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Rako Etiketten keeps on investing

February 3, 2011

The decision to buy a new press with a total of 13 printing units was triggered by customer requests for variable print configurations and high value-added converting.

Ralph Koopmann
With 2010 sales of €200 million, Rako Etiketten is the biggest label converter in Germany and among the top five in Europe. It has just invested in a Nilpeter press with a total of 13 print stations including three gravure units This FA-4 is the sixth press of its type in the RAKO Group, and it joins nine digital label presses including several of HP Indigo's latest baby, the WS6000.

Pressure sensitive labels, flexible packaging and security products are the key areas in which the Rako Group operates. The various business segments have evolved successfully for years, says Ralph Koopmann who founded Rako in Witzhave, Germany in 1969. After a series of acquisitions over the years, the group now comprises 25 individual companies with a total of 1,400 employees.

13 color press with integrated gravure
The new FA-4 Nilpeter press, with its three solvent-gravure heads, adds yet another print technology to a label converter already using flexo, UV-flexo, letterpress, screen and offset as well as digital.

The decision to buy a press with a total of 13 printing units was triggered by customer requests for variable print configurations and high value-added converting. As Rako Technical Director Rainer Bufe explains: "If sufficient print units are available, the screen range and full tone of a color can be separated and printed in different print units. When this is built in at the planning stage and when choosing anilox rolls, it allows for a faster changeover, more reliable production and better quality printing."

Having three gravure units on a combination press also means that Rako can run base white or an opaque spot color along with silver/metallics as an economic alternative to foil stamping.

Rako aims to provide not just a label, but a service. Of course, so does every converter. But Rako takes it further. The group employs a team of graphic designers who work with brand owners right from the start as they develop new products. "Our customers want more studies in our laboratory to investigate the compatibility of the product with the labels," says Koopmann. This close co-operation shortens the development time and means that labels can be custom-designed to optimize quality and minimize cost.

Two key areas: digital printing and security labeling
The Rako Group now has nine digital presses at three different sites; more are on order. Koopmann is convinced that in the future digital label printing, with its short set-up time and low waste, will continue to take market share from conventional printing. This development he reckons could accelerate drastically if the production speed and web width could be increased.

Brand security labeling is another successful pillar of the Rako Group, particularly in combination with holograms. Luxury goods, car parts and even passports all need security applications. Here again, Rako success lies in its business philosophy of offering not only single products, but complete solutions. For example, Rako manufactures all the components for security of RFID labels in all common solutions, through to complete anti-theft systems for many department stores.

A new Way to Measure Run lengths
Rako has given a new meaning to the term "run lengths" with its development of RFID labels fixed to the laces of competitors in marathons and other races. The digitally printed tags are numbered consecutively and have a detachable control chip for measuring the wearer's time. The start/stop times are activated by mats placed at both ends of the course. Rako reckons this offers substantial savings over other registration equipment used for timing sporting events.

In-line lamination and diecutting
Rako has also found unconventional ways of reducing costs. Given that a large chunk of any PS label converter's costs are in purchasing labelstock, Rako in 2006 invested in a Cohesio from Canadian manufacturer ETI Converting. This inline unit is in essence a do-it-yourself method of making labelstock. Tim Dannemann, Rako's print shop manager, emphasizes that the ETI process is used mainly for making specialty laminates, and that it complements but does not replace "conventional" PS label converting.

In the same way, says Dannemann, digital will never, in the foreseeable future, replace "classic" combination presses, and Rako will continue to take a "two-track" approach.

Rako currently has production sites in Germany, France, China and South Africa. Its strategy, says Ralph Koopmann, is to expand into high-growth markets such as Brazil, Russia, and India.

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