Dual Lithrone GX40 Presses Make UK Printer a Player in European Packaging Market

Installation of a Lithrone GX40RP with front- and reverse-side printing units and inline coater has recently been completed at Firstan Quality Packaging in the small Cambridgeshire town of Godmanchester. This is the second of the company’s first two Komori Lithrones — following the six-colour Lithrone GX40 with coater installed in November 2015. The company also runs two six-colour presses from another manufacturer.

Firstan's Paul Hartwig, production director and Andrew Hartwig, managing director

As with its first Lithrone GX40, the Lithrone GX40RP has a nonstop feeder and nonstop delivery to provide automatic nonstop operation. The conveyor-equipped logistics system enables carton board stacks to be resupplied continuously to the feeder pile and removed automatically from the delivery without operator intervention, allowing the press to maintain maximum printing speed throughout the run. Firstan Quality Packaging is a leading UK supplier of food, confectionery, cosmetics, and beverage cartons and sleeves. Firstan Pharmaceutical is one of the UK’s leading pharmaceutical and healthcare packaging manufacturers, specializing in developing packaging solutions for boxcard cartons. The group’s workload is split evenly between these two sectors. Firstan was founded 40 years ago, and for the first 34 years it was located in Bar Hill, near Cambridge, in premises that it expanded stage by stage into adjacent and nearby units as these became available. Says Managing Director Andrew Hartwig: “Twenty years ago we pioneered the use of UV curing in the UK carton printing industry and this generated a period of fast growth for us — we increased our print production from two machines to four within just four years. To consolidate processes and streamline production, we needed everything under one roof and the move into our purpose-built 90,000-square-foot site in 2010 has enabled us to do just that.”

Going for a billion a year

The company turns over a total of £20 million annually and produces 600 million cartons a year with 150 staff. Now that the new Lithrone GX40RP has joined the six-colour GX40, annual capacity will rise toward a billion cartons, signaling a predicted turnover target of £24 million for next year. In the pharmaceutical division, for which quantities on work such as special medication cartons can involve runs as low as 500 sheets, overall run lengths average 7,500, compared with an average of 15,000 in the food packaging market. Says Production Director Paul Hartwig: “The six-colour Lithrone GX40 installed last year runs at twice the speed of the press it replaced, and its time-saving makeready systems enable us to substantially improve daily output even when the schedules include a high volume of short-run work. We run it almost constantly at 18,000 sph and it increased our overall capacity by 35 percent. Now, combined with the Lithrone GX40RP running at its rated maximum of 15,000 sph, capacity will increase by more than 50 percent.”

Expanding further afield
“Several of our UK-based clients have divisions within the EU, and our new Komori presses give us the capacity to supply these new territories and beyond. As a result of recent favorable changes in sterling-to-euro exchange rates since the UK signaled its intent to withdraw from the European Union, interest from other European countries has increased considerably. We’ve had inquiries from Belgium, Ireland and elsewhere. From our location in eastern England, which is within easy reach of several east coast seaports, we are now able to offer not just quick delivery but also competitive pricing to the carton market throughout the rest of Europe,” explains Paul.

Accreditations a-plenty!
To provide the necessary assurances to customers in the food and pharmaceutical fields, operational accreditations are essential and environmental credentials much welcomed. The company has a whole host of certifications for forestry stewardship and sustainability and additionally carries all the major quality management accreditations. It was the first in the UK to achieve PS9000:2010, the standard for the supply of pharmaceutical packaging materials. In 2012 it achieved ISO 14001, the environmental quality standard. During 2015 it also became the first UK packaging manufacturer to be certified with the pressSIGN offset standard. This globally recognized accreditation allows brand owners and retailers to monitor and audit all aspects of color workflow, including file handling, proofing, viewing conditions and press performance.
“Certification for this involves rigorous testing in prepress and printing, and we far exceeded all necessary ratings,“ says Paul. Connecting print quality controls “We also have Komori’s PDF Comparator on both our new Komori machines. Our six-colour Lithrone GX40 was the first machine in the UK to have this system. Currently we’re the only printers to have two installed, and it’s obvious to see why our operators like it so much,” says Paul. “It has sensors that read the printed image for comparison with the original approved PDF, working in conjunction with the inline PQA-S quality assessment cameras that inspect every sheet. The operator is instantly alerted to any errors by a visual alarm, tab insertion, and the precise location highlighted on the  console monitor. Our operators can then make their own judgments on the cause and effect of these errors and decide what remedial action needs to be taken, if any.”
“For example, minor hickeys and temporary variations require different intervention from typographical errors. The connected quality control systems are sensitive to the smallest variations from the approved PDF, and even future maintenance alerts, such as the necessity for an upcoming blanket wash, are indicated in advance. The ability to automatically identify even minute differences, such as missing or incomplete characters, is especially beneficial to us when we’re running foreign or multilanguage versions of packaging involving, for example, Cyrillic or kanji scripts.”

Firstan and the environment
Firstan’s truly extensive environmental measures include an innovative approach to exhaust heat management in the factory. All heat sources are identified across the entire production floor, with extraction made through ducting from each machine to a centralized location where the heat leaves the factory through a single outlet stack. Says Andrew Hartwig: “It’s more efficient, and certainly one chimney on the factory roof rather than a series of stacks is far less intrusive,” says Andrew. “Komori Corporation’s own environmental conscientiousness in incorporating so many energy conserving and eco-initiatives into its high technology Tsukuba factory, its press manufacturing and assembly processes and onward into the presses themselves certainly contributed to our decision to place the order with Komori for our two new Lithrones very soon after we saw them demonstrated at IGAS in 2015,” he adds.

Coating and varnishing options galore
“The Lithrone GX40RP machine, in particular, creates new opportunities that would previously have been impossible to produce in a single pass on one press. The configuration combines two reverse-side printing units, multiple front-side printing units and a dedicated coater, facilitating many added value finishes such as reverse-side varnishing and front-side double varnishing for attractive effects, including drip-off, that we know will appeal to designers and marketers in their search for pack differentiation and shelf appeal,” he explains.
Adds Andrew: “Our two front-of-press reverseside printing units on the latest Komori aren’t there just to print two colours on the reverse side of cartons. On the increasing number of jobs requiring substantial ink coverage, even on the inside of the carton and often for promotional purposes, we use the first reverse-side printing unit to print colour and the second to varnish, prior to the sheets transferring to the multicolour front-side
printing units.”

“In the food industry especially, with its increasingly stringent regulations and more detailed information on the carton itself for ingredients, nutrients, calories and other consumer information, we see the Lithrone GX40RP capabilities becoming increasingly valuable.” “This also holds true for the pharmaceutical and ophthalmic industries, which now often require instructions and medical explanations to remain on the contents package rather than on a separate, enclosed leaflet.”

Convertible curing system
Adds Steve Turner, Komori UK’s Managing Director: “We’re delighted that Firstan has also future-proofed itself by equipping both its new Lithrone GX40s with a system that uses traditional UV technology and also enables conversion to H-UV curing simply by changing the UV lamps. So at any time in the future, Firstan can switch to H-UV curing and add the further benefits of the system’s additional environmental credentials.”

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