Me & my: Bobst 20SIX CS CI flexo press

By Jez Abbott, Monday 17 December 2018

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Flexible’ was the key word for flexible packaging company Ultimate Packaging. Because the last thing operations director Jon McCarthy needed when he sought a new press was a specialist model, when his business is used to making loads of job changes across several existing presses. It had to be flexible.


McCarthy (right): “This makes us very strong in today’s challenging packaging market”

Ultimate Packaging supplies 90% of its packaging to the food industry with 70% falling into the fresh-produce sector. The £46m-turnover company has 245 staff at a 9,300m² base in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, running four Bobst presses and a Soma averaging runs of 20,000 metres.

“We wanted equipment that could do downstream coating to alleviate pressure on our Bobst machines and replace one of the other presses,” explains McCarthy. “The new kit had to be able to do mainstream work and support its brethren by doing the same work they did. We did not want a bespoke, unique model involving lots of changes and throwing up all sorts of training issues.”

McCarthy’s first Bobst, a 20SIX, was fired up about six years ago – the same year it was presented at Drupa – to improve short-run capacity and automation in areas such as registration and impression. Three years later, another two 20SIX presses went in at Grimsby to create, what he calls, a fantastic production “funnel” – rapid and methodical, agile and seamless enough to roll out millions of metres of polyethylene, OPP or PET a month.

It made sense, he said, to go for a fourth Bobst: “They are good presses, definitely in the premier league.” 

A major draw for the new kit was the Graphic Positioning System (GPS) for registration and impression setting. Tied in with new colour management controls GPS handles everything automatically, from dot gain to density. This automation is as expensive as it is complex: the machine cost around £2m. And it’s big: the Bobst 20SIX CS CI flexo press model that McCarthy went for is about 25 metres long. Installation would involve thousands of pounds of building development – structural piles to the flooring and new everything, from wires and cabling, to air conditioning and water, in a redesigned area within the press hall.

McCarthy nevertheless went ahead and ordered the press without testing it: “I was confident in Bobst, they had already supplied three presses that met our needs”. 

Although he wanted a standard press, a few bespoke touches were made including adding a stack unit and lopping off 1.5m of length to squeeze it into the press hall.

“We changed some of the walk-through areas, took out part of the framework and raised some of the rollers above – instead of below – the walkways. 

“It took a bit of doing, but we did it, and without incurring any structural weakness. The machine is very solid. It arrived in parts, with the core installation team aligning rewind, unwind, tunnel and other units, followed by the technical installation team.”

Piecing it together

This piecing together took place in June, when the Bobst 20SIX CS CI flexo press with eight-colour capability and downstream unit for film coating replaced an older press. It has a web width of 1,300mm and a speed of 500m/min in addition to special features to meet Ultimate Packaging’s needs. These include the ability to use water-based as well as solvent inks to help the company serve more market niches.

Installation took about two months, with press hall changes pushing up the total cost to around £2.5m. The process, stresses McCarthy, ran “smoothly”. And in some ways the new Bobst is easier to run than conventional presses, thanks to the degree of automation. Culturally, however, it was a different story, and coaxing his team to trust such high levels of automation took a bit more time.

“The GPS for example is very good. But it is definitely a skill printers have had to learn, and it’s more about trust than technical knowhow – will the machine make auto corrections? Will it adjust pressure to compensate for the swelling of the plates? Old presses require constant tweaking while you run them, manually dealing with registration and impressions, which this one does not.

“But you have to understand the GPS, understand calibration and understand the readings. With GPS, the plate topography is mapped by scanning to enable the technology to work out things like the tolerances of the plate and when – and when not – to adjust pressure. Using GPS for register and pressure setting has reduced start-up waste, improved turnaround times and served our customers much better with smaller orders.”

Twice the productivity

And since the latest Bobst arrived in summer the company has seen marked and demonstrable improvements. The one new press, says McCarthy, is as productive as two conventional presses and since installation his team has rolled out its biggest monthly metreage: more than 10 million metres across a variety of substrates, including recyclable materials, and different types of application.

For McCarthy, the biggest plus is the GPS technology: if you don’t need manual intervention to print when setting up impression and register, you cut waste on substrate, ink, solvent, energy and machine time, he says. In addition, since the whole process is fully automatic and not influenced by variables such as operators, ink variations or the interval between repeat orders, you get the same print results every time.

The only problems were “teething issues” with the GPS when the press was being configured, which the UK-based Bobst team quickly sorted. And while there are “no big or medium-sized weaknesses”, at certain, higher speeds a little vibration kicks in, but it is “nothing compared to old presses”, says McCarthy, who likens his new Bobst to a top-end sports car.

“It’s a bit like a Ferrari and will drive well. But if you don’t look after it regularly, it will deteriorate. Likewise this press needs regular, but small amounts of maintenance every week. Unlike old presses, which were big beasts that you could run for years and years with little maintenance, this is a complex, highly computerised machine needing a proper maintenance schedule.

“But because you are undertaking small maintenance tasks often, there is no more downtime than with conventional presses. All four Bobsts are specced the same so it makes training staff easier and we can move operators from one press to another. We can also use the same spare parts on different machines, so we have fewer spares, but they are interchangeable.

“None of this would we be able to do with a bespoke piece of equipment, and what the new Bobst has done is helped shift the production-setup ratio in favour of production. This makes us very strong in today’s challenging packaging market where, like everywhere else, everyone wants everything yesterday. Flexibility, therefore, is the key word.” 


Web width 1,100mm to 1,700mm

Speed 400m/min to 600m/min

Print cylinder repeat 320mm to 1,200mm

Cost About £2m

Contact Bobst +49 521 30 480

Company profile 

Ultimate Packaging supplies 90% of its packaging to the food industry with 70% falling into the fresh-produce sector. The £46m-turnover company has 245 staff at its 9,300m2 base in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, running four Bobst presses and Soma bagging technology.

Why it was bought…

The company wanted quicker turnarounds, shorter setup times and greater flexibility to handle increasing capacity. It needed a press that staff could use easily and interchange jobs between machines with minimum fuss. And it wanted new capabilities such as the ability to produce water-based work to nudge the company into new markets.

How it has performed…

Ultimate Packaging operations director Jon McCarthy says: “With unique features like the GPS we have improved start-up times, cut waste and boosted turnaround times to enable us to serve our customers better with smaller orders. The only problems were teething issues setting up the GPS and a little vibration at higher speeds.”

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