Polywrapping isn’t the sexiest of subjects. But for mailing houses, and increasing numbers of printers, it’s a key tool. It’s also an area that in common with other print disciplines has, over the past few years, seen the introduction of a new breed of machines offering greater levels of automation.
As was the case with the revamped KAS MailWrap. Originally launched at Drupa 2008, the MailWrap underwent a significant upgrade, the outcome of which was unveiled at Ipex 2010. Developed by Dunstable-based KAS Paper Systems, which manufactures mailing machines, paper handling systems and print finishing kit, the updated MailWrap was launched with a very specific user in mind.
"We saw a niche in the market for a mid-range polywrapping machine to complement our Mailmaster range of paper envelopers," explains Stephen Hampstead, managing director of KAS Paper Systems. "We were the UK distributor for a lower-end polywrapper for which we eventually built integrated feeders, but unfortunately nothing new was being developed to meet the changing requirements of the market. We were being asked whether we could develop a fully automated polywrapper that went beyond the semi-automatic models on the market, in terms of durability and performance, without the price tag of the high-speed machines already around."
So the company set about developing a competitively priced, fully automated machine. The key to the success of the project would be to take the "flexibility, durability, performance and ease of set up" that were found in the company’s Mailmaster envelope inserters and transfer these attributes to the MailWrap, according to Hampstead.
And with the latest incarnation it appears as if the company has managed to pull off this trick. The new MailWrap is similar to its predecessor in the sense that it offers simple set-up and changeover, but cycling speed has been bumped to 6,000 completed packs per hour – a 25% increase. Importantly, the machine also has a slightly smaller footprint as the length has been decreased. As a result it is "relatively compact in comparison with those from some other manufacturers and space is sometimes an issue," says Hampstead.
The MailWrap uses single-ply film from a roll. Typical thickness is 30 microns, but it can handle some films down to a thinness of 16 microns. The thinner the film the more bags can be produced from one roll, which typically weigh around 30kg for a width suitable for A4, or 30cm in diameter. The MailWrap can take a film width of up to 520mm and the rolls are loaded via a pull-out cassette-style system. The machine folds the film around the pack, leaving an overlap in the middle where the two layers are fused together by a heated semicircular bar. This bar rocks backwards and forwards to apply an even heat. The film runs over a plate at the point of seal to protect the contents from the heated bar as it comes into contact with the film. A second heated bar then cuts the film in between each bag and provides the end seal, before the completed bags are collected on a conveyor stacker. The result is a neat, close-fitting wrap. Maximum packing thickness is 22mm.
Software refinements on the MailWrap mean that operators have more control over settings through the machine’s pivoting touchscreen, which enables station selection, speed and heat settings.
"There is a re-settable counter, and the screen displays the current speed, heat settings, feeders in operation and run summary," explains Hampstead. "An error automatically stops the MailWrap and its location is displayed on the control screen. Heat settings are pre-set for a given throughput but can be adjusted to suit the thickness of film. There are also help pages on the screen to aid the operator."
Insert stations can handle a wide variety of documentation, including single sheets, card, reply envelopes, pre-folded items, CDs and books. "The feeders are top-load for ease of filling without stopping the machine," says Hampstead. "It’s possible to pre-select the number of items fed from each insert station on each cycle, which is useful if the pack includes a number of documents which are same."
Hampstead points out that the feeders can also be set to automatically switch over to another one carrying the same document when it runs low. Standard feeders can feed thicknesses up to 7mm, with one feeding up to 15mm. A shuttle feeder can also be added for even thicker items.
"Each insert station has a miss, double and jam detector and there are further sensors throughout to check the path of the document through the system," explains Hampstead.
Different reading technology is available to enable the grouping of personalised documents from one feeder if the number of documents in each packs varies, or to match documents fed from multiple readers. The code could be a barcode, 2D matrix or alpha numeric. Other features include adjustable bag length, sequential start up and clear down, and print registration. There is also a hand-feed position to add further items.
One of the main advantages of the new machine is its ease of use. The speed with which jobs can be set-up means that even short runs can stack up commercially. It’s so easy to get to grips with the machine that Hampstead estimates installation and training will only take around two days.
"Our intention is to offer a machine for the medium-size user where businesses want to move on from hand-fed drop in baggers to a fully automated system providing greater throughput and efficiency but without much more time being spent on set-up," explains Hampstead.
"Of course, it may also be suited to those with high-speed systems who do not want to changeover their bigger systems for a smaller job."
So how will the machine fare in the current market? KAS is hopeful that it will sell well and with good reason. The company has already secured a number of installations in mailing houses and with printers, mainly for the polywrapping of magazines and journals. Some have gone to new customers and some to existing customers who were happy with the Mailmaster 465 but now have a requirement for a polywrapper, says Hampstead.
This is a niche market and there are few alternatives out there at that can match the MailWrap’s £49,000 price-point and also compete with its spec. So KAS is confident that it is in pole position to capitalise on the growing demand for this type of mid-range device. The new machine gives the company the "opportunity to offer its customers an effective polywrapping solution at a sensible investment," argues Hampstead. Only time will tell if they bite in sufficient numbers to make the gamble pay off.
Top speed 6,000 packs per hour
Min pack thickness 200gsm
Max pack thickness 22mm
Min pack dimensions 210x148mm
Max pack dimensions 350x240mm
Price from £49,000
KAS Paper Systems
This is an "entry-level, low-cost film wrapping line" that is "proving to be tremendously popular", according to CMC. The Practica is available with up to six feeders and a shuttle feeder and is fitted with printed film control as standard. It features "highly reliable" rotary feeders with miss and double control sensors in addition to a user-friendly touchscreen control panel. With a top speed of 8,000 packs per hour, the Practica is slightly faster than the MailWrap.
Max speed 8,000 packs per hour
Price On application
Contact CMC 01933 222111 www.cmcequipmentuk.com
Capable of handling up to 430x500mm with a top speed of 9,000 packs per hour, this is a higher end machine and as a result carries a higher price tag (Sitma does have a C960 model, which is significantly cheaper, but runs half as fast as the MailWrap). Shown at Ipex 2010, the 1002 has been designed on a modular basis allowing it to be extended at any time to include inline connection with other equipment, sheet and gadget feeders, shrink-wrapping, stacking and strapping.
Max speed 9,000 packs per hour
Contact Integra 01420 593680 www.igm-group.co.uk
Designed for the polybagging of magazines, newspapers, brochures and mailing jobs, among many other items, one of the main attractions of this Italian-manufactured machine is its versatility, according to the company. The BE-85 is capable of handling up to 5,100 packs per hour depending on the product and film used.
Max speed 85 cycles/min (5,100 packs per hour)
Price On application
Contact Promail 01280 709590 www.promail.co.uk