Multifilm Packaging: Innovation through integration
Scan the flexible packaging landscape today for cast film extrusion companies and you’ll find a handful. Look again for flexible packaging printers, and again, you’ll get a bunch. Metallizers, laminators, slitters and rewinders? They’re all over the flexible packaging scene, too.
Now find a company that incorporates all this under one roof. Stumped?
Multifilm Packaging, an integrated converter serving the food and confectionery industries, offers cast film extrusion, metallizing, printing, laminating, coating and slitting, all in its 63,000-square-foot Elgin, Ill., plant, 40 miles northwest of Chicago.
“Our strategy is a simple one: We try to be a niche player and focus on our strengths,” says Olle Mannertorp, president and chief executive officer at Multifilm. “If you take printing, metallizing, cast extrusion, coating and lamination, there is nobody in North America that has this type of integration.”
THE MAKING OF MULTIFILMIf it seems Multifilm came out of nowhere, you’re about half right. In its present form, Multifilm Packaging Corp. was established only one year ago after former parent company Constantia Packaging divested the packaging film plant-then known as Constantia Multifilm-to the current management team. In all honesty, though, the opening chapter of Multifilm’s story was penned nearly three decades ago.
Multifilm began in 1982 as a film import office. Through the 1990s, the company gradually added extrusion, printing and metallizing capabilities, all the while serving the local-and then booming-candy industries. With the new millennium, Multifilm added laminating, following a logical path that would lead the company into bag films, a sensible complement to its line of twist film and flow wrap. Little by little, Multifilm had taken steps to become a comprehensive flexible packaging converter, but it wouldn’t hit its current stride under Constantia control.
“In 2007, Constantia Packaging was looking to refocus on its core competencies-aluminum foil-and we were looking for additional investments to continue our operation profitably,” says Marcus Magnusson, new business development manager.
Multifilm’s current management assumed control of the Elgin operations on May 1, 2008, with a clear focus on investing in new technologies and processes.
IMPROVING TOWARD FURTHER INNOVATIONThe discussions in Multifilm offices to invest in improved machinery and processes started well before Constantia officially divested the Elgin plant, and while existing presses weren’t broken, clearly it was time for a fix.
“As soon as our management team decided to sign on and buy the company, we also decided that the first order of business was upgrading our printing capabilities,” says Magnusson. “To compete in the bag film market, high-end printing was definitely necessary.”
Chris Rogers, vice president of sales, explains that historically speaking, most of the company’s business had been long runs of simple designs using only three to four colors.
“As we have grown into other areas, we have seen more of our business shift into shorter runs, more colors and more complex print designs,” says Rogers. “We needed a printing press that could dramatically improve our productivity on all our current business and provide the opportunity to expand in our newer markets by offering 8-color printing.”
In July 2008, Multifilm decided on a 52-inch 8-color Primaflex CM central-impression flexographic press from Windmoeller & Hoelscher (W&H). The decision, says Mannertorp, was supported by W&H’s reputation for excellent service and equipment that runs right out of the box.
Throughout fourth quarter 2008, Multifilm prepared the plant space for the new press and, with the help of W&H personnel, assembled the press in time for a New Year’s Eve trial run. Incidentally, Multifilm documented the entire process on its website.
“We thought it would be a good way for our customers to see that we really are ready for the next steps,” says Magnusson.
After a month of training with plant employees, Multifilm’s new Primaflex press began printing revenue jobs in mid-February, and soon after, Mannertorp raved the press was not meeting his company’s expectations-it was beating them by miles.
“We’ve gone from really old equipment, 6-color presses, to this new press which offers quick changeover, high-speed and larger rolls,” says Mannertorp. “We already see that scrap is way down. Make-ready times, way down. Production times, way down. We’re very excited about that.”
SPIFFIN' UP SLITTINGMore recently, the company has taken a look at its slitting operations, acquiring new equipment and revamping its current operations to continue making improvements. In April, Multifilm supplemented an existing Deacro high-speed slitter with an Italian-made Bielloni BMatic 60 unit with dual-turret rewind capable of processing rolls up to 59 inches wide at speeds as fast as 2,000 feet per minute.
“This machine is dedicated to extreme high-speed slitting of thin films,” says Mannertorp. “Very thin oriented polypropylene films for instance, and for us, it’s big volume. With this machine, we’re exceptionally well equipped to run those types of products. And it’s running like a dream.”
To improve on material flow in the slitting department, Multifilm plans to expand its floor space by making the best of a bad situation-the economy.
“We own the building we’re in and we have a tenant that is leaving in May,” explains Mannertorp. “Their business is going through a tough time, like so many other businesses. It’s sad to see them going through those types of troubles, but we just happen to need the floor space. So for us, it’s ideal.”
EXTRUSION AND LAMINATIONWith a name like Multifilm, you can bet Mannertorp’s company has built up an impressive collection of film recipes. To be sure, the converter’s two cast extrusion lines-one from Black Clawson and the other from Gloucester Engineering-are kept busy producing myriad combinations of polypropylene and polyethylene films ranging from 0.4 to 4 mils thick, monoextruded or coextruded (up to five layers). Multifilm maintains high quality and extremely tight tolerances with automatic die adjustments, and randomizers assure good roll uniformity.
Because innovation drives Multifilm’s growth, the company supports its cast extrusion lines with a fully functional Wayne lab extruder. Mannertorp says this machine, nestled in the shadows of its larger counterparts, allows the converter to constantly experiment with new ideas, formulations and resins. These trial sessions keep Multifilm from resting on its laurels, a lesson the company learned early on according to Magnusson.
“Basically, in 2002, when the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 was passed, sugar prices effectively doubled or tripled, making it impossible for domestic hard candy manufacturers to compete with candy coming in from Mexico and South America,” says Magnusson. “A lot of our customers decided to shut down operations in the U.S. and move north and south of the border. We saw a large portion of our business dry up. A lot of it we were able to retain and go with them, but we realized that we needed to get away from being a one-trick pony.”
About the time Multifilm picked up its second cast extruder in 1995, the company also purchased a General Vacuum metallizer with striping capabilities, entering the metallized films market. To diversify its product base-and true to the Elgin plant’s innovation through integration strategy-Magnusson says the company then sought to extrude a film, metallize it and then use it as a sealant web.
“We acquired a laminator in 2001 and, more or less, it was a trial machine to see if lamination was something that made sense,” says Magnusson. “We figured maybe we could eliminate one film and turn this into a duplex film or a two-layer film, while still getting the barriers and the optics of a triplex. And that is how our Hi-Z product was born.”
Hi-Z, available in four thicknesses between 1.0 mil and 2.0 mil, is metallized and laminated to a reverse-printed polyester (PET) or oriented polypropylene (OPP) for a luxurious look, a fitting choice for gourmet chocolates and bar wraps. Compared to a metallized OPP laminate, the product offers superior heat-seals with virtually no leakers and much faster running speeds. The thicker versions of Hi-Z are also an excellent way to downgauge polyester/metallized polyester/polyethylene triplex laminations, saving both cost and reducing the amount of packaging used.
Convinced that lamination did have a place in its production, in September 2006, Multifilm upgraded its existing water-based laminator with a Nordmeccanica Super Simplex SL laminator capable of running at 1,300 feet per minute. While the machine was purchased under the Constantia banner with the idea of offering increasingly popular solventless laminates, the unit remains a key player in Multifilm’s innovations, like the development of N-Coat, a high gas barrier film and the company’s first effort in nanotechnology.
NANOTECHNOLOGY...NOW“N-Coat is for dry food-nuts, coffee, dry fruit and dried meat like beef jerky-types of products where you need good oxygen barrier,” explains Magnusson. “Really, for any product where you’re currently using a polyvinylidene chloride [PVDC]-coated polyester or SiOx [silicon oxide] or AlOx [aluminum oxide] film.”
Mannertorp explains that N-Coat’s nanoparticle coating, in its raw form, is regular clay made up of platlets and is applied on polyester and OPP films. While the phrase “clay” may conjure up images of hazy, unsightly film, Mannertorp asserts that the opposite is true: “It’s pretty much as transparent as the film before coating.”
Nanotechnology, in brief, involves engineering structures to perform a specific function at the molecular level. Taking advantage of the applied science is more complicated than waving a micro magic wand as three years of Multifilm development before the 2008 commercial launch made clear.
“Clay platelets or nanoplatelets are oval-shaped or oblong-extremely thin, not very wide, but fairly long,” explains Mannertorp. “By stacking three, four or five platelets on top of each other, properly aligned to lay flat and oriented in the length direction of the film, you get very good gas barrier. If they are not properly aligned-if they stand up, fold or don’t line up in the machine direction-you lose the barrier. We knew the theory to do this, and the trick was to figure out a way to get them to lay down properly.”
N-Coat uses a water-based resin carrier and the coating does not provide moisture barrier because moisture would destroy the arrangement the way pouring water on a watercolor painting would. However, the nanoplatlets protect the package contents from gas molecules because, as the gas molecules search for a way through the packaging, the maze of nanoplatelets present a tortuous path, eventually dissipating the pressure that drives the gas molecules.
INNOVATING ON THE INSIDE
In March, Multifilm hosted Clive Maidment, a European energy efficiency consultant who identified ways the company could significantly lower its electrical consumption.
“We believe that we all need to be more energy efficient and energy has traditionally been very cheap in the U.S. compared to Europe,” says Mannertorp. He explains that given the price disparity, the attitude on energy efficiency is much firmer in Europe than here and it made sense to bring in European expertise to be sure every energy avenue was explored.
“Our big energy or electricity consumption is in extrusion and metallizing, where you generate an awful lot of heat with electricity,” says Mannertorp. “It’s also in cooling, where we have a big cooling plant, and our incinerator where we incinerate our exhausts from printing.”
Mannertorp explains that one of Maidment’s unique ideas revolves around capturing the heat generated by machines and using the inherent energy to produce makeup air, the air that replaces what is blown outside Multifilm’s walls. The converter would start by warming up the coldest area of the plant, and by the time the air flows into the warmer areas, the air reaches ambient temperature.
At this point, Mannertorp says the makeup air project is on the drawing board and nearly shovel ready. The project, scheduled to take three to four weeks, will begin during the warmer days in June to avoid cold temperatures inside the plant.
Poised to enter its second year under the current management, Multifilm is positioned grow with its current clients and jump into other niche markets, like pasta, a market that Mannertorp says is dominated by cast polypropylene as a sealant web but isn’t done extensively in the U.S.
With a commitment to innovation and the authority to invest in the right processes that keep it nimble, there’s no doubt the company is prepared to survive a competitive flexible packaging market.
Black Clawson Converting Machinery
+39 039 2485.1; www.bielloni.it
+011 33 (493) 24 34 07; firstname.lastname@example.org
General Vacuum, The Bobst Group
+44 (0)1706 622 442; www.bobstgroup.com
Windmoeller & Hoelscher
SIDEBAR: Metallizing Multifilm...enters demetallizingTrue to form, Multifilm is set to release another niche product: demetallized films. Explains Olle Mannertorp, chief executive officer at Multifilm, “Demetallizing is where you metallize film and print on it. Wherever there’s no ink, where you just have silver, we burn that off, so that you get a clear window in a metallized bag.”
"Our DeMet film is perfect for roll-fed labels, snack foods or confectionery items where you’re looking for excellent aesthetic value,” says Len Brooker, product manager for DeMet. “If you look at Russell Stover candies on the store shelf, for example, that product uses this kind of packaging and it’s got that ‘wow’ factor we’re going for.”
Before Multifilm introduced demetallized films, North American packagers could achieve the demetallized effect in one of two ways: Use metallized inks which can get rather expensive quickly once the metallized sections occupy huge portions of the package’s real estate or look overseas to Asian converters and endure long, time-consuming supply chains.
“With our demetallized product, the advantage is definitely domestic,” says Marcus Magnusson, new business development manager. “Instead of taking the roll to the next company in the process-which might be overseas- we simply take our roll to the next machine. It definitely saves on transportation costs.”