The next act for Reifenhauser as it celebrates 30 years

The managing director of Reifenhauser India, Manish Mehta, talks to the PrintWeek team about the company’s growth, future targets and the headlines of the past three decades

17 Jan 2024 | By PrintWeek Team

Manish Mehta: The goal is to stay ahead of market trends through innovation

PrintWeek (PW): We interviewed you five years ago. A lot has transpired since. Your update?
Manish Mehta (MM):
The capital goods industry is booming. The industry is in investment mode. Focussed technology adoption is the way forward. Post-Covid, the equation has altered for India. In 2023, India was ranked fifth in the world’s GDP rankings and is the fifth-largest economy. It has fuelled the packaging segment.

At Reifenhauser, we are keen to expand our presence in new geographic territories even as a clutch of new names is taking packaging to new extremes. To enable this, we have been strengthening our team capability.

PW: How so?
By realising that the packaging game has changed dramatically. Reifenhauser adapts and continues to embark on this transition. We are looking at expansion in an ever-evolving market with packaging hubs in Africa and the Middle East besides our neighbouring countries.

The industry is solid in India. Notably, there has been investment in the South with three BOPP polyester and CPP lines, and a few new converting units with blown film. Also, international players have realised the latent potential and are eyeing investments in India on a larger scale.

PW: Good growth?
Today, India is a buyer’s market. Having said that, the competition is fierce. However, I feel Indian converters are intelligent, innovative and have a creative problem-solving approach. Plus, judicious usage of available resources. Sadly, the efforts of packaging factories go unnoticed. Packaging is a highly evolved science which is backed by top-notch technology.

Mehta: We are strengthening our team capability as we expand our presence in new geographic territories

PW: The technology that underpins packaging is rapidly transforming our lives. Any application that has grabbed your attention?
There is so much good work in pouches including shaped and retort pouches. Also, driving the market is security and anti-counterfeit with easy open, cast-and-cure, to name just a few. Ready-to-cook food and retort packaging are driving the market. Meanwhile, at Reifenhauser, we are involved in sustainable methods such as water-based inks and electron beam curing. Also, water-based coating and flexo and digital machinery with new rationalised ornaments have been developed.

PW: Does that mean fewer bells and whistles on the press?
Yes, Indian converters seek machines that are the best to operate and that offer good value for money, besides speed or productivity.

PW: What are the current trends shaping our industry’s landscape?
The trend from MDO to five- to seven-layer for PE, with potential for seven-layer and nine-layer barrier lines. A popular choice in the FMCG segment is multi-layer plastic (MLP) packaging that combines functionalities of varied materials. The benefit is extended product shelf-life and improved barrier properties with efficiency.

In the extrusion segment, mono-material, high barrier and recyclability are the factors under the limelight. Likewise, on the converting front, wastage reduction, short- to medium-volume CI and inline flexo printing up the ante, wait for a breakthrough in digital flat ink, adhesives and coatings.

PW: Any thoughts about recycling? Do we have a flawed recycling strategy?
Not at all. Many companies have adopted recycling principles. We need to rethink the MLP issue seriously. The blend of materials causes a bottleneck. I have a simple principle in packaging: If it is broken, then fix it. Most importantly, policymakers should work with manufacturers to find solutions to ensure effective plastic recycling and management including collection and segregation.

PW: Do you think a single polymer laminate can provide optimum barrier characteristics?
The switch from MLP to single-layer polymer is already taking place in BOPP/CPP/BOPET/ BOPE/MDO film/coating film to name a few. However, it is crucial to note that a certain percentage of single polymer laminate with similar OTR and WVTR must be tested in a closed loop to work not only in properties but end-of-line converting or packaging machines efficiently.

Additionally, the construction of a lamitube can be as easily achieved as a film, meanwhile, the thickness is 300- to 350-microns and can undergo advanced technology, followed by printing and forming a tube. With the change downstream, the yield can be obtained in a single pass and does not require several processes as conventionally done today. 

Furthermore, various companies are trying and developing the required optimum barrier with or without coatings. One of the CPP players has developed and successfully supplied CPE metalised and coated films to snack food buyer below 0.1 OTR.

PW: Has this been rolled out in India?
Good news. Advanced trials for this technology have been conducted with three Indian converters. The results are positive.

PW: That’s really good. Reifenhauser India (RIML) is an extrusion machinery manufacturer with specialisation in blown film machinery, cast film, sheet lines, thermoforming and non-woven machines for medical and hygiene use. The customer expects a lot more from your machines. What are you saying to such a customer? 
There is a lot more. For example, the blown film extrusion line employs a twin screw mechanism with a unique design and sandwiches the MLPP between two virgin HDPE or PE layers in the ratio 15:70:15 or 20:60:20. With Evo Ultra Fusion, fluff (film shreds) as well as all kinds of production waste and PCR material of the lowest quality can be processed into functional films for applications such as trash, mailing bags, agricultual and secondary packaging to begin with.

PW: How does Reifenhauser score in this department?
Reifenhauser is committed to sustainability with the R-Cycle technology. R-Cycle stores recycling-relevant information during production and makes it available as a standardised data record for the waste sorting process. It enables a data-based method and, thus, more precise sorting for high-quality recycling. 

The entire supply chain, including brand owners and machine suppliers, is part of this ecosystem as R-Cycle serves as the traceability standard for plastic packaging.

PW: In real terms, how does this work? Please explain.
Take an example of a packet of chips. At the end of its life-cycle, the chip pack when discarded by the consumer, reaches the waste stream. Now, with R-cycle equipped at waste management facilities, converters can ensure that the print laminate carries the details of the material, its thickness and the manufacturer’s name. 

In addition, it enables identification of the type of material, thereby effectively segregation and recycling. The point is: the production machines along the entire value chain can record relevant data, such as the type of plastic, printing ink, adhesive, additives and also the use of the packaging (food or non-food), and make this information available on the end product via appropriate marking (digital watermarks).

PW: Is this approach doable in India, which has its own set of challenges?
The government and the brand owners should work together and promote the idea that the more you use recycled items, the better it is for the country’s economy and human life.

The focus must be sustainable alternatives such as bioplastic, compostable and speciality resin, BOPE film with water-based ink and electron beam ink, plus water-based adhesive and coating. Use BOPP, CPP or seven-layer EVOH film, which offers good OTR and WVTR values for an enhanced barrier, and not a polyester with BOPP or metallised BOPP.

PW: That’s quite a bit.
Reifenhuaser extends its commitment to sustainable production. I believe that many more seminars and conferences and outreach programs must be hosted to address the challenges faced by the industry.

PW: Shifting to a new topic. According to you, what hurdles does a converter face?
I believe the biggest challenge is the short run. For me, a short-run job is in the range of 10,000 and below. So, the requirement is an efficient tailor-made design machine with fast changeover, minimum setup time, less energy and use of water-based inks. Plus, managing waste. In the initial days of packaging, conventional waste was 8-9%. Now, it has reduced to 5% and one should aim 3% in two years average.

PW: With the Comexi brand, Reifensauser is targeting CI flexo quite favourably. What are the factors that favour flexo technology?
Flexo offers faster plate production of less than four hours and a delivery time of around 24 hours. Gravure cylinders have high inventory costs and take up more space as compared to flexo plates. 

In addition, precision and control of components like the CI drum, mandrills, and sleeves are critical for maximising plate quality in flexo. While not directly linked to EPR and single-use plastics, the process offers possibilities with thinner materials and recyclable laminates.

Furthermore, flexo benefits in terms of better solvent recovery, the possibility of EB and water-based is easier.

PW: What is the score vis-a-vis materials?
Flexo increases the scope of materials like MDO, PE, and PE-PE laminates, which could play a vital role in replacing other laminates that are not possible to recycle, of course, depending on the applications. It will go a long way in assisting in the EPR with less waste generation and reduced carbon footprint.

PW: Are there any challenges faced by converters in flexo?
Training, skilled manpower, recyclability of MLP. Flexo tests printing skills starting with pre-press.

PW: Please elucidate.
I feel there must be efficient production planning and trained manpower to navigate the print environment successfully. The skill set that is required for flexo is 25% higher. The industry should invest in training more manpower for higher returns, availing the benefit of technology and of course, machine maintenance and printability.

PW: Plans for Drupa?
As always, Reifenhauser will host an open house at our factory. Comexi will showcase our latest and best from 28 May to 7 June 2024. It’s a big gap of eight years, so we look forward to the show. I look forward to witnessing new technologies and sustainability trends in the print and packaging sphere, where digital printing will be in limelight. Comexi to showcase its advanced automated solutions in CI offset.

PW: Sir, you have been actively engaged with all of your customers on a personal one-to-one basis. What is your strategy?
We encourage additional customers to add value to the business. Sustained value addition adds to attractiveness in the sector, plus it drives investments. Presently, we are focusing on maximising the most out of second-hand machines. As you are aware, thus far, it has been categorised as an unorganised sector. 

At Reifenhauser, we ensure that the machine is refurbished to suit the current market requirements in India. The secret to a successful product is that regardless of its tangible or intangible value, it has to exceed its cost.

PW: How so?
I wish to highlight our partnership with Packult Studio. In conversation with brand owners, Mumbai-based Packult executes ideation, product research, development, design, feasibility, and supply chain management and delivers creatives, artworks and graphics, packaging development, value improvement, sourcing and operational excellence.

Team Reifenhauser celebrates 30 years of in-house

PW:  What is the mantra at RIML?
Remain humble. Be willing to serve. The idea is to become independent and foster a locally driven ecosystem with zero after-sales maintenance over the next two to three years. At present, 50-60% of the market operates in this direction. This statistic should rise by 10% every year until the target is achieved.

PW: If I was a member of the government team, would you have any recommendations for me?
Government policies should allow the support of local spare parts. When the consumption scales up, everything will be rationalised. It’s good for all the stakeholders.

PW: Noted. Final thoughts?
Intelligence is a universal formula - no password is required. There needs to be a noticeable gap between a big packaging company’s market cap growth and expansion in their profits. Some element of tech-heaviness is inevitable, but today, the great news is that dozens of new names are competing. Even a boutique-sized factory can compete. And the great news is, they are competing and giving a run for money.

Quick Questions: Manish Mehta

The first thing you see when you look at a packaged item?
It is always aesthetics: how it is shaped, the print technology used and its tactile feel.

Reduce, reuse, recycle: Which R* should be prioritised?
Awareness of the importance of recycling in the industry has increased. In this regard, Taiwanese, Chinese and indigenous suppliers are getting more popular. Although the price constraint holds back Europe.

AI: a blessing or curse?
AI is a tool that can be taught to perform certain tasks. The adaptability of the same makes it a double-edged sword, and it cannot be deployed without manual oversight.

China Plus One: hit or miss?
It will only work if the entire supply chain is localised.

One thing that keeps you going at Reifenhauser in 2030?
Staying ahead of market trends through innovation.