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Ukrainian flexo press fits the needs of small local converters

March 23, 2011

The Bulat Sigma press sells for $12,000 to $20,000.

Ukraine's industrial power reached the peak in the 1970s when the country, as a part of the Soviet Union, churned out missiles, cargo ships, trucks and machine tools. After getting independence in 1991, Ukraine lost many industries and currently is being kept on an energy leash by its mighty neighbor, Russia. However, there is still plenty of manufacturing capacity left (Ukraine is currently the world's eighth largest steel maker) and small manufacturers like Bulat LLC have no problem finding machine shops for its parts.

While industry leaders Mark Andy (USA) and Edale (UK) have solid representation and equipment presence in the Ukraine's label printing industry, operating more than two dozen modern machines, a great many small agricultural and food producers simply cannot afford the price tag of high quality labels. They require smaller label batches with two- to four-color images for their products, reasonable graphics that satisfy certification laws for retail outlets. Numerous local suppliers of various multilayer polyamide casings for sausages (an extremely popular food in Ukraine) are another candidates for low cost flexographic printing in the country.

Bulat LLC, a small (10 people) private company in Kyiv, entered the flexo press manufacturing business in 2000 and sold its first machine the next year. Bulat President Leonid Kosenko came up with idea for his own small narrow web machine after visiting a label trade show in Moscow and observing other label presses with price tags that were too high for most Ukrainian start-up printers. So he chose to create his own.

The Bulat Sigma narrow web press
Bulat rents a section of the former giant Kiev Automatic Machine Tools Factory (KAMTF) that used to employ several thousand people and produced sophisticated high speed automatic turret lathes for Soviet hardware industries. Today this plant has lost almost all of its production volume and people, and occasionally makes CNC machining centers on request. After privatization, KAMTF became an investor and a landlord to small businesses like Bulat, which are still involved in manufacturing and are driven by the growth of local food and agricultural packaging industries.

Bulat does not see itself competing with major press manufacturers, but could offer a challenge to importers of smaller presses from Asia or elsewhere. Kosenko believes that Ukraine's growing label market is gaining enough capacity to support his niche – low-cost narrow web flexo machines that will compete with low cost imports.

Bulat's best selling model, the Sigma, is a simple modular central impression flexo printer with one to four color stations for tag and label stock, with printing widths of 5" and 7.32". Sigma runs at a maximum production speed of 260 fpm and features an infrared ink drying system, corona treatment and optional hot foil lamination, diecutting and slitting. Bulat has sold 88 Sigma printers to date, and is now working on a new model, the Redana, with a print width up to 10.25", six color stations with hot foil lamination, diecutting and embossing. In addition to flexo presses, Bulat makes a variety of slitter rewinders for labelstock.

To stay in the low cost market segment, Bulat procures all mechanical parts including gears and engraved anilox rolls locally, and imports electric controllers from Klinkmann (Finland) and pneumatic roll chucks from Camozzi (Italy). With a high amount of manual adjustments, Bulat printers are not in the same league with similar American or British machines. But with a price range on the Sigma of $12,000 to $20,000, the company has no difficulty winning customers in Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Azerbaijan.

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