Cutting edge focus

15 June 2005

A commitment to continual improvement and investment as well as two press format sizes, die making and specialized gluing and finishing give Boxes GH a head start in fmcg carton supply, writes Pauline Covell

The offices and sales department of Boxes GH may be housed in a listed building of a 1903 Lancashire cotton mill, but the contents and practices of the carton plant are set firmly in this century.

Boxes Group sales and marketing director Phil Spencer said: "As a part of Clondalkin we have financial stability. They have continued to invest, which is essential for us to be an efficient low cost producer. It will assure our success." In addition, each department runs a continuing improvement programme with ideas frequently leading to projects involving further investment.

That investment is averaging out at around £0.75M per year. Latest is the folding and gluing department reorganization where "£750,000 has been spent on two folder gluers alone over the last couple of years," he reported. "We replaced some lines in 2003 with a Bobst Alpina 110 with automatic packer. It will run straight line, crash lock, four and six corner – really every standard gluing format you can name. Its success encouraged us to invest in the Alpina 75 A1 folder gluer with a Cartonpack automated packer last year. Dedicated to straight line work running at 625m/min, it's ideal for much of our work in the food business."

The press section houses three Rolands with "a key point being the two size formats: 6 or 3B. Because we have both we can assess each job and select the right press. Most carton houses have only the 3B size." The company runs a computer controlled 906 six colour press with coater and choice of UV or conventional drying, and an 805 five colour. The 906 was the first of its kind in the UK when the company made the £3.5M investment in 1998. In addition it has a Roland 600 six colour B3 press with coater. "The presses have been alcohol free for the last 18 months," said print manager Bob Neely.

The ISO 9000 and BRC accredited company lists many well known names amongst its customers, including ABF, Tate and Lyle, Farleys and Thorntons. "We have a good balance between branded and own label," explained Phil Spencer.

But Boxes GH is no typical carton converter. One aspect that certainly isn't from the computer age is its room-long planning board where three weeks of jobs and planning cards can be seen at a glance. Board status, ink preparation, dies, press, cutting, folding gluing and finishing operations are clearly marked and continually updated by relevant department heads using a colour spot system. "We reverted from computer planning to this visual system," explained Phil Spencer. "We are convinced that nothing works better than everyone seeing where we are and the impact and ripple effect on other jobs if you want to move something." It allows production manager Nick Lee to query any holes immediately. When Converting Today visited the plant one job had to be moved, as the board was "still on the high seas in rough weather"!

The CAD and prepress department also boasts significant differences. Unusually, Boxes GH runs a Lasercom die maker for itself and other group companies. The CAD file (using Engview software) transfers directly to the die cutter. "Some £300,000 was being spent on dies so the finances of owning our own cutter really stacked up," said technical manager Mike Jones. "Plus we are more in control of our own destiny." Knives are also set in house and the company is currently looking at automated knife bending which will speed things up considerably.

"What makes us a little bit different is that we can offer computer 3D simulation. Using this software the customer can rotate the pack and open a flap, for example, without us ever having made a model." Latest investment is the Gencia high gloss sample system. A special paper is printed, the ink transferred to a special board and fixed by heat using a platen. "It is not only much more cost effective and time saving," said Mick Jones," but it also really lifts up a customer presentation."

"On the prepress front we have traditionally run on film systems here, but our repro partner LS, of Stockport, produces all the ctp work. The trend is to ctp so it is merely a question of when we will go over to it, not if. Like the DVD player we will see the installation costs tumble so we'll bring it in progressively throughout our plants. Netherlands based group company Boxes LPF already operates on ctp," explained Phil Spencer.

The ink kitchen is managed by Coates who is responsible for bringing the correctly mixed inks to the press. "We are charged for what is actually used on press."

Most incoming materials are on 24 to 48 hour call-off. "We keep tight controls on working capital," he emphasised. Iggesund and M-Real supplys the virgin material and recycled board is produced by Fiskeby and Cascade. "Interestingly, the trend is towards recycled. Whereas seven years ago we were running 70 per cent virgin board now recycled material accounts for about 55 per cent of our usage."

"This plant is more than just a carton producer," he stressed. "You have to have niches. We are quite capable of turning our hand to different materials. This site is rather good at printing directly onto N microflute (G flute), especially for shelf ready packaging. Now we are looking at F flute too."

"And having the ability to use uv or conventional varnish is also important. Where the main driver continues to be price, the food industry will look carefully at conventional varnish if an acceptable level can be achieved. A few years ago a high gloss was the norm; now we are seeing a movement the other way."

On the continuing improvement front, Boxes GH is constantly looking at ways to improve makeready times and keep waste down. "We look to achieve a 90 per cent press utilization," said production manager Nick Lee. "We bench mark ourselves very toughly. The big one is the net running speed – you can't hide from that." On waste he added: "We take a theoretical yield of what we should get on each job. Anything over that is 'shortfall'. That's put on the board and I make sure everyone is aware of what that means in terms of money too."

The three die cutters are all Bobsts - a 142 E and a 142 ER and 103 ER, the latter two fully blanking and stripping the sheets.

From cutting and creasing the blanks may take several routes. Either they are hand packed (around 5-6M last year) into cartons and stretchwrapped, stretchwrapped directly onto the pallet on the SIAT machine or they go to the folder gluer where 300M cartons were processed last year. Some may go to a window patcher or edging machine before this process.

"Edging for kitchen foil or film cartons is a special niche for us," said Phil Smith. "We supply most of the UK marketplace and are looking outside the UK too." PET cutting edges or the specially treated paper from Carton Edge are applied to a multi million total of cartons each year using two specialized machines.

On the window patching front the company is currently investing in a new machine. Unable to name the producer yet Phil Spencer said: "We are hoping to take July delivery of a three lane all singing and dancing machine that is likely to cost in the region of £200,000. We have seen a big growth, not only in window cartons, but also in susceptor patching." The company is currently running a project with ingredient manufacturer Micro Magic, who has recently sold a licence to use its Malgic natural microwave browning and crisping ingredients to a major food company. "We have been working on this for over two years. There have been many false dawns in microwaveable foods, but this really works. And it works because it is 85 per cent the ingredients and 15 per cent the packaging, not the other way round." Each pack launched will carry the Micro Wizard logo - cartons from Boxes and flexible packs using materials supplied by other members of the Clondalkin Group.

In addition to the Alpinas the company operates two older Jagenbergs and what it calls "The Swifty", a right angled gluer that "was engineered by ourselves using an old International machine specifically." Printing operates 24/5 with other departments on double day shifts.

Being part of the group means that Boxes GH can use its facilities. Examples are the foil blocking capability of Boxes Prestige, for example, as well as pick and place window panels.

And the future? Investment will undoubtedly continue where it most counts. "We have to have the best and fastest equipment to compete in this marketplace.

"Although we serve the commodity market we look to niches too. We recognize there is a balance to be achieved there," he stressed.


Boxes Tel: +44 (0) 1254 888151 Bobst Tel: +44 (0) 1527 519700 Roland Tel: +49 821 424 3058

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Cartonpack automates end of line packaging Cartonpack automates end of line packaging
Bobst Alpina 75 is “ideal for food business” Bobst Alpina 75 is “ideal for food business”
Phil Spencer: “Boxes GH is more than just a carton ... Phil Spencer: “Boxes GH is more than just a carton ...
The company is capable of turning its hand to different ... The company is capable of turning its hand to different ...

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