Higher line speeds, faster changeover optimize film converting
Q: Gloucester makes equipment for manufacturing both BLOWN and cast film for the flexible packaging industry. Which area of the market is growing the fastest and why?
A: We’re seeing growth in both technologies but with differences in demand based on geography. China is very slow, and Western Europe is starting to slow. We are also seeing a slowing of activity in North America.
But we are seeing growth in the market in the Middle East, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. In geographies where there is market growth for cast film, there is increased demand for thinner gauge films and higher line speeds. Customers want more output from the same equipment.
Q: How can flexible packaging converters boost profits and reduce downtime by partnering with their equipment suppliers?
A: By working with suppliers, they can optimize line operation. Traditionally, customers had in-house support teams that did this work, but customer plants don’t have the same level of expertise they once had.
They can partner with a company like ours to bring in that expertise as needed. If they’re going to do an upgrade program, or an optimization project to get increased capacity out of an existing machine, we can optimize the line, train their people and maintain that line at peak output capacity and quality.
Q: What technologies are you investigating for possible future application in converting machinery and why?
A: We believe there will be demand for higher speed lines, more capacity and lines that can changeover quickly so that short production runs can be made exactly to the quantities desired. We’re focusing on reducing changeover time from structure to structure by reducing purge and cleaning time.
On the blown film side, we’re introducing new technologies that increase line output. For example, we have a new stacked air-ring design that matches the best stacked air-ring equipment in terms of capacity and productivity but is more cost-effective.
In many cases, output for both blown film and cast film lines is constrained by the winder’s speed. We’re removing that bottleneck with higher-speed winding.
We’re also working with polymer manufacturers to understand how to optimize line conditions to run biopolymers. And we’re focusing on new barrier film technology because there is strong interest in barrier films.
Q: What service OR support is going to be most important in coming years and why?
A: We’re seeing strong demand for process optimization and consulting, for rebuilds and upgrades and for faster response time for breakdown support and spare parts.
Customers want to reduce downtime, but they can’t afford to keep their own spare parts inventories. So we’ve introduced an innovative program in which we stock and dispatch rebuilt components like gear boxes, rotators for blown film lines, bag machines for converting customers and electronic boards for control systems.
When a customer has a breakdown on, for example, an old hydraulic bag machine, rather than trying to repair that plumber’s nightmare, we ship the customer a new electronic, servo-driven bag machine within 24 hours, and we take the old machine back to be rebuilt into a new electronic, servo bag machine. The customer gets a credit on the reuse of the old machine’s parts.
It’s a simple concept, but it means nobody is waiting four to six weeks to get a machine rebuilt.