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Pulse quickens for medical packaging converter

The seeds that flexible packaging converter Rollprint Packaging Products, Inc. (www.rollprint.com) planted a few years ago are starting to turn into a rich harvest of new business.

Headquartered in Addison, IL, the fully integrated company supplies healthcare, industrial and specialty-foods customers with a diverse range of coated substrates, adhesive laminations, blown and cast films, lidding film and pouches. From two plants in Addison and one in Bloomfield, CT, Rollprint also provides up to eight-color flexographic printing, die-cutting, slitting and sheeting.

Originally formed as a subsidiary of commercial printer Schenker Printing Co. of Chicago in 1949, Rollprint became the umbrella company in the mid-1950s. In 1968, the company became focused on medical packaging when it formed a joint venture with Baxter-Travenol to develop breathable ethylene-oxide-sterilizable pouches. A continuing string of converting and printing system upgrades and expansions led Rollprint to its current high-tech capabilities.

"We're known primarily as a medical packaging converter," says Dhuanne Dodrill, who was promoted to president/COO last October. "Under the healthcare umbrella, we make products for the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and medical markets. To support this, we are registered as a medical-device manufacturer."

Dhuanne, along with her brother, Doug Dodrill, who also advanced last fall to the position of vp of technology from director of extruded products, collaborates closely with Craig Livingston, the company's vp of business development, to move Rollprint forward. Robert Dodrill, father of Dhuanne and Douglas, retains his title as chairman/CEO.

No stranger to selling on the world stage, Rollprint does about 70 percent of its business in North America; the remainder is spread across the globe. A major push toward further growth of its international sales came four years ago via a strategic partnership with Pactiv Corp.'s Kobusch-Sengewald division (www.kobusch-sengewald.com) in Halle, Germany. The idea: benefit top medical product makers through shared, state-of-the-art technology from two leading medical packaging suppliers.

A second sowing for a crop of future business came in 2002, when both Rollprint and Kobusch-Sengewald joined forces with Singapore's Acme Packaging Co. (Pte.) Ltd. (www.acmepack.com) to serve Southeast Asian customers. Already a prominent regional force, Acme had been making flexible medical structures for 15 years.

Still, the wheels of healthcare-packaging sales turn slowly, and Rollprint is only now beginning to see a return on the alliances. "With medical packaging, it takes a while for business to be generated as compared to food packaging," says Livingston. "You can start something, and it may take two years before you begin to see the fruits of your labor."

One such fruit is a new irradiation-sterilizable package for Germany's Sengewald Klinikprodukte called the Overture 3D Peel Pack. The all-polymer structure combines Rollprint's FlexForm(tm) B2 clear, deep-draw forming web with its Allegro® T peelable, layflat web used as a lidding material. Used for Sengewald's line of sterile surgical gowns, drapes and covers, the package won a Silver Award for Technical Innovation in last year's Flexible Packaging Assn. (www.flexpack.org) Achievement Awards competition (see www.packagingdigest.com/fpa).

A second success—another Overture application for a large U.S.-based medical-glove maker with manufacturing in Southeast Asia—featured the teaming up of Rollprint and Acme. "Without both companies working together," explains Livingston, "Rollprint in the states, and Acme in Singapore, neither would have been able to secure the work on its own."

When it comes to healthcare packaging, relationship selling has definitely been more the rule. Lately though, cost pressures from both packagers and end-user customers have been steadily on the rise.

"Our goal is to build those long-term relationships with our customers," says Livingston. "We do that by bringing new technology to the customer resulting in continuous package improvement while lowering overall package cost."

Adds Dhuanne Dodrill, "We find we're often replacing our own product with a less-expensive option, ensuring our customer's, and in turn Rollprint's, continued success."

Currently, Rollprint's food-market sales account for only about 5 percent of the total, but company managers are making a concerted effort to boost that number. Much of the converter's technology developed specifically for barrier films also has broad food applications, particularly in case-ready meat lidding.

"We'd like to take the technology we have for the medical industry and move that into food," says Dhuanne. For example, Rollprint's extensive line of Allegro peelable sealants have broad uses for peelable pouches and tray lidding in both medical and food applications.

Even aroma-barrier technology for cosmetics and fragrances is likely to find food applications, explains Livingston. "With fragranced cosmetics and perfumes, aroma barriers are required to maintain the aromatics inside the package, whereas with food, the concern is odor ingress into the package and possibly the food itself." Livingston cites a recent conversation with a large U.S. food company that expressed interest in Rollprint's aluminum-oxide coatings as a clear-packaging replacement for a foil-based laminate it's now using.

The potential for European and Asian sales through Rollprint's alliances notwithstanding, Latin America is also looming large on the radar screen for 2005—and not just for healthcare packaging. Both case-ready meat lidding and aroma-barrier packaging for air fresheners are getting notice from Latin American customers, says Livingston.

Getting all these products created, tested and manufactured is the job of Rollprint's comprehensive range of converting and printing systems, centered around its 68-in. Davis-Standard (www.davis-standard.com) Millennium coextrusion coater/laminator (see sidebar). In addition to three adhesive coater/laminators, various slitter/rewinders, pouchmakers and two central-impression (CI) flexo presses at the Addison headquarter plants, Rollprint's process-color work gets a boost from a 50-in., eight-color Bobst (www.bobstgroup.com) Schiavi Sirio CI-flexo press at its Bloomfield location.

By using new resin technologies and the blending of resins, we can achieve improved physical properties while lowering the costs over traditional films.

"For high-end process printing, especially for retail and consumer packaging, we take advantage of the Schiavi's capabilities," says Doug Dodrill. The Connecticut site is also responsible for all of Rollprint's flexo platemaking.

As it expands further into food as well as refining its healthcare lines, Rollprint knows the value of investing in new products. About 25 employees staff the R&D, prototype and quality-assurance labs, and QA is manned 24 hours a day to support manufacturing. Testing and analysis include structural identification, moisture- and oxygen-barrier verification, heat-seal strength, rheology, thermal stability, autoclave-cycle development and shelf-life testing, among others.

Primary substrate and materials suppliers include DuPont's Tyvek® (www.medicalpackaging.dupont.com), Honeywell (www.honeywell.com) nylons and Mitsubishi (www.m-petfilm.com) polyesters, as well as resins from Dow (www.dow.com), Equistar (www.equistarchem.com), Huntsman (www.huntsman.com) and DuPont (www.dupont.com/packaging).

Being a regular winner of FPA technical innovation awards, Rollprint's managers know what they're talking about when it comes to the future of high-tech flexible substrates—and the future is clear.

"There's going to be more and more emphasis on barrier materials, particularly clear materials," says Dhuanne Dodrill. "There's rapid growth in that area, extending into active packaging and oxygen scavengers. Also, rigid containers are being replaced with cost-effective, high-performance flexibles."

Adds Livingston, "We have a tremendous focus within Rollprint on the down gauging of films we're currently manufacturing. By using new resin technologies and the blending of resins, we can achieve improved physical properties while lowering the costs over traditional films."

Doug Dodrill says that one example is extrusion-coated, autoclavable, peelable polypropylene. "Previously, that structure could only be made by adhesive-laminating multiple webs," he explains. "Technology now allows us to do that in one step with extrusion coating. From a processing and materials standpoint, it's immensely less expensive."

Having sown the seeds of high-tech capabilities to offer customers cost-effective packaging, Rollprint can expect to reap the benefits for years to come.

More information is available:

Closeup on coating

Producing saleable product since early 1999, Rollprint Packaging's primary coater/laminator is its 68-in. Davis-Standard Millennium system at the Addison, IL, headquarters facility. The four-unit coextrusion coater—one of the few such lines in the world, Rollprint says—generally produces clear, peelable, autoclavable film structures in a single pass for the global healthcare market.

Up to seven-component resin blends from each of three extruders are initially mixed and dried (particularly for polyester) via a series of Conair (www.conairnet.com) blenders and three driers—two heated and one room-temperature. An Enercon Industries (www.enerconind.com) Ozonator II pretreats the curtain with ozone for added bond strength of the coating to the primary film.

Subsystems include three Enercon Compak 2000 corona surface treaters (one on each unwind and one prior to rewinding), Montalvo Corp. (www.montalvo.com) 3000 tension controls, Fife (www.fife.com) CDP-01 web guides prior to coating, and a Coast Controls (www.coastcontrols.com) web-guiding system prior to rewind.

Outfitted with a Cloeren, Inc. (www.cloeren.com) encapsulation die, the Millennium coater pumps a thin edge of low-density polyethylene onto the edges of the curtain. "That's a very unique thing we do, in terms of extrusion coating of polyester onto films," says Doug Dodrill, vp of technology. "It gives the polyester curtain-edge stability."

Closed-loop automatic control of die bolts regulates coating thickness. Uncoated and finished web thickness is also analyzed via a beta-gauge system from Honeywell-Measurex (www.acs.honeywell.com) that downloads data to a central controller equipped with an Allen-Bradley (www.ab.com) PanelView monitoring station. Any out-of-spec portions of the web are automatically flagged in-line for later removal during slitting and rewinding. A typical day's production may reach 500,000 lineal ft of finished material.

More information is available:

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