Digital Magazine

Latest Gravure Technology Launches Converter into Fray

Imagine you're a paratrooper. Your mission: to launch yourself out of a plane, drop to the earth, hit the ground running, and go into battle. Sounds risky, nerve-wracking, and downright scary, doesn't it? Though less dramatic, launching a new business (even if it's within an established one) is somewhat like being a paratrooper. In today's hyper-competitive and increasingly merger-and acquisition-oriented marketplace, you'd better hit the ground running and be ready to do battle. If you don't... well, the consequences aren't exactly appealing.

Kapak Corporation, Minneapolis, MN, is a converter that's launched itself into competitive combat. While Kapak has been around for 40 years, it had never printed prior to last year, so it definitely hit the ground running on the printing front line. And with the installation of its new Toshiba eight-color rotogravure press, Kapak hit it at full speed.

Big deal, you may say, buying a new press isn't exactly war. It may not be war, but it is a big deal. The Toshiba press--which incorporates innovative sectional-drive technology and hollow, reusable cylinders--is the only one of its kind in the US, just one of seven installed in the world. And, according to Gary Bell, Kapak president and CEO, "It's probably the single greatest technological advancement in rotogravure printing in the past 50 years."

Boil-in-Bag Beginnings
Kapak began converting in 1961. "My father, Harry Bell, and Benjamin Kaplan started the company," explains Bell. "At first, the two worked under a licensing agreement with the 3M company to use the name ScotchPak."

Bell says that in 1957 3M developed ScotchPak, a polyester and extrusion PE (polyethylene) film, but 3M wasn't exactly sure what to do with it. "It literally sat on the shelf for four years until my father and Ben got involved with it. They figured that 3M was going to be capable of creating the rollstock, and Kapak was developed with the idea of becoming the first converter of that rollstock. Our first machine originally was a G.T. Sheldahl & Co. poly-bag machine. We retrofitted it and turned it into the very first pouchmaking machine. That's how the boil-in-bag application began."

Bell continues: "Kapak had to go out and educate everybody what boil-in-bag was all about. We did that through the food processors, companies like Green Giant, Sara Lee, and Stouffer's. Then they introduced their lines of boil-in-bag frozen food products to consumers."

Bell says Kapak kept at the boil-in-bag commodity, but soon after other companies wandered into the marketplace with a new methodology--the form/fill/seal approach. "It worked very well in a three-side-seal application for frozen entrees," he notes.

According to Bell, this caused Kapak's business to begin to falter. But it wasn't long before the innovative converter targeted and entered another niche area with its high-barrier pouch. "The next area we entered was that of law enforcement. [We created pouches] for evidence collection, for capturing or containing all types of evidence, most of which were for drug paraphernalia. The kit also contains a heat-sealing appliance, one that can be used in evidence-collection rooms throughout the police network. We also developed one that can be plugged into a car cigarette lighter, so all squad cars now can be equipped with an evidence kit."

While the evidence-collection kit currently is not a large part of Kapak's business (about 5% of the total business), the company still provides the kits to law enforcement agencies across the country. Bell adds that the government utilization of Kapak's kits has been an effective cost-saving measure for law enforcement agencies and the judicial system. "Huge sums of money were being spent in prosecuting all of these cases, and prior to the government instituting the use of the kit, defense lawyers would [be able to] get defendants [acquitted] because the evidence was contaminated or mishandled. Today, the Kapak system still is the only approved system of handling drug paraphernalia that's accepted in a US court of law."

Enter Stand-Up Pouches
Kapak continued production after the company got into the evidence-collection kit business, but Bell says it hit a turning point in the mid-80s. "Everything for Kapak changed dramatically in 1986. At that point, we started to look into standing-pouch applications. I liked the appeal of a pouch that would stand up and present a face on a shelf, but at first, we didn't really know what we were going to do with it."

While Kapak currently operates six pouchmaking machines (all manufactured by Totani), Bell says the company gradually got into the stand-up pouch arena via the international marketplace. "Procter & Gamble began to introduce standing pouches in Germany and Switzerland, and they were beginning to show up in Canada as well. We started to get calls from them to do a stand-up pouch with graphics-100 percent front and back graphics, registered."

Bell says Kapak began scanning the industry for printing/laminating converters that could deliver strength and quality. "At the request of Procter & Gamble, virtually every big-name converter in the country was invited to send us trial laminations. We wanted a converter that could deliver registered, printed graphics and also could do a strong enough lamination so the chemical composition of such products as household cleaners and fabric softeners wouldn't saturate the lamination, break it down, and cause leaking. But nobody could do it."

Bell then went outside of the US to check out what Kapak would need if it was going to produce these stand-up pouches successfully. "I expanded on some of my relationships in Japan," he reports, "and I asked these contacts to submit printed laminations that would involve up to 200 percent ink coverage. The marketing people and the consumer products companies wanted to have reverse graphics--which was unlike Europe--where you could print on the surface and then protect it with a varnish overlay."

According to Bell, this was a big challenge. "We asked ourselves, 'How do we give the marketing people up to 200 percent ink coverage, which is an excessively high amount of ink, yet do it on products that are not going to attack the lamination?' I found the answer in Japan. They showed us that it could be done, and that's when I decided to protect our future interests: We decided to laminate." Kapak bought a coater/laminator from Okazaki and began laminating in 1993.

Gravure: The Answer
But Bell wasn't satisfied with the print quality Kapak was getting. "I had a few problems with the flexo-printed products I was seeing. One was the print registration; it varied and had very poor quality in repeat registration, in particular. When you're trying to make stand-up pouches that have gusset folds, and you start to add in other features like zippers, precise tear notches, rounded corners, and in-line die-cut handles, and the printing methodology [you're using] is not performing in the repeat, it throws all of those value-added features out of sync. So Kapak then looked at another form of printing: rotogravure."

According to Bell, he began his own five-year study of flexible package printing methodologies in 1990. While he knew going in that rotogravure is a very precise, quality printing method, he still had issues with it. "First, there was the very high cost of cylinders. Secondly, in order to make it economically viable, we'd have to ask a customer to print ten gazillion impressions, and when we were moving into a period of just-in-time thinking, this was out of the question. The third problem was the lack of training for pressmen; training really was not that available in this country because flexo is so heavily used."

But even with those problems, Bell still preferred gravure over flexo. "I decided if Kapak was going to continue its mission of developing new, quality packaging concepts, the only way the company could meet that challenge would be to make the commitment and get into gravure printing. Fortunately, during my investigation, I discovered Toshiba's sectional-drive technology." That technology piqued Bell's interest and, ultimately, cemented his decision to start printing using the rotogravure method.

"The Toshiba press was installed in August of 1999, it took one month to set up, and we were printing within in two weeks," Bell states.

A Bounty of Values
"The Toshiba press has provided us with gravure's superior print quality," says Bell, "and we don't bear the high cost of steel print cylinders. A typical cylinder for this new press is approximately 25 percent the cost of traditional rotogravure cylinders. That's because the cylinders are hollow and reusable; each cylinder is encased by a steel shell and then is covered with seven layers of copper. The top layer is engraved and then plated with chrome. To reuse the cylinders, the top layer simply is stripped, then the next layer is engraved and replated."

Bell also points out that the individual sectional drives are key to the "revolutionary" technology embodied in the press. "If you're using traditional [gravure] technology, it doesn't matter if you have one color or eight colors; when you have a central drive shaft, all stations are driven by that shaft. This means you can't pre-set for the next run. With individual sectional drives on each color station, you can. For example, let's say you have two, four-color jobs. You can use stations one through four for the first job, and while that is being run, you can pre-set for the next four-color job on stations five through eight. So, the minute you are through with the first job, all you have to do is reroute the web, and you can immediately start producing."

This means less downtime, and Bell notes, the sectional-drive technology greatly reduces print-registration problems. "Because each station has its own servo motor to drive it, the press delivers tighter registration, both horizontally and vertically. With the old technology, it could only be done horizontally."

Technology Adds Flexibility
The new sectional-drive technology affords Kapak yet another unique capability, Bell adds. "We don't always know what the customer's artwork is going to be, hence we don't know what the repeat is going to be. This means you have to have an assortment of cylinders with various diameters. What the individual sectional drives allow you to do is use cylinders of different diameters on a run."

He gives the following example: "The last station where you reverse print is usually white. You can take that eighth station and, let's say, at the beginning of the day, if you have a good scheduler, he or she can organize the day's jobs to leave it in white, if it's going to be a white floodcoat all day. It doesn't matter what the diameter is of that eighth-station gravure cylinder; the computer will calculate the diameter and the speed at which the cylinder is operating and will make it run at the same speed as the other stations' cylinders."

Bell says this capability adds even more value to the press and provides an advantage for the company's customers as well. "What that means is if we have a floodcoat cylinder on hand, we don't have to make them pay for that cylinder. And, there's no set-up time. So all of that time savings goes to the benefit of the customer, in terms of lower cost. It also adds to our capacity."

According to Rick Luftman, Kapak's director of sales and marketing, the press can handle web widths up to 45 in. and is designed to run up to 600 fpm. Kapak utilizes solvent-based inks, all of which are supplied by Inx International, and a Pillar corona treater for its treating purposes. The treater system comprises an ETL listed 7.5-kW P6000 power supply and a Pillar 44-in.-treat-width Universal bare roll model. It is equipped with proportional speed control, high-voltage pneumatic switching device, remote-control capabilities, and a 1,000-scfm blower.

For service on the press, Kapak utilizes an ISDN line that provides it with a remote-maintenance system. Bell says the newness of the printing technology and the location of the supplier (Japan) warranted the investment in this type of system. "If we need service, basically, we dial up Japan in the nighttime hours [Toshiba Chicago in the daytime hours], and our operators, via the camera, show the technicians what and where the problem is, and Toshiba can conduct a remote maintenance diagnostic."

For quality control, Kapak outfitted its new Toshiba press with a web inspection system from Nireco. "It's state of the art," says Bell. "Its four cameras can identify even a piece of dust. And it not only identifies any web flaw, it also tells the operator where on the web it's occurring and categorizes it. And at the end of a run, the operator can print out the noted detections. This means we can provide our customers with a profile of each job."

Bell couldn't be more pleased with Kapak's investment in both Toshiba and Nireco. "Soon, you might see other gravure press manufacturers with sectional-drive technology, but Toshiba was there first. And, based on the five-year study I did, I believe Nireco makes the best inspection systems on the planet."

Ideal Environment
Kapak's new Toshiba press and its Okazaki laminator are both enclosed in a 180,000-sq-ft clean room, a room that Bell also talks about quite proudly. "We have 180,000 cubic feet of air in there, and there are 14 air changes every 60 minutes. Everyone has to pass through an air shower to get in and out. When you walk into the room, you don't smell any solvents whatsoever. Since 1993 we've been hooked up to a catalytic oxidizer that sucks out all of the contaminants and incinerates them. Our destruction rate is 99.7 percent, so environmentally, we're not a hazard to anybody, inside or outside of the building." Kapak's catalytic oxidizer was manufactured by Megtec Systems.

Luftman adds that the clean room furnishes the plant with ideal production conditions, even in Minnesota's cold winters. "It's 70 degrees Fahrenheit and has 55 percent relative humidity year round, so we don't have any static issues. In other words, for repeatability and consistency from job to job, we've never had a problem. As a matter of fact, in the almost eight years we've been laminating, we've never had a reject."

Kapak also recently augmented its operating space with a 15,000-sq-ft processing room that contains the six Totani pouchmakers, two Dusenbery slitters, and two pieces of spout-inserting equipment, both made by Hensen.

Though Kapak operates with 100 employees on a fairly ordinary two-shift, five-day-a-week production schedule, there doesn't seem to be much else ordinary about this plant. That was obvious during PFFC's tour of the facility this spring. From its new technology, to the extensive training it provided for its press operators (the company sent operators to Toshiba in Japan for an almost unheard of three-month training period), to its substantial investment in a very clean, organized facility, Kapak seems to be a model of technological, technical, and production innovation.

Says Bell, "There's so much new technology here. We are a market maker, we are a product maker, we are a developer. Everybody seems to want to clone us." Hitting the printing world with that attitude, how could Kapak lose?

Supplier Information
Toshiba, Tokyo, Japan; +81(0)3- 5250-3550

Battenfeld Gloucester Engineering Co. Inc. (Sheldahl), Gloucester, MA; 978/281-1800; bge.battenfeld.com

Totani/Amplas, Green Bay, WI; 920/496-0525; amplas.com

Okazaki Machine Industry Co. Ltd., Tokyo, Japan; ph: +81(0)3-3555-0101; fax: +81(0)3-3555-0103

Inx International Ink Co., Milwaukee, WI; 414/438-4383; inxinternational.com

Pillar Technologies, Hartland, WI; 262/367-2050; pillartech.com

Nireco Corp., Tokyo, Japan; ph: +81 426-42-3111; fax: +81 426-45-7737

Megtec Systems, DePere, WI; 920/339-2797; megtec.com

John Dusenbery Co., Randolph, NJ; 973/366-7500; dusenbery.com

Hensen Packaging Concept GmbH, Germany; +49 421 24-25-28.

Plenty O' Pouches
Today's world at Kapak includes a lot of pre-formed pouches." So says company president and CEO Gary Bell. And it also includes a large number of markets. According to Bell, Kapak Corp. currently produces packaging for pouch and stand-up pouch applications in a variety of product areas: lawn and garden, industrial, health and beauty, coffee, snack foods, bird seed, pharmaceutical and medical, retort, and more.

Bells adds that the company makes the products out of all the old stand-bys--paper, film, and foil--and also runs nylons and metallized polyester. "All of those base substrates are either reverse printed or surface printed, depending on the application. On aluminum foil, we can go down to six-gauge micron, which is extremely thin," he notes.

Kapak now possesses ten registered trademarks and holds 18 patents, all of which are related to pouch applications. The company recently announced it can provide end-users with custom-made, die-cut shaped pouches for medical and pharmaceutical applications (as well as for food, industrial/agricultural, and health/beauty applications). According to Bell, "Our high-performance adhesive structures can handle requirements for moisture/oxygen barriers, sterilization temperatures, and puncture resistance."

Bell says that the shaped pouches can be designed to accommodate a broad spectrum of closing/dispensing devices, such as pour spouts, zippers, peelable closures, valves, pumps, and special straw entry holes, and additional design elements can include tear notches, grommets, rounded corners, and perforated gussets.

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