Shorter lead times, smaller batch sizes, more ecological sustainability – these are the requirements to which companies in the packaging industry have increasingly to adjust to.
In conversation with Packaging Europe, Jakob Mosser, CEO Schur Flexibles and Christian Kolarik, COO Schur Flexibles reported how Schur Flexibles Group has reacted to this, which innovations were presented by the Group at the interpack 2017, and how the Group is upgrading for the future.
The Schur Flexibles Group is still a relatively young group, having been established within the last five years. What is the concept behind it?
Mosser: During the first five years, our work consisted of identifying and acquiring companies in the area of flexible packaging which were highly specialised, which enjoyed the status of technological leader in their sector and for which it made sense to form a strategic network. This centre-of-excellence concept made us an attractive and reliable partner in the field of flexible packaging in a very short space of time. This was the appropriate point of time to work in an even more market and customer-oriented manner, and to form a strong group out of the individual companies.
Kolarik: With our new CI, we are now also implementing this visually to the outside world. At the interpack, we presented ourselves with a new logo and a uniform, clear and modern image.
Mosser: Our current claim "The Flexible Packaging Pioneers," underlines our goal to be topfront in the respective segments: We want to offer our customers unique solutions, keeping them ahead of the market. The keyword "pioneering spirit" is right on the money: Our main objectives and requirements include anticipating customer wishes and needs. If the time is ripe for new solutions, we want to be prepared and ready to go.
In this respect, you have invested heavily in research and development ...
Kolarik: That's right: Our new PackScience Center has opened at our German site in the Allgäu. In a 600-square-metre facility, we do not only have our own equipment, but also that of our customers, for the purpose of research and development. There are also several conference rooms with various presentation technologies available. At this perfectly equipped location, we can perform extensive tests on the products of our customers and run seminars – from initial training to very specific topics. The new PackScience Center puts us in a position to bring developments to the market even better and even faster. Our customers have already taken note: Demand has been very high right from the beginning.
The group of companies has also been further expanded. What do you expect to get out of the acquisition of the Dutch company Zwart?
Mosser: The acquisition of the specialist Zwart was our response to a tremendously changed customer behaviour that we have observed over the last few years: In our industry, we have dramatically reduced the delivery times – in some market segments, they have fallen from 10 weeks to just 2 to 3 weeks. At the same time, order sizes have decreased significantly, from about 30,000 running metres to an average of less than 10,000 running metres. We can trace this back, for example, to the fact that our customers appear to be making design changes much more frequently, in order to constantly attract attention.Our response to these requirements in terms of gravure printing, flexographic and offset printing is provided by Zwart. The company is a specialist in this field: Within very short lead times small batches, using technology tailored to these needs, can be run here. The acquisition at the same time continued the strategic development of the Group: The company has two facilities – in the Dutch town of Amersfoort and in St Petersburg in Russia – and is a professional and global wraparound supplier of tea and coffee customers. This gives us now an even more comprehensive portfolio in this segment.In order to create synergies as well as to free up capacities at other production facilities which are not optimal for small production volumes, we will be bundling the appropriate orders at Zwart in the future.
At the interpack 2017, you presented a broad range of innovative flexible packaging solutions. What does the Schur Flexibles Group see as the value of this trade fair?
Mosser: We are seeing that the world of packaging is continously growing together. Currently, for example, developments in the US market are very much like European packaging trends. Instead of the customary, typical American giant packages, more and more packaging for smaller household sizes, e.g. single portions, characterised by a higher degree of convenience and more functionality are requested. To pick up on US trends has been keen in Europe in the past - meanwhile this situation is reversed: The world is interested in what is happening in the European market. The interpack is the trade fair with the highest proportion of international customers; it is a forum for global packaging ideas – and thus an enormously important event for Schur Flexibles Group.
What highlights did you present in Düsseldorf?
Mosser: We showed up with a wide product range. Our trade-trade show highlights included haptic solutions such as Papertouch, i.e. plastic films characterised by a special coating such that they feel like paper to the touch. In the skin-film segment we also presented some new solutions, e.g. APET mono-skin top films, which can be printed in up to ten colours using the reverse-print process, and which ensure particular food safety.We have taken a truly unique position in terms of hologram printing: In this respect, we are the only provider of films with three-dimensional hologram structures which can be implemented without the use of printing inks. This patented process, whereby the holographic effects are generated by using light refraction, has become a speciality of our Danish company Danapak Flexibles.
Kolarik: In addition, in cooperation with the American manufacturer and patent-holder Clear Lam, we presented PrimaPak at the interpack – a genuine innovative concept that we will be selling in Europe.
What's so special about it: PrimaPak is a process with unprecedented functionality. It combines the stability of rigid packaging solutions with the logistical advantages of flow packs. It allows particularly stable packaging – partly in combination with rigid films – to be produced in all possible shapes and sizes, and with numerous surfaces. The packaging impresses customers with its broad spectrum of re-sealing options, and can be equipped with a variety of barrier properties. The material is also excellent for printing on – barely limiting creativity in design – e.g. with a window at the front of the packaging or with printing on the side sections.
At the same time, PrimaPak impresses with a series of logistical advantages. Firstly, there is the material to consider, which is supplied on a flexible roll. The finished packages are easily stackable and ensure optimal shelf usage. Thanks to their particular stability, they are very noticeable when in an upright position. PrimaPak is suitable for a wide range of products – from cereals to single-serve concepts, frozen food, sweets, snacks, and much more.Mosser: We are convinced that PrimaPak has the potential to replace conventional rigid solutions, e.g. cartons. The process also offers a real alternative to the stand-up pouch, because these tend to bend slightly with increasing size and granular content, which makes logistics and presentation more difficult. PrimaPak can circumvent these issues. The process can usually be implemented on existing machines: Plant of more recent design can be subsequently modified.
Another important issue dominating the sector is the demand for better recycling capacity or more ecological solutions in the manufacture of packaging. How is Schur Flexibles Group positioned in this respect?
Kolarik: One of the resource-saving solutions we have developed is our FlexiClose range – a range of re-closable packaging films which seal against PE or mono-APET materials. Standard products in this segment have a thickness of 60 to 65 µm. We have succeeded in reducing the film thickness to 35 µm; barrier properties, sealability, excellent flat positioning and tear strength are not compromised on, in spite of considerable material savings.
Mosser: The duty of packaging suppliers is, according to our opinion, to concentrate on reducing resource use already at the manufacturing stage of packaging. It is currently being discussed within the EU, whether specifications and regulations around recycling etc. should be increased. Irrespective of what happens in the future: With flexible packaging, we can offer our customers extremely modern and future-proof solutions, as our products are characterised by unbeatably low weight and have a real advantage over all other types of packaging. Innovative ideas for improving the recycling of packaging materials is just one side. It is even more important to develop packaging to further improve protection of the product and thus to significantly counteract deterioration, to avoid wastage of food – I appraise this as the main task of our industry in terms of ecological sustainability.