Operating with three shifts and about 250 employees, Transpac Halen manufactures more than 14,000 tons of converted flex-pack material annually. Its export rate is almost 90% of total production, with exports going mainly to neighboring countries but also to eastern and central Europe.
The plant has five rotogravure presses: one 12-color Cerutti and four Rotomecs with capabilities of 11, 10, 8, and 7 colors. The in-line Cerutti was installed in mid-2000 and is a fully state-of-the-art press. A new 2,200-sq-m production hall was built for the press, which is designed to manufacture laminates in an environmentally responsible way. The press is more than 50 m long and can print materials 1,100 mm wide. It has many advanced features such as two-side printing/coating capability post-lamination; solventless lamination; and the latest register control and fault detection systems. It is geared to supply the targeted markets of coffee and confectionery.
Flexographic printing is done on a Flexotecnica (Cerutti) six-color press. Lamination and coating are accomplished on a Rotomec two-station laminator and a Kampf three-station coater. The operation includes nine slitters and five bagmaking machines.
Although the facility does not have any extrusion capabilities, required extruded film is obtained in-house from the company's Ghent plant or German plant. Geudens reports, “This system works quite well, allowing us to focus on low-cost production for our core business.”
Representative laminations manufactured at Halen include wax, water-based, solvent-based, and solvent-free components. The Kampf coater produces polyvinyl alcohol, blister, hot melt, and acrylic-coated materials. Halen also is capable of in-line triplex lamination and coating and processes most of the major flex-pack materials, including aluminum foil, oriented polypropylene, PET, oriented polyamide, cast PP, polyethylene, and paper. These are available in mono, duplex, and triplex constructions.
New Product, Increasing Demand
For the confectionery industry, Transpac Halen has introduced Twistall, a novel twist system building on the standard flow wrap.
The classic twist idea begins with the twistable material printed in either flexo or gravure. The Twistall system yields a hermetic seal on an individual twist-wrapped confection by utilizing an additional fin seal in the cross direction of the web. This is accomplished on the packaging machine just prior to the final twist operation.
The coating pattern on the base film is adapted accordingly. The net result is a longer shelf life for the individually wrapped confection, even after opening the bag.
Confections that are not twisted, such as various caramels and peanut butter miniatures, can utilize the company's Foldall system that uses a registered coating to yield a hermetic seal.
Both systems offer tamper-evident features, barrier properties, insect infestation protection, and the ability to mix products without flavor transference. These systems are growing in popularity among confectionery producers.
Both of these products employ truly sophisticated converting technology by using a patterned seal with film or foil to obtain either a hermetically closed twist or fold wrap.
Another Chapter in Success Story
Located in Ghent, a widely visited Renaissance city in southern Belgium, Transpac Ghent ($64 million) also was acquired by AFE in 1996 from UCB. Larger than the Halen facility, with 350 employees and incorporating AFE's research and development center (15 employees), the Ghent plant is located in a 120,000-sq-m facility.
The plant originally opened its doors in 1925 as cellophane manufacturer Sidac S.A. Over the next 40 years, production grew rapidly to include a wide range of flex-pack materials, including base polyolefin film extrusion.
General manager Filip Lens explains, “Our unique Flemish multi-cultural linguistic society, coupled with a sophisticated product range, enables us to take full advantage of the globalization of the flex-pack industry. As a result, we feel that our exports outside Europe will grow quite significantly in the years to come.”
The Ghent plant offers a more extensive line of converting equipment than does AFE Halen. There are six printing presses — four rotogravure presses (up to nine colors) and two flexo presses that are up to 1.4 m wide. Complementing the presses are five extruders (three blown and two cast) from Barmag and Egan. Three off-line laminators produce both combined and coated constructions for a variety of food and beverage customers.
Operating on a Complex Level
Ghent manufactures a wide range of complex flex-pack constructions. These include structures for the medical device industry using grid-lacquered paper (Tyvek is used less in Europe) in combination with a semi-rigid, flexible thermoformed bottom web. The grid-lacquered paper allows for ethylene circle sterilization and ultimate peelability. According to Lens, a material for surgical glove packaging utilizes a “unique PET lamination that is peelable, sealable, and able to be gamma treated.”
Able to extrude all types of resins, including ethylene vinyl alcohol, the Ghent facility manufactures flex-pack for many modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) applications using EVOH as a barrier replacing aluminum foil and PVDC.
Representative constructions include PET/adhesive/PE/EVOH/PE. For confectionery use, the plant produces OPP/adh/OPP,OPP/adh/PE and OPP/cold seal. PVOH is used as a coating for various barrier applications. In addition, many of the product constructions contain easy-opening features that are based on a unique range of peelable films developed during the last 25 years.
The breakdown for Ghent is 70% food and 30% nonfood. An estimated 65% of production is exported, with 50% going to Europe and 15% to other worldwide destinations.
During the PFFC visit, Lens discussed his plans for the future. He noted that in the first quarter of 2001, the facility has concrete plans to obtain a fourth in-line laminator, a new gravure cylinder storage facility, and additional in-line inspection systems.
AFE has a third flex-pack facility in Belgium — Synco NV ($10 million) located outside Antwerp in Kontich, Belgium. The plant produces various laminates for food uses. Its specialty is short runs as well as demetallization products.
This concludes our two-part look at Amcor Flexibles Europe, a giant in its field and an outstanding example of the vitality of today's flexible packaging industry.
Barmag AG, Lennep, Germany; +49 2191-67-0
Cerutti Giovanni Officine Meccaniche, Casale Monferrato, Italy; +39 0142 459491; cerutti.it
Egan Davis-Standard, Somerville, NJ; 908/722-6000; davis-standard.com
Kampf GmbH & Co., Muhlen, Germany; +49 2262 81 200; kampf.de
Rotomec America (Valmet), Hartford, CT; 860/953-3504; 800/428-0292; valmetconverting.com
Stanley Sacharow has been in the flexible packaging industry for almost 35 years. His company, The Packaging Group, is an organizer of targeted conferences and a consultant to the international packaging/converting industry. He is also the author of PFFC's “Package Converting” column. Contact him at 732/636-0885; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Under the LoupeAbout Belgium: More Than Meets the Eye
A first taste of Belgium (pop. 10.2 million) reveals a rich and bubbling vat of beer, chocolate, oil paint, and bureaucrats. But stir the pot a little, and you'll find an “artificial state” roughly made up of two parts Germanic Flemings to one part Celtic-Latin Walloons.
Divided by pride first and language second, the country's binding agents are a pervasive sense of family and an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit. And if Belgium's spotlight on the European stage is a little dim, it's only because its people are rarely boastful. This country actually has more history, art, food, and architecture per square centimeter than many of its bigger, louder neighbors.
The home of the EU, Belgium is also a major center for chemical production. In Mechelen, a suburb of Brussels, Exxon Chemical maintains its European R&D center where many outstanding resin and adhesive developments originate.