Companies to Watch is a special feature of Label & Narrow Web that pays tribute to a select group of converters who are making noteworthy contributions to the health of the industry.
This is not a ranking of any kind, nor is it meant to be all inclusive. In making our selections, we did not consider company size or annual sales.
If these companies share anything in common, it is that they are highly successful, that their work is of the highest quality, and that they are setting new industry standards every day.
At its plant on the Southern outskirts of Vienna, Austria, Eberle Druck makes packaging for the pharmaceutical industry. This is a field where fanatical attention to accuracy is considered scarcely enough, and Eberle makes a living largely thanks to its reputation for zero percent defects in its packaging and leaflets.
A family-owned printing business dating back to the end of the 19th Century, Eberle has long specialized in the security printing business, but today 90 percent of its business is making and printing folding boxes and leaflets for pharmaceuticals. Up to 2001, the company used sheetfed presses, but then gradually shifted to rotary webfed. With the installation last year of a rotary offset for double-sided printing of leaflets, the company is now 100 percent rotary.
"The move to rotary printing has improved both quality and productivity dramatically," says Eberle's CEO Martin Schmutterer. "Last year's enlargement of the European Union brought us into direct competition with low-cost countries like our neighbors Slovakia and Hungary. It is even more important now to examine every part of our production process, to adapt, to invest and to squeeze out costs."
Until a few years ago, Eberle's printing and converting were done on separate machines, but in 2002 the company installed a flexo printing and converting line from Gallus, with inline printing, diecutting and folding. "Our customers expect just-in-time delivery, and we can't afford to have semi-finished inventory waiting to be processed and dispatched," says Schmutterer.
Eberle has always tried to go one better than its competitors in terms of quality, and when the right quality control equipment isn't available, Eberle's engineers invent it. An example is its double-control "Eberle-Code", which is said to make a mix up between different types of packing impossible. At all events the company's control system has been accredited by ISO as a "zero-error quality control system". Eberle was also the first print company in Austria to be certified with ISO 9001, and also the first to introduce the innovative, computer based Kraus Pharma Print Control system. This validated testing system is used at the start of every production run to check the actual printed product against the customer's data.
Flexo and screen
Traditionally an offset printer, Eberle is now something of a flexo fanatic, at least when it comes to printing folding cartons. Martin Schmutterer again: "Pharmaceutical packaging uses mostly spot colors, and color consistency is of vital importance. We find flexo gives us better results than offset, and by using UV inks we can get color density on the box which could almost pass for screen printing. Using our eight color, 21" Gallus press, we can now print, diecut, crease, and emboss inline. This gives us a flexibility which we could only dream of in the days when we printed everything in sheet offset."
But if rotary flexo is the answer to many of Eberle's needs, there are some things for which screen printing is still the best answer. Makers of body care products have for many years been using the thick ink laydown of screen to give a "luxury" feel to their packaging. Major drug companies also are becoming aware that for their over-the-counter and generic drugs, the packaging must help to sell the product. For package printers like Eberle, who specialize in the pharmaceutical sector, screen also gives an opening into new markets in the luxury print sector.
An additional impulse towards screen is recent European Union legislation requiring all pharmaceutical packs to be marked in Braille. Eberle is no newcomer to Braille, and has been embossing its packs for more than 10 years using a system which it developed in-house, but the company is also aware of the restrictions imposed by the embossing process: The board used, for example, must be of virgin fibre, which increases the cost, and if the flat cartons are compressed during storage the Braille lettering can become illegible. To overcome these restrictions, Eberle looked at the possibilities of retrofitting a rotary screen unit onto its Gallus press. Martin Schmutterer outlines the dilemma, familiar to many carton converters:
"We use the same die for all cartons of a given size, but the Braille text is specific to each brand and product. This makes for long setup times now that you have to keep changing the embossing tool with every print run. With rotary screen printing the screen unit can be changed almost instantaneously. We opted for the Rotascreen because it is also made by Gallus and can be fitted at any point along the press. We as a company were not too familiar with screen printing but the preparation of Gallus' Screeny printing plates is not dissimilar from the familiar flexo plates, and we can go from the clients' repro film to the finished screen printing plate in less than 30 minutes. We can now print an ink layer of just under 0.3 mm, which gives a robust height for Braille characters." Eberle is also exploring the further uses of screen printing for security and brand protection purposes.
Looking to wider markets
Eberle Druck may be the leading Austrian converter in its specialist field, but by international standards, with 50 employees and sales of $6 million, it must rank as a lightweight (worldwide, the pharmaceutical packaging industry is worth something over $22 billion). Giants like Alcan and CCL are roaming the world looking for new customers in the pharmaceutical packaging field. Aware of the long term consequences of this market situation, Eberle looked around for a suitable ally. In October 2005 it found one, in the form of fellow Austrian Ratt GmbH, a slightly larger family-owned converter operating at the other end of the country, on the Swiss border. Under the terms of their strategic alliance, Ratt acquired 49 percent of Eberle, with each company retaining its own management.
Two Men in a Boat
The product ranges of the two converters are largely complementary, with Ratt specializing in wide-format sheet offset printing for the food sector. One obvious objective of this alliance is to offer a full range of products, going from leaflets to in-store displays. The other arises out of the awareness that European politics have changed Austria's geography. After an interval of nearly a century, Austria and more especially Vienna is once again the focal point for the whole of Central Europe.
"By creating this alliance, Eberle/Ratt, we position ourselves as the most innovative and go-getting package printers in the whole region," says Schmutterer. "The fast-expanding markets of Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia are all in our back yard." Adds Stephan Ratt, CEO of Ratt GmbH, "This move is in line with our motto: 'Think global, act local.' We share the same business culture of the family-owned Austrian company, and we both have compatible, sharply defined market objectives."
Then, seven in a bigger boat
Martin Schmutterer and his partners Matthias and Stephan Ratt have been the driving force behind the recently-created "Packaging Network," a partnership of seven converters in Austria and Switzerland (plus Ratt GmbH's new subsidiary in Bulgaria), formed in order to shorten delivery times and improve customer service. The Packaging Network with its total of 260 employees and aggregate annual sales of [euro]32 million ($40 million) has set itself the ambitious goal of becoming the leading supplier of premium packaging to the fast-expanding markets of Central and Eastern Europe.--John Penhallow
Eberle Druck GmbH
1230 Vienna, Austria
Annual sales: $6 million
Management: Martin Schmutterer, CEO
The Label Makers
A 'fiercely independent company' that aims to provide a first class personal service for every customer.
Countless label converters around the world have made that claim, but unlike The Label Makers Ltd. of Bradford in West Yorkshire, England, few can point to 43 years of solid achievement in doing just that. The company has relocated five times since its formation in October 1963 when John Webster started a label overprinting business in a two-room cottage outside Bradford. The firm now occupies recently expanded premises and warehousing of 45,000 square feet and currently has 54 employees. John remains active as...