A sampling of Rako's label products
Many of these firms specialize in new label technologies. Rako Security Label, for instance, created from nothing in 1998, offers systems for electronic theft protection.
Rako's RFID department, established in 2004, is headed up by Thorsten Wischnewski. "We are on a steep learning curve," Wischnewski explains, "with an installed capacity of 120 million RFID labels per year — and we are now a certified supplier of Class 1 Gen 2 labels of the quality used by world class retailers like Wal-Mart and Metro. The potential of RFID in the label business is stupendous. That's why Rako has to be present. Starting next year, German airline baggage tags will have to carry RFID, and item level electronic tagging could be just a few years away."
Rako has invested heavily in brainpower and equipment and claims to be the only label converter in Germany to have its own RFID inlay system.
Holograms and RFID products are among
the many types of converted products produced by the Rako family of companies.
With 24 employees and some $6 million in annual sales in 2005, this division of the Rako group cannot be accused of being unambitious. "We have got the technology, we're fast getting the reputation, and in this fast expanding market we plan a growth of 30 percent in 2006," says Wilfried Schipper, managing director of Hologram Company.
Another German company, Folienprint, was founded by the Rako group in the late 1980s. With 70 employees, Folienprint uses mainly rotary flexo, both wide and narrow web, to print unsupported film for flexible packaging. Andreas Gowers, general manager of Folienprint, thinks that short delivery times have contributed to his company's success.
"Many of our competitors are cutting down on their raw material inventories, but we are not going down that road. We aim to offer not just the best quality, but also the fastest delivery," Gowers says.
Folienprint is also making strong headway in shrink sleeves. "Although we generally use flexo for longer or medium runs," notes Gowers, "we get most of our shrink sleeve business thanks to our digital presses. With digital we can actually offer to our customers one, two or 10 samples of bottles with whatever sleeve design they want. That sort of service was prohibitively expensive until digital came along. What's more, we find ourselves printing more and more regular production runs on our digital presses. Shrink sleeves tend to be ordered in small quantities, and with digital we can deliver within 48 hours, as against one to two weeks for the same order printed in flexo. And while our print quality with flexo is excellent, many of our customers reckon that it's even better with digital, particularly for difficult features like flesh tones."
Several other companies within the Rako group are also actively developing special competences. Typical of these are: Security Label, which makes airline baggage labels, and which will soon "migrate" out of bar codes and into RFID; Security Packaging, which is mainly engaged in helping to solve the enormous brand protection and product security problems of Eastern Europe; and Etibana, which is mainly specialized in labels for pharmaceuticals. An IT-based service company, Orgalinx, developed the Rako LabelManagementSystem, which regulates prepress workflow between the Rako companies and their customers, eliminating sources of error and speeding up procedures.
A digital pioneer
But why this enthusiasm for a print process which many label converters still see as too slow and too expensive? Ralph Koopmann takes up the story:
"Every label converter has small orders, and nowadays more and more customers want photographic print quality and just-in-time delivery. This isn't just limited to shrink sleeves. For every type of label we produce, average run lengths are falling. Labeling regulations are changing all the time, product life cycles are getting shorter, and none of our customers wants to be left holding stocks of unusable labels. So digital printing becomes the logical choice for more and more of our business.
"At the same time as the market for short run digital labels increases, so the technology is making great strides. Our latest digital presses can run at 100 feet per minute in two-color mode, or 50 feet per minute in four-color. Where we used to be limited in the range of substrates, we now regularly use substrates ranging from 12 up to 350 microns, and almost the full range of synthetic face materials: OPP, PE, PET, vinyl, and PVC, to name but a few."
Rako is convinced that digital label printing is opening up new markets that never existed before. Thomas Mehn, manager of Rako's Digital Print Division, puts his finger on it. "The technology is there, and the demand is there — but too many of our customers and potential customers do not realize that what was unimaginable yesterday is both possible and affordable today."
Keeping ahead of the pack
With 8 percent sales growth in 2005 (that's more than twice the average of Germany's struggling label sector) and a firm intention to do even better this year, Rako is well ahead of the pack, and with its emphasis on technology and its flair for developing niche markets, it looks set to maintain its lead.
Rako Etiketten GmbH & Co. KG
Möllner Landstrasse 15
D-22969 Witzhave, Germany