BOBST has been part of the folder-gluer landscape almost as long as it has been making machinery.
Having the right equipment for the job is vital in any industry, but is particularly important in the high-pressure environment that is packaging manufacture. "Companies like ours which supply equipment to this very demanding industry need to have a keen sense of what problems packaging manufacturers face right now and what problems they will face in the future," explains Jacques Reymond, Head of Product Marketing for BOBST sheet-fed products, which include its folder-gluer lines. "We have to understand what the issues are so that we can carry out the research and development needed to keep our customers ahead of the game."
Having launched its first folder-gluer in 1942, BOBST has a long history of innovation and spends a higher percentage of its turnover on research and development than any other company in its sector. "We often say about BOBST, with plenty of justification that innovation is in our DNA. We are always looking beyond our industry to find solutions to the problems that our customers face. For example, our recently launched ACCUCHECK unit, which checks every single carton for print and surface defects, is built on high speed video scanning technology that, on the face of it, is a far cry from folding and gluing a piece of cardboard. However, it is the product of our 20 years of experience in print inspection gained from the Registron® quality inspection systems we developed for our Champlain gravure and printing presses.”
ACCUCHECK is designed to add 100% quality checking to folder-gluer lines such as BOBST's EXPERTFOLD models, the latest version of which has been designed specifically with the needs of pharmaceutical packaging manufacturers in mind, explains Jacques Reymond. "They need high outputs and unimpeachable quality to satisfy their drug company clients. The new EXPERTFOLD 50 incorporates many of the innovations we have developed over recent years in a package designed to excel with smaller cartons. For example, its C.U.B.E.3 control system manages features such as box-stream regulation which contributes to the faster running and higher speeds that today's carton makers need, while it’s Accufeed unit ensures that blanks enter the folding section in perfect alignment – something which is vital for ensuring high accuracy folding"
Jacques Reymond says that the BOBST approach to innovation leads to totally new machines such as the EXPERTFOLD 50, but also means that improvements to existing, successful, products are also developed. "You can see this in the ACCUBRAILLE GT module which we recently launched. It is the latest generation of our ACCUBRAILLE rotary Braille embossing unit which broke new ground on its launch in 2007. It's been a highly successful unit and we expect the GT to do the same because it brings extra functionality."
Still in service
This desire to innovate stems right from the inception of the company almost 130 years ago when a young Joseph Bobst moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, where he planned to find work as a typographer. Realizing that the graphic arts industry in the area had no local suppliers, Bobst opened a shop where printers could purchase both materials and machinery, going on to secure the agency for Schmidt Frères, a leading name in printing inks, and Koenig & Bauer, today’s KBA. The success of a workshop that Bobst opened to maintain and repair equipment led him and his son Henri to develop and manufacture their own machines for the growing print industry. This led directly to the development in 1918 of the AV (Auto-Variable) to print and then in-line die-cut simple straight-line boxes, which was followed in 1940 by the BOBST AP 900, the world’s first automatic die-cutter and ancestor of all modern Autoplaten ® die-cutters. Two years later BOBST launched the PCR 382, its first folder-gluer.
Amazingly, there are still PCR 382 lines from the 1940's in service around the world. The oldest that BOBST knows of is a 1944 model which is still being used to produce carton board packaging by a company in Bulgaria. A little newer, but just as venerable, are a couple of PCR 420 models from the late forties which are still going strong at BOBST customers in Pakistan and Greece. BOBST's records also show other machines from the 1940's, 50's and 60’s that are still in use in countries as diverse as Italy, Slovakia, Russia and Latvia. "The fact that these lines are still producing boxes today - fifty, sixty, or almost seventy years after they were built - is testament to the design of our equipment," explains Jacques Reymond. "There was a story going around that these machines were actually made from recycled World War II tanks. But the reality is that, before we had modern materials and technology, folder-gluers needed to be big and heavy to support their many mechanical components such as chains and cams. Over the years we have brought in more electronics, something which has allowed us to deliver the same reliability and longevity but on much lighter frames."
While most of the early folder-gluers were for processing straight-line cartons, increasing demand for more sophisticated packaging led to BOBST's first crash-lock bottom system on the PCR 444 of 1963. This gave carton makers the ability to produce boxes, which would automatically erect and be ready for the product to be inserted. Today such cartons are a key part of the packaging portfolio of many box makers. While crash-lock technology has been refined over the years it was almost 50 years before the arrival of a completely new technology for manufacturing these boxes, BOBST's SPEEDWAVE module of 2008.
The 1960's saw the development of BOBST machines such as the PCR880 and 930, which offered longer folding sections and four & six-corner box making respectively. Around the same time specialist folder-gluer lines were developed for the pharmaceutical packaging industry such as the Baby 20 and the Farma. 1972 saw BOBST launch the Domino, which Jacques Reymond says was a step change in folder-gluer design. "Along with a more effective crash-lock system, Domino featured twin track belts, which meant two points of contact with the carton and the ability to place gaps in the conveyors, add special folding devices and introduce upper and lower conveyors. It gave box makers much more flexibility, allowing them to fold and glue styles that they couldn't handle before, so they could process very difficult boxes much more easily." Still much loved in the industry, the Domino range was later augmented by the Media folder-gluer, which was a smaller, less highly featured version designed for more entry level requirements.
The 1970's also saw the first BOBST folder-gluer specifically designed for corrugated use. While 'beefed up' carton machines had been available in the PCR 1200, 1280 and 1450, it was the O-Mega 160 that was the first designed from the ground up specifically for corrugated box making. Following the O-Mega, a range of large format Domino's delivered the processes that corrugated box makers required, until the arrival of STARFOLD and the corrugated versions of VISIONFOLD, EXPERTFOLD and MASTERFOLD.
It was the Domino platform that saw the launch of the first truly modular folder-gluer in the Domino II. With features such as an electronic four-corner unit, Domino II massively reduced make-ready times. "Users could cut the time needed to make-ready a crash-lock by half, and might save hours changing from a four corner box to a six corner," says Jacques Reymond. Domino II became the launch pad for a number of further innovations which included, in 1993, Accufeed. Originally designed to help blank feeding on corrugated folder-gluers, Accufeed cut the amount of time needed to set the feeding of boxes in half while also integrating a blank aligner which ensured the consistent alignment of blanks that is necessary for high quality folding. Accufeed has become standard equipment on most Bobst folder-gluers, including today's EXPERTFOLD 50. "This way of delivering precise feeding, and setting quickly, first became standard on the Alpina which was the step-change machine that followed the Domino II and which premiered at IPEX in 1998," recalls Jacques Reymond. "All along the Alpina line there were innovations which were designed to give the machine the highest productivity then available." These innovations included wider folding belts and larger bearings for higher speed running, an electronically set 4-corner device which gave more control and faster make-ready, the 'flipper' ejector system for removing non-conforming blanks from the production flow without manual intervention or slowing the line, a nick-breaker system for bottle carriers that could run at 30,000 boxes an hour and Gyrobox, which allowed the turning of boxes in-line for the creation of complex cartons in a single pass. "You could say that Alpina was the starting point for all of today's folder-gluers," explains Jacques Reymond. "The technology built into it was ground-breaking and, although we have refined most of the systems in the intervening years, you can still see most of them in today's range."
Typical of this evolution is the CUBE control system, says Jacques Reymond. "Alpina was one of the earliest machines to utilize this control and interface system which we had developed for the Media II of 1995. CUBE is now in its third generation with color touch screens, USB backup, on-board digital manuals and links to the Internet for remote monitoring. It has become the heart of all our machines - controlling everything we build in as well as running the interfaces with third party units such as gluing and QA systems."
Many thousands of BOBST folder-gluers are in production every day all over the world, with customers who range from mainstream carton board packaging manufacturers to print finishers and specialist plastics firms. "Most of the installations we see are in the sort of factories you would expect," says Jacques Reymond. "But some are a bit unusual." He cites a folder-gluer line in the UK that in the 1990's was located on the balcony of what had once been a theatre and was being used as a carton factory. "However the most unusual installation has to be a PCR 880 that we know of in Latvia. The folder-gluer was originally built by BOBST in 1963 and has moved around a bit, but it's now installed on the second floor of what was once a family home - although the building is now used as part of a print company's premises."
Not every BOBST innovation is built into the line itself. Many are peripherals that can be added to maximize the productivity potential of the folder-gluer, improve quality, or simply to make life more pleasant for operatives. "As folder-gluers became faster in the 1980's, we realized that operators were struggling to get blanks into them and folded and glued cartons out," recalls Jacques Reymond. "That's why we developed peripherals such as COROPACK, EASYFEEDER, Batch Inverter, HANDYPACK, CARTONPACK and LOGIPACK. Keeping pace with a machine running at many hundreds of meters per minute when you have to pick blanks from a pallet, invert them and then feed them isn't easy. The same applies at the delivery end where every hour a hundred thousand cartonboard boxes could be coming at the packers, or they could be expected to bundle and strap thousands of large corrugated cases. Peripherals not only enable the machines to run at full speed without burning out staff or giving them conditions such as repetitive strain injury (RSI), they also mean that the line runs more consistently because of the constant height of blanks in the feeder, and there is less damage to the finished carton because they are machine packed." Again, each such unit has evolved since their earliest incarnations with today's 'GT' versions offering higher performance to match the increased productivity of the current BOBST range, while additions to the peripherals range include LOCPACK which adds the automatic packing of crash-lock cartons.
Other innovations find their way into BOBST production lines as ‘special devices’. Each year BOBST develops hundreds of these bespoke add-ons for its folder gluers, designed to help users handle particular jobs which may take a long time to set using universal equipment, or may not even be possible to do. In some cases the request is for a special device which has already been developed, such as a ‘chip scoop’ or capacity folder device, but the vast majority require a special development to ensure that the customer can maximize their productivity.
BOBST has always been quick to respond to changes in the business landscape, says Jacques Reymond, citing as an example the introduction in 2005 of European Union legislation requiring all pharmaceutical packaging to carry information in Braille. This new legislation had the potential to present a major problem to pharma packaging makers because, until then, most were using die-cutters to emboss packs. "That can be slow, expensive and can hamper downstream processes," explains Jacques Reymond. "At BOBST we looked back at a principle that we had developed almost a hundred years earlier to help an institute for the blind in our home city of Lausanne, Switzerland. That system was a rotary embossing press for getting Braille onto sheets of paper and we used the basic principle to create ACCUBRAILLE which is a fast, cost-effective and responsive way of embossing Braille onto cartons using a folder-gluer." Since its introduction in 2007, BOBST have installed almost 200 ACCUBRAILLE units and the technology is now in its second generation - the ACCUBRAILLE GT - which has a smaller footprint, can emboss more lines of Braille and onto all for panels, has dot height adjustment and can even emboss across the running direction.
So what of the latest BOBST folder-gluer lines - MASTERFOLD, EXPERTFOLD, VISIONFOLD and AMBITION? "Each addresses a different market from those that need the very highest productivity to those that need a small, versatile machine that can help them break into carton making or serve a specific niche," says Jacques Reymond. "With MASTERFOLD, for example, we took the spirit of Alpina and found a way to create a new machine that was even more productive by further reducing make-ready times and introducing faster ways to process cartons. MASTERFOLD can run 4 and 6 corner boxes at up to 50,000 an hour depending on the flap size, while for crash-locks the only real limitations are the ability to feed and pack." The first new approach to crash-lock production in fifty years, SPEEDWAVE, removed the need for folding hooks. “Setting is simpler and quicker than hook systems,” explains Jacques Reymond. “You can more easily run complex cartons, like those with apertures and windows, and you can run them more quickly. It is also more tolerant of board variation than hook systems.” The system is now in its second generation - SPEEDWAVE GT - and Jacques Reymond says that BOBST's R&D teams are continuing to innovate as they always have. "We won't be changing that any time soon!"