Significant changes continue to reshape the flexographic industry, from corrugated to folding cartons to flexible packaging. Flexographers are faced with even shorter run lengths than a few years ago, driven by the proliferation of SKUs and increase in product delivery frequencies. With inventory reductions, many orders are produced on a repeated frequency throughout the year and even month. Over the last few years, several investments have been made in new printing and diecutting equipment with faster job changeover capabilities, reduced startup waste and automation to respond to these shorter run lengths. However, in many cases, the folder/gluer departments have continued to struggle with significantly older, ineffective equipment and fewer capital investments.
Knowing Your Folding & Gluing Limitations
In many cases, an in-depth internal analysis of current folding and gluing production reveals surprising and contradictory information of what was believed or perceived to be the current situation. Understanding the actual product mix in the folding and gluing department goes a long way in determining the correct equipment investment, which is not only limited to one or more new folder/gluer(s) but also perhaps to new ancillaries, pre-feeding and end-of-line packing equipment.
Start by breaking down the percentage of the different styles produced and their associated average job changeover times. Such information will be a determining factor in understanding where inefficiencies are and selecting the capability requirements of the new folder/gluer.
Identify the deficiencies and limitations of your current equipment:
- Are you spending more time changing over jobs on makeready than actually running production?
- Is the equipment difficult to set? Does it require a lot of operator ingenuity and is it difficult to manage with the current lack of available experienced folder/gluer operators?
- Is the existing equipment in your folding and gluing department well-suited for the current and future product mix—equipment that was most likely designed 15 or 20 years ago?
- Are duplicate or replacement parts difficult to find, and are electrical and electronic systems obsolete?
- Can some existing equipment be repurposed to similar, less complex styles to reduce makeready times, combined with a new technologically advanced folder/gluer concentrating on short runs and complex structures?
Beyond Just Side Frames, Belts & Bearings
As with printing press technologies, folder/gluers have evolved significantly over the last couple of years. New, powerful, programmable logic controller (PLC) capabilities, combined with precision servo drive technologies, job memory recall functions, tooling and more, have transformed folder/gluers into more repeatable, capable and reliable machines that are easier to operate and set up. These new advancements greatly reduce job changeover downtime, start-up waste, and operator adjustments during speed changes and transitions, therefore increasing productivity and throughput.
In many cases, a properly configured new folder/gluer with tooling and automation can replace two to three existing older lines, with the resulting labor reduction. As with many other technologies, some new state-of-the-art folder/gluers are easier to operate and now pack more technologies and capabilities at a lower investment cost with lower energy usage.
For folding carton applications, new model folder/gluers include multi-servo drive systems for the belted carriers for precision speed and carton control from the feeder to the end of the compression section, with new model corrugated folder/gluers utilizing individual precision servo drive controls for each section, including independent servo drive on the final fold outer belts and walk-in access between the sections to facilitate operator access and job setup.