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Technology Focus

Trends and Styles in Folding and Gluing

by Alan Thompson

August-September, 2005
For many years, the graphic finishing and folding carton industries have been actively pursuing new styles in packaging and value added designs for their customers. During the conception phase, the designer of a particular package has two key objectives to fulfill. First, the package must capture the eye of the consumer through the use of color and the addition of other techniques such as foil stamping and embossing. This is primarily up to the creativity of the art director who produces the design. Second, it must be practical in use. Therefore, the structural design is critical, not only for its performance in production but also, for its ability to be manufactured efficiently. This critical element should be closely discussed with the packaging manufacturer to ensure that once diecut, the package can be folded and glued on the equipment with optimum efficiency. How many great ideas have been proposed only to be discarded because of unrealistic manufacturing costs?

Increased Complexity
The structural design of packages is important and has become increasingly complex as manufacturers seek to offer more user-friendly or practical solutions. This has led to bottle carrier packs, pill packs, packages with labels inserted, and packages with re-sealable openings. These types of innovations have resulted in folding/gluing machines becoming more complex as the converter seeks to combine several operations at one time. For example, machines that allow the box to be turned during the folding process, the ability to insert CD’s or labels during the folding operation, or the ability to place a window patch in-line are becoming increasingly common.

More complex requirements have placed new demands on quality control systems that increasingly, are being integrated into folding and gluing lines. Already, complex gluing patterns demand that quality control systems ensure that the glue is accurately placed on the package for correct and reliable make up. Once quality is controlled, there needs to be a reliable and efficient way to identify the bad package and eject it from the production line. It is important to choose carefully between the different solutions on the market; however, the most reliable and versatile is the inline flipper ejector, which ejects the box in the direction of travel making size and design irrelevant.

In addition, and aside from the already vast range of “standard” carton styles, requests are received continuously for special devices to allow the processing of a new design. For converters that face this challenge, or want to innovate themselves, they need a machine supplier who has the depth of resources to develop special devices and test them prior to delivery for use in production.

In the graphic trade finishing arena, the same challenges exist to capture the consumers’ interest with a direct mail piece, promotional CD, magazine insert, etc. Again, clever designs that may not always run on the simplest folder-gluer may limit the possibilities. Because of these demands, it may make sense to consider a more versatile folder/gluer that can handle a wide variety of jobs.

Working with Plastics
The recent trend of processing plastic boxes with a high level of graphics has been another challenge to converters. Plastic packaging offers a different look and potentially, some security advantages to offset its higher cost. However, one of the key challenges has been the complexity of the adhesives required (hot melt versus PUR, etc.) and its applications onto the package. The need for a special glue system and glue means that entering the plastic packaging process requires some investment as well.

In addition, handling substrates such as PVC, PP, and PET has become a greater challenge for the environment around the folder/gluer (dust, etc.). The machines themselves require special belts, anti-static equipment, and optical sensors in order to run speeds up to 25,000 boxes per hour with no marking. The take off becomes even more of an issue with regard to the co-efficient of friction compared to most folding carton applications. In addition, the normal process of kicking the box laterally to signify the count has its own inherent problems for consistency of pressure on the package joint.

Proper Training
Adapting to new processes and substrates is nothing new in the converting industry - having already gone through the learning experience for corrugated micro-flutes such as E and B Flute. By constantly challenging suppliers and pushing the boundaries of their equipment to produce these new designs, converters are increasingly able to improve their competitive position and financial results.

In order to run the more complex styles of cartons that enable converters to separate themselves from their competition, adequate training of their personnel has become paramount. There are a few suppliers of folder-gluers that offer training both “in house” and “off site” (at their local training and demonstration facilities), which can be a great advantage in allowing converters to maximize their greatest asset - their employees. Having a proper training program is key when purchasing a folder-gluer.

When considering who should be trained, why not provide more basic knowledge to the designers who are working on new structures? If this group had a more clear idea of what is actually possible in the manufacturing process, the time to market could be reduced. In today’s competitive market, being first to bring an idea to the shelves can be critical.

The days have gone where converters purchase the “state of art” equipment to be more competitive as well as more efficient without giving forward thinking to training of their operators. It has been said that a good operator is hard to find, and a great operator is worth his/her weight in gold. These individuals are only as good as the prepared training and “on going” training provided in order to maximize the machine’s potential - not only throughout the entire production process but from a reduction of makeready time, thanks to new technological advancements from folding/gluing machine suppliers.

Hands-on training is focused on increasing the output of the machine while improving the quality of the finished product. In order to achieve optimal efficiencies, operators should be trained in the following areas:

  • Reduce setting time by learning a methodical, systematic approach to the job changeover
  • Increase quality by understanding crease pre-breaking, final fold settings, as well as how and where marking occurs so it can be eliminated
  • Increase running speeds
  • Reduce stoppages during production by better identifying the causes and how to eliminate them

Supervised hands-on training, both in theory and in practice, becomes indispensable when a converter needs to respond to the changing trends and styles in the finishing and folding carton industries.