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Europe’s Rising Star in Folding Cartons

The carton manufacturing industry in Poland is both vibrant and growing, with a significant number of large and medium size converters installing Omega folder gluers. Nick Coombes visited companies across the country to assess the state of the market and find out the reasons for this rush of investment.

While ECMA (European Carton Makers Association) has been flourishing as a meeting point for printers and carton converters for some years, it was only in 2013 that any specific focus was given to Poland with the establishment of a Folding Carton Association. Speaking for ECMA, Managing Director Hans van Schaik commented: “With the increasing importance of Polish production and the growing relevance of EU regulations, we feel there is an urgent need for the industry in Poland to be organised into a coherent network that can be represented at a European level. ECMA was delighted to arrange the inaugural meeting, and will continue to support the newly formed association, but we are keen that the Polish carton community has the ownership of its own group, which will allow it to determine the focus and value of its events, and tailor them specifically for the Polish industry and market.”

Drukpol. It was against this background of a newly fledged carton organisation that I set out to research the background for this fast growing market sector. Drukpol, based in Sulejovek, a suburb of Warsaw, is typical of many privately owned companies in Poland. Established by Krysztof Kwiatkowski as soon as the Soviet Bloc was dissolved in 1990, and the country regained its independence, the company originally engaged in commercial work before moving into cartons in 2004. Today, Drukpol employs 170 staff, and folding carton work accounts for 60% of its business. Most are supplied to the Polish market, but 10% are sold to other countries within the EU, and this is an area Drukpol is keen to develop.

Printing is carried out on a bank of four B1-format Heidelberg Speedmaster presses. With up to six-colour capacity and coating, and the latest press being equipped with UV curing, Drukpol is well equipped to handle the variety of work it undertakes for the beverage and cosmetic markets, with a small but growing demand from pharmaceutical manufacturers. I asked Company Director, Tomasz Balcerowski, why Drukpol has chosen to specialise in these sectors: “We prefer to tackle the quality markets where unit cost is not the prime consideration. That is why we choose our equipment carefully,” he explained. This equipment includes a hot-foil stamping press and window patching capability.

In the folder gluer department, the first investment was a Fuego machine, but when the time came to add capacity, Drukpol approached Polish print consultants MM Druk, which, via its subsidiary ITTP, supplies the Omega machines, manufactured by Duran Machinery. “What impressed us was the performance and productivity of the Omega machine, and the fact that we had direct access to the senior management at Duran in Istanbul as well the on-the-spot support from ITTP. This meant that Duran understood our specific requirements and responded quickly,” commented Balcerowski.

The decision to install an Omega Performa 110 in 2011, and then two years later an Omega Performa 80, followed visits to existing Omega users in Turkey, combined with the close working relationship Drukpol had established with ITTP. “In the end, we felt there was nothing to choose in terms of build quality between the leading folder gluer manufacturers, but that the Omegas suited out style of work better, and the local support was key,” he added. The Omega Performa 110 has the Omega Braille unit fitted, and this was an important part of the purchase decision, as the latest EU regulations require precision dots in terms of size, height and spacing, which according to Drukpol, the Omega achieves with margin to spare. The Omega Performa 80 is fitted with special attachments that allow it to run plasticised stock without marking, and is also fitted with a PUR gluing system.

Currently, Drukpol operates a triple shift pattern for five days a week, which certainly allows scope for growth, but Krysztof Kwiatkowski is aware that to take the company to the next stage, he will need to engage in some form of cooperative venture, or perhaps a merger. The company is well set-up, with a 15,000 square-metre site available for growth only five kilometres away, and a plant list of modern machinery, which is a testament to the company’s policy of ongoing replacement.

Technopol Group. The Technopol Group, with plants in Ostrow Wielkopolski and Zyrardow, was founded by Rafal Czwojdzinski in 1999, and was joined more recently in 2010 by sister company RD, based in Krotoszyn. He explained to me how capacity was divided between flexo production of corrugated board and offset printing for cartons. At Technopol, which he established in 1999, Martin Rapidex lines handle six million square metres of board per month, predominantly B, C, B+E, and Micro Flutes. This is POS and display material, up to 3200 x 1600mm in size and 2.5cm thick, produced for the meat, general food, furniture and automotive markets, and demands certain folder gluer machine features including strength and accuracy in its production.

When the time came for investment in folder gluer technology, Technopol was attracted by the quick response of Duran Machinery. “We needed a machine that would make a positive contribution to the company’s performance, and were impressed with the way that the manufacturer and its local agent responded. We decided the Omega Allpro 165 fitted our requirements because it combined specification and performance,” Czwojdzinski explained. The Omega machine, which had been exhibited at CCE 2013 in Munich, was delivered direct from the expo, and so successful has it been that a second Omega Allpro 165 is on order for delivery at the end of 2014. And, as further confirmation of the Turkish manufacturer’s growing foothold in the Polish market, Czwojdzinski commented that his next folder gluer would likely be one from Duran’s heavy duty Omega Magnus range, which will allow him to process a wider variety of boards at high speed.

The RD carton plant has multi-colour B2 presses. These include a KBA Rapida 75 and a Rapida 66; one is a six-colour with coater and the other a straight four-colour or 2/2 perfector. Work consists mainly of smaller format cartons for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, of which some 15% is exported to Germany, Scandinavia and Belarus. For its pharma work, RD required a folder gluer with Braille capability, and following its first hand experience with an Omega at Technopol, it ordered an Allpro 70. “We had a very convincing demo at the Istanbul expo in May 2013, and the specification of the Allpro is a perfect fit for our flap sizes, while the Braille unit produces the accuracy of dot that legislation demands for pharma packaging,” added Czwojdzinski.

As with all new equipment, there is a learning curve for the operators, and Czwojdzinski is quick to praise the efforts of Duran Machinery technicians who provided on-the-spot training, and the local Polish support of ITTP, which coordinated the order, installation and commissioning. “Good personal attention to detail,” is how he described it, which is significant, because Czwojdzinski has ambitious plans to grow RD. “I want to double the size of the plant by 2015, which will mean new machines, extra staff, and greater warehouse capability. In particular we are looking to grow our business in Germany and Scandinavia, and are about to appoint extra sales personnel to cover these markets,” he said, explaining that a move into multi-function packaging is high on the priority list. This will stretch the Group’s workforce beyond its current level of 150.

Multipress. Moving on to Morawica, I spoke with Multipress owner and founder Andrzej Rabenda about his successful family business. He also started out in 1990, producing labels for vodka bottles and the confectionary market on single-colour secondhand presses with simple die cutters. Ten years ago, he saw the trend away from wet glue to self-adhesive labels, and installed an eight-colour MPS 340H narrow web flexo line. This freed up capacity on his sheet fed offset presses, and allowed him to alter his sights to carton production. Today, the modern and well-equipped plant boasts a bank of the latest Speedmaster XL presses with full Heidelberg workflow in place to maximise efficiency. Two of the presses are B1 format, a five-colour with coater, and a six-colour with double coater and Star Foil unit. In addition, there is a six-colour and coater XL75, which has hybrid UV and IR systems for curing/drying. All of the presses are less than three years old.

I asked him about his workload and markets. “Cartons account for 75% of our sales these days, with only 25% for labels, but the label business is successful and profitable now that we have a small format flexo line. The main market for our printed packaging is still Poland, but we have embarked on an export drive, and attended the Packaging Innovations expo in London, which we found very useful for meeting packaging designers and brand owners,” he explained. Rabenda has set a turnover target of €10m by 2015, and knows that this growth can only come from increased exports, and while the cosmetics, confectionary and healthcare markets all require top end packaging with added value, he is aware that the company’s printing capacity currently exceeds its converting power.

“We aim to supply printed packaging for products on the middle and upper shelves in the stores, so foiling, window patching, and varnishing are key to our added value operation. In fact, we are the largest user of cold foil in Poland. We have also recently added an in-house design studio to offer our customers a full service capability – the complete package for a complete package, you might say!” he quipped. With an ambitious export drive to sustain, the company chooses its machine investments carefully, and the latest addition in the folder gluer market is no exception. Both 3- and 4-corner capability were essential, combined with reliable high performance on expensive boards.

Following a fact-finding visit to Istanbul, where Rabenda was introduced to the Duran management team, shown around the manufacturing plant, and introduced to various Omega folder gluer users, the decision was made to invest in a Performa 80 model, which, with an Omega Pack Station, was delivered in December 2013. The purchase order included a two-week training programme and an agreement by the manufacturer to achieve certain production targets on complex carton designs. I asked him how it had gone. “I pleased to say that the Omega has fulfilled its promise and suits our type of work perfectly. We convert many short runs of cartons, and some of them are complex with specialised designs – and so far it has handled everything we have presented to it, with ease,” he commented.

A typical run length at Multipress is around 15,000 B1 sheets, but according to Rabenda this is reducing markedly as brand managers and print buyers look to differentiate their products by changing packaging designs more frequently. “We like to be able to offer something different, because we know it makes us more profitable,” he said, explaining that his current three- to five-year plan is to consolidate and maximise on the recent programme of investment. By operating a five-day week on double-shift pattern for the first half of the year, and triple-shift in Q3 and Q4, there is still capacity for Multipress to explore, and I can see no reason why the company won’t exceed its growth forecast with the equipment it has.

The right investment brings growth. What became increasingly apparent from the carton houses I visited was their appreciation of the quality offered by one of Europe’s fastest growing folder gluer brands. All spoke of Duran Machinery’s design flair, engineering integrity and reliable performance, coupled with an extensive range that offers a competitive solution at whatever level of carton conversion is required. And, these comments were made by companies that clearly had money to spend, as could be witnessed by the sophisticated and expensive printing presses they were running. There is no doubt also, that an active local agent, with good market knowledge and on-hand support plays a major part in building product confidence amongst customers, and ITTP was roundly praised for this.

So, where does that leave the situation? The overall impression I gathered from my visit was of a market that has matured in the 24 years of private enterprise since Poland regained independence, but that, while many of the businesses have achieved notable success in that period, the time has come to move to the next stage (and size), and for that will mean joining forces to create a larger production capability, or merging into an existing international group. Both options would offer benefits – which one is chosen will depend of a variety of factors including compatibility, location, and not least personal preference. There are great opportunities to be explored in the Polish carton market. Who will take them?

Nick Coombes, Print Media Consultant

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