The craft of flexo press manufacturing

By 20 Nov 2020

In this conversation with WhatPackaging?, Ferdinand Rüesch of Gallus traces the 98-year journey of Gallus, the development of its flexo technology, as well as its future under the new owner, Benpac

Ferdinand Rüesch, key account manager for Gallus, and member of  the supervisory board of Heidelberg

WhatPackaging? (WP): In 2023, Gallus will be celebrating 100 years of its existence. A milestone indeed...
Ferdinand Rüesch (FR):
Yes, I am very proud of the achievement – 100 years in the printing industry is indeed a big deal for us. Our centenary planning will begin by the end of 2021. I must tell you, that our centenary will be a springboard to the future. We will unveil the plan as we get closer to the milestone. 

WP: What role has Gallus played in the field of flexography over the years? 
FR: The original role of Gallus had been in the world of letterpress, intermittent and rotary presses. We introduced the combination printing – first a flat-screen and flat hot foil/embossing and later the all-process rotary. The success in flexo really started with the German company, Arsoma, and its founders Dieter and Siegfried Arabin. Arsoma was a very innovative company, which made the best in class flexo machines. The Arabins were looking for a partner so sell their flexo machines worldwide and we were looking for the best flexo machines.

The Gallus Group formed a partnership with Arsoma in 1992 in the form of a financial stake. Six years later, it was converted into a full takeover of Arsoma by Gallus. Moving on, Gallus pushed and then innovated UV flexo press, and have since been the driver for UV-flexo printing. 

WP: And Gallus’ thrust in multiple markets? 
FR: That wasn’t too difficult. Gallus had been selling machines world over, and my father had been travelling across Europe, to the US and Canada, Ecuador, Australia and New Zealand. The initial momentum was provided by the Gallus Arsoma EM 220, the predecessor to EM 280. It was a flexo machine that could derive the best from the plates and inks to produce high-quality labels. So, for Gallus, the game changed when UV flexo came into play.

After installing a few EM 220 machines, my father realised the potential of UV flexo, and his engineers enlarged the EM 220 to the EM 280, which was built to be a cost-effective machine for producing self-adhesive labels in small- to medium-sized runs. It allowed a combination of printing processes and a quick-change platform for short changeover times, all of which made it ideal for anyone starting out in water-based (WB) and UV flexographic printing. Gallus has sold over 900 EM 280 flexo machines worldwide.

In India, we sold over 100 Gallus EM 280 flexo presses. 

The Gallus ECS 340: With 40-plus installations in India, the press is turning out to be a street fighter for Gallus after the phasing out of EM 280​

WP: There have been a host of flexo presses, which Gallus has introduced – the RCS, EM 280, the ECS and now the Labelmaster to name the popular ones. Which one of the presses has been key to Gallus’ growth? 
FR: The first Gallus flexo machine has been the Gallus A160, a solvent-based flexo press on a central impression cylinder. Then came the Gallus R250, and then the most successful Gallus EM 280. Also, the EM 410 lines have been a great success. The ECS 340 followed and now it’s the Gallus Labelmaster family. However, the key to Gallus’ growth has been the Gallus EM280 – from a two-colour machine up to 20 stations. 

WP: While the EM 280 and ECS 340 have been a runaway success in India, and now the Labelmaster is catching up, why hasn’t the RCS seen as many installations as say the ECS 340 in India? 
FR: We have an Indian customer who operates a few RCS in other countries, however, the design of the RCS machine is such that it’s meant for the highest level of automation, in markets where the labour is very expensive. Therefore, the answer to your question is - the difference in cost of producing labels. The cost of the automation on the RCS is so high that one can produce cost-effective labels in a market such as India where the labour cost is low. On an ECS 340 or a Labelmaster, an operator or two can deliver the same RCS quality.

It’s all about saving cost on labour. The comparison just does not match. Besides, the demand of the market is different. The RCS is a rotary combination press and the strength of the machine is to change the printing process from offset to flexo and screen, and hot foil stations in any position on the machine. It’s a press that’s ideal where one has to change the printing process quite often. For example, you are printing offset, and then have to change to flexo. By the way, I have not seen many label printers using offset printing to produce labels in India. 

WP: Which of your flexo presses produces the highest point in print quality, and why? Please explain the process. 
FR: This is a very difficult question because all our machines deliver the same quality as we set the same standards in all systems. I think one can achieve the highest point in print quality when the quality of not just the press, but every process of label making is aligned – from pre-press (plates) to use of quality raw material and tools, and above all, skilled manpower. It’s all about the three Ms – machine, man and material. WP: Ferdi, you have seen the rise of Gallus in the flexo space, first hand. What are your thoughts on the current state of the label and packaging market for the packagers, and its potentials? 

FR: The label and packaging market will grow with new opportunities. The potentials are creative designs – how a label can be even a stronger part of the packaging design, carry more functions in one label, such as giving stability of the container, adding security features and presenting new touch and feel to the product. 

WP: Quality flexo presses can produce high print quality, but sometimes just quality is not enough. The label manufacturer has to produce products that help their customer to push the envelope, to offer something new to its customers, when it comes to buying the product. Labels play a big role in breaking the stereotypical portrayal. How should they go about doing it? 
FR: Look at new materials, which can be applied more reliably and faster. Use materials, which can be recycled with the container so that the labellers become sustainable. Also, try out material and inks that combine to produce labels that attract the customers, at a lower cost of production. 

Gallus Labelfire: Gallus' first major digital press has about 40 installations worldwide

WP: Do you think the label printers should invest in an R&D unit? 
FR: No, I do not think it is needed unless it specialises in manufacturing technical labels. For example, RFID or smart labels or labels for a sector such as an automobile, where the labels under the hood have to resist high degree temperatures, or labels for deep freezing products, which does not fall off when the product is exposed to normal temperatures.

Having a special R&D unit involves costs. You don’t need an R&D unit to produce a four-colour label, which goes on a pasta pack. 

WP: One talks of Industry 4.0 and Automation 4.0 or 5.0. But you spoke about automation, and how India has perhaps still not reached that far. You have travelled around the world. What would be a smart and sensible technology, which can be integrated into a factory to make it smart? 
FR: The term Industry 4.0 is used for many things. The integration of the workflow, where the connectivity between the conventional machine and the digital machine as well as order management is established. That’s an ideal smart factory. If you want to have a smart solution, not a smart factory, from Gallus’ point of view, one such press is Labelfire.

It combines the power of digital and conventional, inline finishing and embellishing units. The digital front end also has incorporated order management. 

WP: Everyone is looking for consistency in print quality from the first to the last label with every label in between. Printing processes have inherent variation because they involve mechanical parts. What’s your advice? 
FR: The magic word on this is root- cause detection. Find the root of the error and correct it at the source. It can’t be done on the machine with a quick-fix solution because and next time the same mistake will be repeated. I have said this before. Get the right mix of the three Ms, and you are guaranteed quality and savings. For example, sometime it would be right to replace a bad plate than tinker with the inks to produce labels, which will never be good. You will only produce more waste. 

WP: Flexo, digital or hybrid – what’s the future? 
FR: So I look at the world of labels like a cake. One slice is a two-colour label, one slice is six-colour plus, and the other one is a high-end label for the likes of L’Oreal and Palmolive. Now, the slice will be bigger or smaller. So if I apply this to producing labels, one will always need a conventional machine and/or a digital machine, or a machine which can do everything, like the Gallus Labelfire. That said, conventional presses will still be strong, maybe the label player with conventional presses may lose some short-run jobs. But then, the speeds of digital presses are also going up.

Take, for example, HP. The HP digital presses are getting faster. But when you speak to the label printer who has a digital press, the break-even is 2,000 metres. Anything above becomes unviable. Now, the question that will swing the pendulum in favour of conventional or digital is: how many jobs are below 2,000 metres? 

Ferdinand Rüesch at the Heidelberg Gallus’ Labels and More event in Pune

WP: How has Covid-19 pandemic impacted Gallus business? 
FR: Hmmm... I will not say Gallus is not affected. We don’t break it down by business units, but totally the revenue decline in the first quarter of June 2020 is somewhere in the 30% region. 

WP: How does one take steps to future-proof the business? 
FR: It’s true that this pandemic has hit everyone. A handful of companies have been able to remain profitable, but they have struggled to provide and deliver goods to meet demand driven by panic buying. However, while this pandemic is bigger in proportion, in the past, we have taken short-term measures in response to our own crisis within and outside.

Those changes have remained with us. But, what was the previous normal has now fundamentally shifted to a new normal. Those players in label manufacturing who understand and act on this new normal will have tremendous opportunities for growth. 

WP: What should the label printer do? 
FR: A label printer should look at: how can a supply chain be managed while managing his own supplier base better; re-connect with his clients via video calls, now that there are restrictions on travel; there will be a revival of domestic manufacturing – take advantage of new markets; build data infrastructure for the near future – data will become a strategic resource, and managing work remotely and virtually.

This is what we are also doing at Gallus. It is also very important to understand which part of our business environment has changed, and accordingly, invest to remain relevant in the new normal.

Ferdinand Rüesch discusses the acquisition of Gallus by Benpac

WhatPackaging? (WP): How did the acquisition of Gallus with Benpac come about? Talk about the process. 
Ferdinand Rüesch (FR):
In November 2019, Benpac hired about 60 employees working on the assembly line of Gallus. This was the start where both the companies started to know more about each other. It also became a trigger for taking further collaborative steps, which finally converted into the buy-out. 

WP: Why is this acquisition a good fit? 
Benpac is part of the packaging industry, producing blow-moulding for PET and aluminium cans. For Benpac, it was like adding one more business vertical that is growing. 

WP: What does the partnership with Benpac now enable Gallus going forward since Benpac also specialises in packaging technology? 
Benpac is a privately-held company, and the owner, Marco Corvi, CEO and chairman of the board of directors of Benpac, is a great entrepreneur. With Benpac’s support and connections, Gallus can now develop machines. I think it is a very good fit for Gallus because aligning with a company whose philosophy is providing customers with an optimal solution, and ©Innovation is our promise’ as its mission. On the other side, the association with Heidelberg will continue. It will retain its in-house digital expertise and collaborate with Benpac on the Gallus Labelfire as well as other Gallus conventional presses. 

WP: I understand there are about 40 Gallus Labelfire presses installed globally, so, what kind of continued inputs would be given by Heidelberg? 
Yes, it’s an established press, but it’s also our first major digital press offering. We continue to improve it further through inputs from Heidelberg’s in-house digital expertise and serve our Labelfire customers better. I would like to inform your readers that the Heidelberg connection will be extended to other Gallus offerings in the digital arena in the future, too. 

WP: What is your role at Gallus or Benpac now? 
My role remains unchanged. I will still be the key account manager for Gallus and on the supervisory board of Heidelberg. In addition, I will also be part of the Gallus Board in the future. 

WP: Would you still be travelling to India, once the pandemic is over? 
Yes, I will certainly travel to India as I used to, to promote Gallus there. 

WP: Gallus is already an established player in the narrow-web flexo presses, but with this partnership, how are you going to expand your client base? 
I think Benpac understands the packaging business having expertise in the technology. As someone in the packaging industry, Gallus would be ideally placed to leverage Benpac’s clout to better its already strong position in the label segment. 

WP: Ferdi, you sold Gallus in August 2014 to Heidelberg, and have now Gallus has exited Heidelberg. What have been the most important learnings for you? 
I learned that every printer has his/her own characteristics. I think it is necessary to understand these characteristics of the customer to be able to serve them better. Heidelberg has done pretty well in understanding its customers and serving them.




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