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Converter capitalizes on flexibles

When flexible pouches stood up and began to make a name for themselves in markets traditionally dominated by cartons, rigid containers and layflat bags, Flex Pack USA, Inc. (www.flexpackusa.com), Orlando, FL, saw a tailor-made opportunity to transfer its knowledge of film converting to this burgeoning market. Seven years and $5 million later, Flex Pack has become a single-source supplier of flexible standup pouches for liquids and for dry, granular products, such as sugar, frozen foods, lawn and garden products, Epsom salts, petfoods and more.

Over the years, Flex Pack has positioned itself as a true one-stop-shop for flexible packaging. The company not only provides package manufacturing capabilities that include film extruding, design, printing, laminating and slitting, but it also offers bagmaking and copacking services.

"We do everything from design conception and graphics, all the way through to a finished product," explains Flex Pack sales manager Rod Ali. "We're the only company in the country that really does that."

Among the recent capital investments that support Flex Pack's package manufacturing operations are a Windmoeller & Hoelscher (www.whcorp.com) blown-film extrusion line, a W&H gearless flexo press, a Nordmeccanica (www.nordmeccanica.com) laminator and a Dusenbery (www.dusenbery.com) slitter.

For more than 20 years, the converting operations of Flex Pack have specialized in the production of low-density polyethylene film for uses such as industrial films, lawn and garden, shrink-bundling and other, fairly simple packaging applications. Operating in a 95,000-sq-ft plant, the company boasts 10 blown-film extrusion lines—three of which are three-layer lines, and seven that are monolayer—that can produce film tubes from 2 to 120 in. and film thicknesses from 1 to 10 mils in virtually any color.

The newest line, purchased for the manufacture of high-quality barrier films for flexible standup pouches, is equipped with a W&H Varex® 83-in.-wide, three-layer blown-film extruder. Features of the modular line include W&H's Optifil® P2 automatic film-thickness gauge-control system and the MultiCool® D double-deck air ring, which provides a three-stage cooling process. According to W&H, the Optifil P2 system ensures minimum thickness tolerances and guarantees consistent film quality, resulting in dramatic reductions in raw material use. The extruder also uses the W&H Filmatic® T turret film winder, which has an 800-mm maximum roll diameter and allows for reverse winding.

The new extruder was installed in 2003, along with a flexo press, laminator and slitter. Until that time, Flex Pack sourced its flexible pouches from its facility in Dubai. The equipment acquisitions, says Ali, allow Flex Pack to better control lead times. "We had the infrastructure already here to manufacture the pouches," he says. "Bringing the converting in-house helped us to reduce lead times and increase confidence in our commitments. It also gives us the ability to bring customers into our facility on short notice to approve jobs on-press, which they greatly appreciate."

Joining an Astraflex® central-impression (CI) geared flexo press from W&H, Flex Pack's newest printing machine is a 52-in.-wide, eight-color gearless CI press, the Novoflex®, also from W&H. According to Ali, the new AC servo-motor-driven press provides flexibility and repeatability. "The servo drives are a lot more accurate than gears, and there is a lot less wear and tear on the press," he says "You are a lot more versatile when you have the servo drives."

Ideal for short-run jobs, the gearless press can be set up in approximately 90 minutes, while nearly four hours are required to change over a job on the Astraflex, Ali says. "The Novoflex memorizes every job and gauges itself," he explains. Typically, Flex Pack operates the Novoflex at 950 ft/min and the Astraflex at 600 fpm, depending on the job being run.

According to Flex Pack's director, Satish Sharma, who is also CEO of the company's package manufacturing operations, when Flex Pack made the decision to acquire a new extruder and flexo press, they looked for a supplier whose disciplined philosophy matched their own. "We took a great deal of time with a variety of suppliers and eventually narrowed our choice down to three main companies," he recalls.

"Once this had been done, we traveled to specific installations to study the equipment first-hand," he continues. "The last trip was to Lengerich, Germany, to visit Windmoeller & Hoelscher to view both the film line and printing equipment.

"Prior to our visit, W&H had visited our factory in Orlando and refused to sell us a film line unless we agreed to raise our roof by an additional fifteen feet. Although this initially alarmed us, it did indicate W&H's desire to do things right.

"The production facility in Lengerich was impressive; their attention to detail was obvious. The gearless Novoflex offered many advantages, including quick job changeovers, infinite repeat length and quality of print. The film line proved to have superior gauge control, as well as cutting-edge technology in regard to the die and upper oscillating nip haul-off.

"Flex Pack is the first company in the U.S. to enjoy both the Nostic Plus noncontact turning-bar system, along with the Filmatic T dual turret winder. The technology and quality, coupled with the knowledge and attention from the sales staff and management at W&H finalized our decision. Within eight months of our trip, the line was up and running, and it has continued to run at full capacity since installation."

When equipping its facility to supply flexible pouch converting in-house, Flex Pack made several other equipment investments, as well. Among them is a Nordmeccanica Super Simplex SL two-layer, solventless laminator that can accommodate a web width of 1,300 to 1,500 mm and offers a reel diameter of 1,000-mm. At the time of PD's visit, the 1,080-fpm-rated system was laminating a 12-micron polyester outer layer to a 125-micron PE layer to produce rollstock for a 10-lb sugar pouch. "The inner polyethylene layer is a proprietary blend," Ali relates. "We had to create a special blend because of the strength required to meet the company's long-term goal, which was to reduce breakage and chargebacks."

A new Dusenbery Model 835 duplex center winder from provides slitting and rewinding at speeds up to 2,000 fpm.

Supporting Flex Pack's converting operations are two graphics departments offering prepress and design services. It is here that staff members manipulate and finalize artwork, produce proofs, create plates on an Agfa (www.agfaus.com) platemaker and mount the plates using a new Mosstype (www.mosstype.com) gearless video optical mounter/proofer.

Ensuring consistent, repeatable printing results, Flex Pack has also installed a 12-station ink-mixing system that Ali says also helps keep ink inventory down.

Since Flex Pack caught flexibles' rising star, the company has experienced a "phenomenal" growth rate of nearly 25 percent per year, confirms Mark Dorey, president of the company's package manufacturing operations. "This is a huge growth market," he says. "We have seen a huge shift to higher-end laminates, with twenty-five percent of our business now in pouches."

Ali concurs: "Adding copacking [to be discussed in an upcoming issue of PD] actually boosted our sales of the pouches, reinforcing us as a complete supplier."

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