Cartonmarker Adds Flexo to Give Customers a Choice

Colbert Packaging expands its capabilities by adding a second Mark Andy narrow web flexographic press to its stable of equipment.

Colbert Packaging, a folding carton and set-up box company located in Lake Forest, IL, had already carved a niche for itself in pharmaceutical packaging with its 50-, 40-, and 29-in. offset presses when it began considering flexo. Executive management at the company recognized the potential of adding flexographic capabilities but was hesitatant to move forward without experienced personnel on staff.

Opportunity knocked, however, in March 1998 when Colbert president Ed Baker and executive VP Jim Hamilton met with Lon Johnson and Jim Weinrauch. Johnson, with sales and marketing experience, and Weinrauch, the planning and operations guy, were looking to partner with a company that could make their plan of flexographically printed pharmaceutical packaging a reality.

Today Johnson is VP, new product development, and Weinrauch is VP, operations, of Colbert Flexographic Packaging Corp. The subsidiary employs 22 people in a 20,000-sq-ft building located just down the road from the parent company.

After touring a number of facilities involved in narrow web flexo carton converting, Colbert partnered with Mark Andy in June 1998 for a turnkey installation of the manufacturer's eight-color, 20-in. 4150 perfector board press. Colbert took delivery of the press in January 1999 and shipped its first order the following month. Satisfaction with that purchase led Colbert to buy a second 4150 press this past September.

Supplier Keeps Commitment
"Mark Andy's service is great," says Weinrauch. "The other key thing is print-to-print registration. There were only a few manufacturers we saw that we felt were capable of holding tight tolerances. Mark Andy made a commitment to have the press meet these tolerances by a certain date, and they kept their commitment. It took a big push near the end, but they mustered up the resources and did a good job of getting the press to the point where it could do everything we were told it would be able to do."

Colbert already had recruited pressmen with extensive flexo experience, so the company could hit the ground running when the press was delivered.

"The concept was not new to the operators," says Weinrauch. "We didn't need a whole bunch of hands-on training, but Mark Andy provided what we did need: one week of training in St. Louis and one week on-site."

"It's been a good company to work with," says Johnson of Mark Andy. "We really have a good relationship with their techs, and their folks are around here all the time."

Five Avenues to Flexibility
According to Weinrauch, "The first press that we brought in is a platen die-cutting model, so it's very similar to offset technology. The second press we brought in features rotary die-cutting. Now, added to Colbert's three offset presses, we've got five different avenues with which to produce a carton, concentrate on cost containment, and expand our ability to meet the overall needs of our packaging customers. As we add capabilities, we can expand and produce more for our existing customers, as well as bring in new customers."

"In the flexo process," adds Johnson, "you're taking it from roll to print to die-cut to stripping and finished carton, all in one 80-foot line. We illustrate this to our customers as the difference between offset and narrow web flexo. Here we have 3 operators instead of roughly 15 to 16."

Are they getting the print quality from flexo that they'd get from an offset press? "For the items that we're choosing to run, absolutely," says Weinrauch. "You couldn't tell the difference. Now we're not saying offset is going away. However I think if you looked at the big picture, a majority of what you print could print flexo."

Compared with offset, Johnson says the flexo process is an easy sell with its many advantages, including higher rub resistance and reduced lead times.

He explains, "When I bring a carton in, and you can't tell the difference, what's to think about? Why in the world would you even question it? And if you do question it, then fine, we've got an offset plant. We'll be happy to print it the way it is, but we're at least going to offer you the alternative. In a lot of cases, the customer is just saying, 'I need the product. I don't care how you run it.' Then we take care of them."

Expanding your capabilities and putting the right product where it belongs is the name of the game, according to Johnson. "No one is ever going to tell a customer to take a job that's questionable out of the offset plant and run it over here. All we're saying is, it makes a whole lot of sense for you to do it, and we're going to let you know. But a lot of the business we're seeing here is new business to us as well."

Determining What Will Work
Colbert relies on its in-house prepress department to help determine the proper process for each job. "You really need to look at the graphic content," Weinrauch explains. "You need to know the characteristics of flexo printing, and then you get an inclination, before we even estimate a job, if it's a good fit. We brought in some prepress people that are very knowledgeable in flexo, offset, and cartons, and we rely on them a lot."

"We've tried to bring convenience to the customer," adds Johnson. "What we're working on is soft proofing--being able to e-mail the proof back to the customer. We've even gone so far as to recommend and install Epson digital printers at customer sites. They are duplicates of what we have, and they are calibrated the same as ours. So now, when people look at a proof, they're looking at what we're looking at."

He adds, "They haven't had any investment in film, and what they're seeing is happening in minutes. We're working on really integrating that across the board to the customers that want it. You'd be surprised at the response we've gotten. We're using the new PCC software that allows the securities and the tools to do soft proofing."

In addition to die-cutting, in-line operations include sheeting, ultraviolet coating, blister coating, hot stamping, stripping, and backside printing. Kempsmith manufactured the die-cutting equipment. The UV-curing system is supplied by Fusion Aetek. Gluers are manufactured by Vega and International Paper Box Machine.

Colbert relies on four mills-Inland Eastex, International Paper, Westvaco, and Jefferson Smurfit-for solid bleached sulfate (SBS). Environmental Inks, Akzo Nobel, and Arcar supply UV and water-based inks; coatings come from Pierce & Stevens and Northwest Coatings.

What's next for Colbert Flexographic Packaging? According to Johnson, "We're looking to bring the press to the customer. That's what we expect our next step will be: putting remote locations by our key customers. We've got the footprint right here. We'll do everything exactly the same, but we'll be producing the product closer to our customer. We really see that as our future."

Remote sites may still be a year away, but in the meantime, Johnson sees a lot of business still to be won. "We have really just started to tap the industry," he says. "We think we've got the capabilities of running a pretty broad base of business between the offset and flexo plants. There's a lot of business out there that may not be running the way it should. That's the business we intend to bring in."


Supplier Information
Mark Andy Inc., Chesterfield, MO; 314/532-4433; markandy.com

Epson America, Torrance, CA; 310/782-0770; fax: 310/782-5182

PCC Artwork Systems, Bristol, PA; 215/826-4500; fax: 215/826-4510

Kempsmith Machine Co.,, Milwaukee, WI; 414/256-8160; fax: 414/476-0564.

Fusion Aetek UV Systems, Romeoville, IL; 630/226-4200; fax: 630/226-4215

Vega SPA, Paderno Dugnano, Italy; +39-02-9904-6212; fax: +39-02-9904-6202

International Paper Box Machine Co., Nashua, NH; 603/889-6651; fax: 603/882-2865

Inland Eastex, Indianapolis, IN; 317/879-4450

International Paper, Purchase, NY; 914/397-1500; fax: 914/397-1650

Westvaco, New York, NY; 212/688-5000; meadwestvaco.com

Jefferson Smurfit, Chicago, IL; 312/346-6600; smurfit-stone.com

Environmental Inks & Coatings, Morganton, NC; 800/368-4657; envinks.com

Akzo Nobel Inks Corp., Plymouth, MN; 612/559-5911; aninks.com

Arcar Graphics, West Chicago, IL; 630/231-7313; fax: 630/231-3716.

Pierce & Stevens Corp., Buffalo, NY; 716/856-4913; fax: 716/856-0942.

Northwest Coatings Corp., Oak Creek, WI; 414/762-3330; northwestcoatings.com



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