Specialty Products Are Custom Made in the U.K.

Specialization is something that seems to be burgeoning in the converting industry. From short-run specialty bags to the season/holiday-changing colorful foil and plastic packaging that encloses chocolate "drops," (hint: Kisses anyone?), converted products are moving into the shorter-run, specialized realm. Where does an end-user, or a non-custom converter, go when he or she wants customized work? One place is Ferrisgate Ltd., Thetford, U.K.

While specialized holiday bags and foil-covered chocolate drops may not be Ferrisgate's forte, "custom converting is," says commercial director Mike Draper. "Our emphasis is coating and laminating, coupled with the additional conversion processes of slitting, reeling, and sheeting. We are not only a contract coating operation, but, increasingly, we are customizing products."

To meet these expanding customization requirements, Ferrisgate recently augmented its existing range of equipment with a versatile coating line, equipped with two corona-discharge treating stations manufactured by Sherman Treaters. The new coater and "C" treating system, as Draper calls it, now are helping this converting operation produce its unique product mix.

Rich in Variety
Ferrisgate's business includes an array of converting processes and products: pressure-sensitive, gummed, and heat seal labelstock; flexible packaging, including barrier, clear, and metallized laminates and lidding materials; a range of p-s and heat seal mounting and laminating materials, which are distributed in the general display, large-format digital print, photolab, picture framing, and sign markets; plus a host of industrial products, including double-sided tapes, protection films, and decorative finishes.

"We are involved in many different product areas," Draper notes, "from flexible packaging to adhesive tapes to graphic arts. However, most of our business, in terms of volume through our machines, is in the specialty labelstock area."

Draper says the nearly 20-year-old company began when he and his partner Tony Gomer started up Ferrisgate in Mildenhall, Suffolk, approximately ten miles from where part of the company is now located in Thetford, Norfolk.

Currently, Ferrisgate is housed in three factories in the Thetford area, with a fourth situated more centrally in England, in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire; this site is where the contract converting operation is located.

Draper adds that the total size of Ferrisgate's production area is somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 sq ft, and the company employs a workforce of 80. Production runs three eight-hour shifts, Monday through Friday, with weekend overtime as necessary.

Equipment Old and New
With business booming, Ferrisgate utilizes various types of equipment for production, including a range of older coating machines purchased secondhand and modified extensively over the years. Three of the coaters were manufactured by Polytype, and the other two by Bruderhaus-Reva (now defunct). Ferrisgate also slits off-line with a range of slitters manufactured by such companies as Kampf, Elite, and Cevenini.

But the time came, according to Draper, when Ferrisgate made the decision to update its working capital. "We decided it was time to upgrade, and so we added new machinery and technology."

This new technology was hot melt slot-die coating with in-line UV (ultraviolet) curing. Draper explains, "We purchased a new Bematec slot-die coating head and engaged T.H. Dixon to build a machine-to our specification-around the head. The Dixon coater is designed to run web widths up to 1.55 meters [61 in.] and has an additional three-roll coating head prior to hot melt coating for printing single-color, priming, or siliconizing.

"In addition," says Draper, "we added Fusion microwave-excited ultraviolet lamps, and this has allowed us to learn about hot melt technology, and more specifically, about UV-curable, hot melt, p-s adhesives."

And last year, more newly manufactured equipment debuted at Ferrisgate.

In 1999 the company installed a double-head, in-line T.H. Dixon coating and laminating machine that is 1.8-plus m wide (70-72 in.).

Explains Draper, "It's been designed totally around our requirements as we see them at present. As with all our machines, it needed to be very flexible in terms of processing capabilities, as we don't know what will be coming through the door tomorrow. We aim to cover most potential business offered to us."

The new Dixon machine is fully turreted, has a comprehensive drying system (manufactured by Spooner), and is attached to a thermal oxidizer made by Thermax.

As a contract converter, Draper reports Ferrisgate works with a variety of films, papers, and even fabrics. "We can run materials from thin polyester or polypropylene films to thicker vinyls to even thicker boards, the only provisos being that the materials are supplied on rolls and will run through the machines. It could be anything really."

Draper continues, "I look at our equipment as being like a larger scale pilot plant. For many customers, we offer the capability of helping them from the concept stage through to full production."

Setting Up for Flexibility
When one looks at the many types of converting processes going on at Ferrisgate, it's not hard to see why flexibility is so important. In addition to the versatility needed in the new coating line, Ferrisgate also required it in its new C-treating stations. "The Sherman treating system is quite flexible, allowing for upgrades when required. We have covered and bare roll both, one- and two-sided corona discharge treating," explains Draper.

He says the company decided to include two separate treating stations, one prior to the first coating head and the second prior to lamination. "This configuration has been especially useful for running label stock," he notes.

"One of our products is a self-adhesive label stock with a PE face material that has to remain print receptive but also must provide a key to the adhesive. We use a two-side corona treater in this case to treat the untreated surface for adhesive key, while giving the supplied C-treated side a secondary boost for excellent printability. Obviously, in general, we use the corona treaters to activate surfaces prior to coating and laminating."

Partnerships Promote Business
The construction of the new coating line and the attached treating stations was the result of a partnership among T.H. Dixon, Sherman, and Ferrisgate. Draper notes that these arrangements have been particularly helpful to Ferrisgate, both in terms of purchasing quality equipment and getting new business. "As policy, we have found over the years that running in partnership with both material and machinery suppliers has worked well for us. Actually, we have received a lot of our business through referrals from both customers and suppliers. Our partnership with Sherman Treaters has worked well, and to be honest, we haven't used anybody else for treating equipment. We've found their service to be good; they've been very helpful people."

According to Draper, the T.H. Dixon line and its new Sherman treating stations will keep the contract converter on the customized path. He adds that the line should help Ferrisgate consolidate its four-site operation to three or even two sites.

"At the moment, we're spread a bit far and wide. It is expected that we will be able to dispense with the Mildenhall site due to the transfer of jobs onto the new machine. But, I can see a situation arising where a new job will present itself and be ideally suited to a Mildenhall machine, at which stage we will need to reconsider. Who knows?"

No matter how the company chooses to restructure its current operations, it will continue to make the most of today's trend toward customized/specialty products.

And with the investment in new equipment and partnerships with quality suppliers, it appears Ferrisgate will be prepared for whatever trends tomorrow may bring as well.

Supplier Information
Sherman Treaters Ltd. Oxon, OX, U.K; ph: +44 1844 213686; fax: +44 1844 217172.

T.H. Dixon & Co. Ltd., Letchworth, Hertfordshire, U.K.; ph: +44 (0) 1462 685101; fax: +44 (0) 1462 670438.

Bematec SA Morges, Switzerland; ph: +41 (0) 21 804 7444; fax: +41 (0) 21 804 7454.

Polytype AG Fribourg, Switzerland; ph: +41 (0) 26 426 1111; fax: +41 (0) 26 426 1112.

Kampf GmbH & Co., Maschinenfabrik Wiehl Muhlen, Germany; ph: +49 226 281 0; fax: +49 226 281 208.

Elite Converting Machinery Ltd., Taunton, U.K.; ph: +44 1823 332733; fax: +44 1823 332833.

Converting Machinery, Cevenini Srl. Milan, Italy; ph: +39 039 6042569; fax: +39 039 6042606.

Fusion UV Curing SystemsISO, Gaithersburg, MD; ph: 301/527-2660; fax: 301/527-2661.

Spooner Industries Inc., Green Bay, WI; ph: 920/336-2010; fax: 920/336-2015.

Thermax Europe Ltd., Milton Keys, U.K.; ph +44 1908 316216; fax: +44 1908 316217.


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