Me & my: Esatec Digistar 2 1100

Simon Eccles
Monday, July 23, 2018

Frip Finishing’s origins stretch back almost half a century, to the founding of Impact Printing Company in Scotland in 1970, supplying cheque printers and MICR ribbons to the security sector.

This in turn led to the adoption of hot-foil stamping, which was needed for credit card signature strips. The company changed its name to name Foil Ribbon & Impact Printing Group and today calls itself Frip Finishing. Today the company specialises in foiling and laminating trade services to the carton sector. 

It’s grown over the years, both by opening new sites such as in Hinkley, Leicestershire, and Stockport, Greater Manchester, and by acquisition, including a south London print finisher whose operations were moved to Redhill, Surrey, and Laminating & Varnishing Company (LVC), based in Hinckley and in Redditch, Worcestershire.

A decade ago it set up a new operation, Metalpaper, to specialise in on-demand metallised polyester lamination, which was later relocated to Redditch as Frip’s Metalpaper brand. In 2013 Frip developed sheetfed window lamination in Redditch, a process said to be unique to Frip in the UK. 

In August 2017, Frip became the first decorative print firm in the UK to gain AA food safety accreditation from the British Retail Consortium. It now has this at four sites, most recently Manchester. 

It’s the Redditch site that’s host to this week’s Me & My machine, where a French built Esatec Digistar 2 1100 pick-and-place or patch windowing machine has been operating since last year. 

“The machine forms part of a strategy of diversification for Frip into becoming the leading cartons services finishing provider in the UK,” says managing director Leslie Gibson. “We’re already the largest provider of hot-foil stamping services and specialist sheetfed lamination services to the carton industry, so it was a natural step to seek to offer a complete finishing package that enables Frip to take a printed job from start to finish, involving all processes required.

“The Esatec machine was purchased to complement our unique window lamination service, where we are able to offer full sheet lamination over apertures on sheet sizes up to 1,200x1,400mm. We aim to become the go-to people for the industry looking for windowing solutions.”

Frip has since added complementary kit, says Gibson. “In June, we invested in folding carton gluing with the purchase of a Brausse Forza C6, enabling Frip to offer straight line, lock-bottom and four- and six-corner carton gluing. These investments in addition to our die-cutting services enable us to take a printed sheet, offer a range of decorative finishes and functional laminations and deliver a finished and glued carton to our customers.”

Why choose Esatec?

“Frip came into the project with an open book but we were very aware of the reputation of Esatec in the market, as the leading supplier of pick-and-place and window patching equipment in Europe,” Gibson says. “They had a strong reputation for the quality of the equipment as well as customer support and an innovative approach to providing packaging solutions. We investigated equipment in both Germany and in the USA but our research only served to reinforce their market reputation. 

“We chose the machine because it gave us the most flexible options necessary to meet the complex needs of the market.”

The Esatec Digistar 2 takes stacks of pre-cut cartons (with the window apertures already stripped away), feeds them under a gluing station (with cylinder-mounted rubber patterns) and then past the four-arm rotary pick-and-place station that takes a cut piece of window foil and places it exactly in position over the window aperture, then under a roller that presses the window down so the glue holds. The pick-and-place station uses suction and venturi effects to handle the window foils. 

For window patching, the machine feeds the carton as in pick-and-place, but instead of pre-cut windows it applies the window from reels, cutting them to preset lengths.

Two stacks can be fed side-by-side if needed (three is optional). A chain system between the feeder and the window placement vacuum belt ensures precise positioning and timing. There’s a dual-sheet detector and jam detection. The glue cylinder also relies on an IR detector and will not go into contact if no carton is seen. 

The whole system can apply window blanks ranging from 40x40mm up to 480x840mm.

“Key elements of the machine are the ability to produce as a twin stream, allowing higher production speeds than our competitors, both in window patching as well as pick-and-place, says Gibson. “The modular design allows us to future-proof the machine should carton design demands change. The varied options let us run a wide range of materials from PET and RPET, through to PLAs and acetates in a micron range from 36mic up 400mic.”

In addition, Esatec’s Cardene 2 option is fitted to handle in-line film punching, scoring and creasing tasks. “This is the first installation of its type on an Esatec in the UK, which gives Frip a huge USP,” Gibson says. “Subject to the design of the carton and the window it gives us the ability to fold a window during the window patching process. The advantages are that it gives us the ability to apply a window with reduced film thickness and weight, while still giving the appearance and functionality of a traditional pick-and-place window.

“Additionally, the Cardene 2 enables us to process lighter weight PLA films, providing a mid-range cost solution (when compared to acetates) for customers who are looking for plastic free window options. It enables Frip to offer a broad spectrum of environmentally responsible solutions which are not generally available to the market,” he adds.

How did the adoption go?

“The installation of the machine took less than one week inclusive of training and by the end of the second week we were producing our first job,” Gibson says. “Our operators, while having no experience of this process, did have extensive print finishing experience so they were able to understand the basics of operation within that first week. Further training was provided by Esatec over a two week period.”

The installation of the machine took place in two stages. Initially the pick-and-place and window patching units were put in. The second phase, about eight weeks later, saw the addition of the Cardene 2 units.

“Our operators have been impressed with the ease of use of the machine and are enthused by the opportunities this investment gives Frip,” Gibson says. 

Running speed has been good, reports Frip. Maximum production speeds as a single stream range up to 25,000 cartons per hour for window patching and up to 15,000 cartons per hour for pick-and-place. “Our limiting factor on speed is really only the complexity and presentation of the individual carton from our customers,” Gibson says. “While it is early days yet for us we have been able to run at 70% of machine maximum on both pick-and-place and window patching, with good window registration throughout and we have been extremely pleased with its operation.”

In terms of accuracy, the machine can run to +/- 1mm when window patching and +/- 0.2mm when undertaking pick-and-place. For twin stream operations, speeds are increased by about 60%.

“This gives us the fastest and most versatile machine of its type in the country and with operational benefits for both Frip and our customers,” Gibson says. 

Pros and cons?

“The setup time is a trade-off between speed and run length, with setup times for single stream averaging four hours, but with double stream operation the setup is six hours, so economic run lengths become important.

“The best thing is the flexibility to problem solve when faced with complex carton/window design combined with its versatility in the range of films/products that can be applied.”

How about the worst thing? “Despite having online back up and immediate support, the operators’ manual is written in Google English!”

Finally, what’s Gibson’s message for others thinking of investing? “Plan early, the lead time for a machine is six months from order to installation.” 


Carton blank length 120 to 1,020mm (1-up), 120 to 450mm (2-up)

Carton blank width 105 to 1,100mm

Carton blank thickness 200 to 500gsm (card), up to 6mm (E flute)

Film length 50 to 520mm

Film width 30 to 840mm

Film thickness 0.03 to 0.20mm

Film roll diameter Max 500mm

Window blank length 40 to 480mm

Window blank width 42 to 880mm

Window blank thickness Max 100microns

Tolerances +/- 1mm (window patching), +/- 0.2mm (pick-and-place)

Speeds 25,000 products/hour (window patching up to 475mm), 15,000 products/hour (pack and place)

Footprint 9x2.2m

Weight 5,000kg

Price From £300,000

Contact Esatec +33 05 45 65 34 62

Company profile 

Frip Finishing has 20 members of staff working at its 1,500m2 Redditch premises, out of a team of 75 people across its five sites in Redditch, Hinckley, Glasgow, Stockport and Surrey. The firm turns over £7m, providing decorative print finishing and specialist lamination services to the UK packaging industry.

The Redditch site handles both the Metalpaper metalised board services plus the conventional window application (via the Esatec line) and sheetfed overall window lamination. A new folder-gluer installed in June at Redditch extends the services to completing the carton finishing. 

Why it was bought...

The Esatec Digistar 2 was installed to help Frip extend its range of trade carton finishing windowing services, to offer relatively conventional if complex windows with high efficiency, alongside its unusual overall lamination windows. 

How it has performed...

Despite long setup times and an operator’s manual that appears to have been translated by Google, Gibson is fulsome in his appreciation: “This gives us the fastest and most versatile machine of its type in the country and with operational benefits for both Frip and our customers.”


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