Ashe Converting Equipment has been operating for nearly 50 years, making slitting and rewinding machinery for the film, paper and allied web industries. These range from 600mm narrow-web label production and finishing models through to wide-format slitting and rewinding up to the substantial width of 6.7m. Between them the various systems handle many substrates including films (printed or unprinted), laminates, papers, and aluminium foils including coated substrates for LIB (lithium-ion batteries).
The narrow-web machines are tailored to self-adhesive label production. This can be in the form of slitting and rewinding, die-cutting, full 100% inspection, and inkjet printing. This can all be combined into one machine if required. There’s also a range of glueless turret rewinders which can cut and transfer at speed onto new cores with no need for glue or tape.
Ashe is a family-run business, originally set up in 1976 by John Godbold, who remains managing director. His background was in drive control and electronics and he used to install slitting and rewinding machinery as a subcontractor. It was his vision to create Ashe as a drive controls company and to then progress into the manufacture its own range of slitting and rewinding machinery.
His three sons joined him in the 1990s and are all now directors with active daily roles. Matthew Godbold is sales director, wide-web; Simon is sales director, narrow-web; and James is production director. A third generation has sinced joined the company, with Jordan Godbold working as a test engineer.
Matthew Godbold says: “Using our drive control experience, Ashe was able to develop a doctor rewinding machine, which would utilise forward and reverse direction of winding.
“This proved incredibly popular to the flexible materials markets. It was a natural progression to develop our own slitter rewinder and the first one was aimed at the flexible materials industries.”
Today, he says, “typically, our customers include those involved with the conversion of food packaging, medical and automotive industries, label converters, base film manufactures – biaxially orientated or cast – and these range from multinationals to small start-up organisations”.
Growing up near Ipswich
The company quickly outgrew its original unit in central Ipswich. It purchased a piece of land on the Ransomes Industrial Estate, on the outskirts of the town. This is close to the major A14 road running from the busy container port at nearby Felixstowe, westward to the M25, London and links nationwide.
The first phase of the current building was built, along with a recruitment drive to support the company’s growth. Over a 30-year period, phases two, three and four were added to the original unit, giving a total floor space of more than 4,600sqm. There are now 80 employees, with all mechanical design, parts manufacture, assembly, software writing, test and service handled in Ipswich.
Developing skills in-house
“We are fortunate to have a multi-skilled workforce with many years of experience in the engineering, manufacture and build of our machinery range,” Godbold says. “The experience we have within the building is used now to develop talent with the drive and enthusiasm for engineering, whether on a software level, operating our CNC machine tools or being hands-on with the machine builds.
“Finding the correct people has been a challenge for a number of years, so the policy is now to employ people with dedicated skillsets which can be developed and nurtured into our competent workforce.”
Up to 90% of components are made in-house. Godbold says: “To start, the company had to rely on subcontractors for parts, with the longer-term philosophy and vision to produce these in-house. Many investments over the years have led to the phase one part of the building now being utilised as a machine shop area. This is equipped with an extensive range of mills, lathes and CNC machine tools for the manufacture of Ashe-only machine parts.”
This, he says, ensures the quality of components used in the machines and helps with implementing new technologies or modifications.
“We have a team of mechanical engineers, who work on a 3D CAD operating system. We also have our own team of software/electrical engineers who write all software for our machines. We then have a range of mills, lathes and CNC machines tools, with our latest investment being a large-format CNC mill. Engineer drawings can be sent directly from computer workstation to the machine. Once parts are machined, we assemble, test, and then our installation team will travel worldwide to install our machines and train the operators.”
Control of the software helps with maintenance and repairs too, he says. “Our team is able to remotely look at machines in real time should any issue occur and advise appropriate action. We have a team of service engineers who are able to travel worldwide for service requirements.”
Exports form about 85% of business, Godbold says. “The UK, Europe and the US have always been our largest markets. We are however a global company with some current machines on our floor destined for Mexico, Costa Rica, the UAE, Turkey, India, the Netherlands and South Africa.”
Ashe has a wholly owned subsidiary in Vermont, US, where sales and service engineers are based along with an inventory of spare parts. A sales and service office has also recently opened in Mumbai, India.
What’s the current range?
The main division in machines on offer is between narrow- and wide-web. “Narrow-web is defined as being for label converters, as most of them have production widths, for printing and/or slitting and rewinding, between 300mm and 700mm,” says Godbold. “The machines are aimed at the finishing of self-adhesive labels, although sometimes they can be used for different products or applications.
“Wide-web is predominantly for those who wish to slit and rewind between widths of 700mm and 6.7m.
“This would cover any type of manufacturer, such as pressure-sensitives, film manufacturers, flexible packaging converters, paper manufacturers, etc.”
On average, he says, the sales split between narrow- and wide-web is 50/50. “However, this does change. We normally find that if the wide-web side is quiet, then the narrow-web is very busy, and vice versa. Of course, the manufacture of a 3m-wide slitter takes a lot longer and uses a lot more resources than a 420mm wide label inspection slitter rewinder.”
A large proportion of the machines manufactured are for print finishing, Godbold says. “This is mainly for flexible packaging converters or self-adhesive label printers. However, due to the vast machinery range that we have, and the flexibility of both the machines we produce as well as our engineering capabilities producing so much of the machines in-house, we go a lot further than this.
“Base film manufacturers are a growing market for us we are also seeing large increases in demand from the medical sectors. The machinery range we have can be easily adapted.”
Lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars need film in the manufacturing process, and Ashe is benefitting from this too, Godbold says. “The LIB markets are growing at an alarming rate with the EV requirements from countries around the globe and we are currently seeing demand from this sector too.”
It’s a fairly common requirement to interface with other machines in the production process, Godbold says. “100% web inspection is critical for many of our users and our Opal ISR machine for self-adhesive label producers is a machine where inspection systems can be easily integrated. Our machine will communicate with the inspection system so a fault can be stopped prior to the defect going through to the rewind.”
The wide machines also often need to communicate, he says. “We have seen an increase in demand for machines where we need to integrate perforation systems. We have worked with a number of suppliers of laser perforation for modified atmosphere packaging, along with hot and cold needle perforation.
“We are also seeing demand for information from our machines for traceability. Requirements differ from one user to the next. However, there are a number of solutions that our software engineers have created where information from our machine can be passed to an internal MIS which then gives the end-user traceability on products that have been run on their Ashe machine.”
Automated setups boost efficiency too, Godbold says. “We have developed a number of solutions for various machine models for quicker setup times, which gives our users less machine downtime and more accuracy. We have developed automated knife positioning solutions for all forms of slitting systems available on both our narrow and wide web machines, along with automatic rewind core positioning systems. All of this information can be stored and send to the users’ MIS systems again for traceability, along with actual rewind tensions the job was run at.”
What’s next in the development cycle? “At present, there is a new duplex model slitter rewinder being developed which will be the new benchmark for duplex models.”
The Ashe Opal ILT series can run inline with a printing press. It’s an automatic glueless turret rewinder which can also accommodate slitting if this feature is not on the printing press. Finished rolls are completed in one process.