When Al Mawrid, the printing and converting company based in Sharjah, UAE, decided to invest in a Gallus ICS 670 press to manufacture folding cartons, it bucked a trend that previously had seen the company produce all of this type of work on a bank of Heidelberg sheet fed offset presses. But significantly, it began to expand the company’s printed packaging offering to new market sectors. Nick Coombes visited the Thomsun Group company to find out what lay behind this pioneering decision.
Established in the late 1970s, Al Mawrid is part of an enterprise that employs 1500 people and has an annual sales turnover of $200 million, with interests in shipping, logistics, supermarkets, bakeries, food processing, and construction electrics among other industries. But, it was the Thomsun Group’s involvement with the music trade that laid the foundations for Al Mawrid as a printing operation. The Group has strong associations with music, being the Middle East agent for several musical instrument manufacturers and operating music schools, and some 35 years ago had a burgeoning need for printed audio and video cassette labels and sleeves. What is now Al Mawrid started life as the Thomsun Group’s in-house print facility.
Today, it houses 10 Heidelberg sheet fed presses ranging from single-colour small format up three B1 Speedmasters: a four-colour with coater and a five-colour with coater; a five-colour and a straight eight-colour (convertible to four back four perfector). T K Babukutty, who is General Manager at Al Mawrid, explained the company’s growth: “As an in-plant service facility we grew quite slowly through the early years, relying on Group demand to dictate investment – it’s not the customary way for companies to operate, but it gave us a firm grounding and when business did increase we had the resources of a large organisation to fund new technology.”
From a situation five years ago where commercial print represented 75% of the company’s print output, today that figure relates to printed packaging, and essentially folding cartons. Demand grew from the food and cosmetics industries, but also from the local tobacco packers, which supply markets in the MEA region as well as in Asia. “As the demand for cigarette packs increased in volume, we began to find that traditional methods of production on the offset presses and die-cutters became less economic, and decided that if we were to develop our business in this product sector we needed to invest in a new type of technology – more of the same would not work,” he commented.
With most of the top brand names in the cigarette market using roto-gravure technology to print their cartons, Al Mawrid held detailed conversations with these press manufacturers, but concluded that for the type of work its customers were demanding, offset, rather than gravure, would be better suited to the half-tones and graphics used. According to Babukutty, flexo was considered, and discussions were held with Gallus at this stage about possible flexo/gravure combinations, but flexo print quality five years ago was not up to customers’ expectations, and it was only the launch of ‘Hi- Def’ flexo that changed the game plan.