Kolbus accelerates move into packaging with Autobox acquisition

Kolbus Group has acquired UK kit manufacturer Autobox Machinery as it continues its move into packaging.

With its main operating company British Converting Solutions (BCS) based in Houghton Regis, Bedfordshire, BCS-Autobox manufactures custom corrugated box-making, printing and gluing machines for the specialist short-run box market.

More than 80% of the firm’s production goes into the export market, which was recognised with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2016, and it exhibited at Fespa for the first time this year.

Kolbus said the acquisition, which was completed yesterday (26 September), completes its reorientation from industrial bookbinding systems towards manufacturing equipment for specialist, paper-based rigid packaging. The business sold its perfect binding and book line business to Muller Martini in January.

Former majority owning shareholder Barry Tabor will continue to lead BCS-Autobox, which employs more than 50 staff, as managing director and the firm’s board will  be strengthened with the addition of Kolbus co-owner and managing director Kai Büntemeyer and Kolbus UK managing director Robert Flather.

All staff will remain with BCS-Autobox at its current premises, which Kolbus has bought. Together with its satellite assembly plant in Tamworth, Staffordshire, the company will become part of Kolbus’ corrugated technology division, which also operates a factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Turnover figures were not disclosed and no decisions have been made so far on whether any rebranding exercise will take place.

Flather told PrintWeek: “There were signals out in the marketplace that Barry Tabor was on the hunt for a partner and we picked up those signals and it finished up that we actually bought the business.

“This is about expanding our customer base – the product can be used in almost any industry and the beauty of the Autobox range is that it is very suitable for short-run box-making, so where you have relatively focused production requiring small quantities of boxes, this is a machine you will want. We will be in industries that we’ve not been in traditionally.”

He added: “The key thing is that there is absolutely no overlap between what we do and what they do – we already have a rotary die-cutting machine that we sell through the Hycorr brand in the States, which is for long-run box-making, so this complements that entirely.

“It’s a total bolt-on to what we are already doing and our objective is to expand our UK footprint in terms of employment because this is a global product.

“When you combine the Kolbus global sales team with the factory in Houghton Regis and then look at what Kolbus can bring in terms of manufacturing support to fuel an expansion then you’ve got a very powerful combination.”

Tabor added: “The acquisition of the business by the Kolbus Group provides an exciting opportunity for BCS-Autobox to realise its full potential on a truly worldwide basis. Being part of the Kolbus Group gives us access to their international sales and service network.

“In addition, their impressive components manufacturing capabilities in Rahden, Germany will enable the BCS-Autobox factories in the UK to significantly increase our production capacity. We shall also have additional design engineering resources to enable us to expand our R&D programme even further.”

Following the acquisition Kolbus now employs just over 1,000 members of staff, with around 60 in the UK – up from 10 beforehand. The business, which was founded in 1775, has operations in 12 countries.