Digital Magazine

Laminator adds metallizing to the mix

To compete in the metallizing game, Alubec has a simple strategy: Get the right equipment and give your customers what they want.

For more than 40 years Alubec Industries Inc. of Montreal, Canada, has been in the business of foil laminations, supplying laminated substrates to customers throughout the US and Canada. "We are a primary supplier," says CEO Ralph Goldman. "We don't do any printing. We supply either sheets or rolls of laminated foil on paper or laminated foil or film on board in widths to 58 inches in diameters to 72 inches. Our laminations range from a 15-pound tissue to a 40-point board."

Three years ago things began to change. Alubec was purchased by Transfer Print Foils of East Brunswick, NJ, a company that makes innovative holograms and hot stamping foils and has patents on a transfer metallizing process. About the same time the foil laminating business was becoming crowded with competitors, and, as label styles changed, the demand for laminated foil paper slowly began to decline. The combination of changing market dynamics and being acquired by a company that thrived on innovation helped Alubec decide that it was time to expand its capabilities to stay competitive. The vacuum metallizing of paper seemed like an excellent extension of its foil laminating capabilities. By supplying metallized paper, Alubec could offer an ecologically acceptable substrate to the label trade.

Alubec needed to purchase two pieces of equipment to get started in the new venture: a lacquering machine and a vacuum metallizer. Because of a long association with Inta-Roto Inc. (Goldman's previous employer bought the first foil laminator Inta-Roto ever produced), he chose an Inta-Roto lacquering machine. Goldman is convinced that a major reason the addition of metallizing capabilities went so smoothly was the Inta-Roto equipment.

A 65-in.-wide paper/film vacuum metallizer was purchased from Galileo Vacuum Tec. Goldman says that Galileo equipment, which handles rolls to 40 in. in diameter, was chosen for several reasons. For one, the vacuum chamber can be opened from both sides, and this allows easy loading and unloading of the substrate. It also allows for easier maintenance of the crucibles and the aluminum wire feeders. Alubec also purchased a separate crucible to allow for the deposition of material other than aluminum.

Coating is Crucial

Goldman explains the importance of coating prior to metallizing: "We have to start with a substrate that has a very smooth surface, then we lacquer it using a high-gloss lacquer. Therefore, before the substrate rolls are sent to the metallizer, they are given two coats of lacquer in one pass on the two-headed lacquering machine. The moisture content of the lacquered substrate has to be around 2 percent prior to metallizing. The quality of the metallizing process depends on the ability of the operator and - this is very important - on the equipment itself, because the working cycle is highly automated. The roll of substrate, which can be as wide as 65 inches, is placed into the metallizer and threaded between two shafts. The computer controls the process from this point on. When the entire roll is metallized, the machine stops automatically. Vacuum is released, the roll is removed, and then it has to be lacquer-overprinted on the coater."

He explains, "We have to put on an overprint lacquer because, after approximately 24 hours, the aluminum surface starts to oxidize, and you cannot successfully print on an oxidized surface. We preserve the surface by putting a post-lacquer on top of it."

Formula for Success

There are no secrets to this business," says Goldman. "You've got to turn out a consistently good product with little or no variation, you've got to carefully monitor your moisture content, you've got to watch the brightness of the deposit, and you've got to give your customers a sheet that's tailored to their specific environment."

Goldman says when his customers take a skid of his metallized substrate and wheel it up to one of their machines, they expect it to perform in a predictable way. "Some printers run at 53 percent relative humidity, others run at 40 percent, and so on. If you deliver a material that's loaded with moisture into a converting operation that reads 40 percent relative humidity, that substrate will rapidly lose moisture and curl down. If, on the other hand, you have a sheet with 40 percent humidity and take it into a shop with humidity levels in the 50 percent range, the material will pick up moisture, which is murder. The paper will begin to swell across the grain way. In the case of foil lamination, both sides will start coming up, because the paper side is swelling across the grain."

Alubec is very careful about the moisture levels of all the laminated and metallized product it ships. Customers specify a certain moisture/relative humidity to match the conditions found inside their converting facility. "When the paper comes out of the metallizer," says Goldman, "it is very dry, so after we put the coating on, we rehumidify it with a Dahlgren system to put the moisture back in."

After the roll is adjusted to customer-specified humidity levels, it is hermetically sealed in shrinkwrap before shipment or storage.

Alubec uses water-based lacquers and adhesives. "It's more than ecology; we have to give the customer a good surface to print on, so we use water-based," says Goldman. Another reason is that odor levels are kept down.

Being smaller is not a disadvantage in Goldman's eyes. "We can make overnight deliveries. If a customer calls on a Friday afternoon and tells us they must have something for Monday, we'll work double-time on Saturday, regardless of the cost, because without customers we're dead."

Supplier Information:

Inta-Roto Inc., Richmond, VA; ph: 804/222-4809; fax: 804/222-8981.

Galileo Vacuum Systems Inc., East Cranby, CT; ph: 860-653-5911; fax: 860/653-6540.

Dahlgren, Carrollton, TX; ph: 214/245-0035; fax: 214/245-0768.

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