Narrow Web Europe

Anyone for for granite?

October 4, 2011

The strength of the alpine franc poses challenges for Swiss manufacturers.

With so many alarming things going on in the world economy, some readers of L&NW may have overlooked the monetary anguish of one small European country: Switzerland. We all know that nervy investors rush into gold when things look dodgy. However, the other things they all want to get their hands on at the present time are Swiss francs (CHF). In January 2010 the rate was around CHF1.5 to €1; at one point in June of this year it almost reached parity, before falling back (after some aggressive words and deeds from the Swiss National Bank) to around CHF1.20. This is good news for Swiss travelers who want to spend a few days in, shall we say, Brussels. It is less good news for Swiss exporters of, shall we say, narrow web presses.

It is even less wonderful if, like Gallus, you make most of the presses in-house and buy some parts at least from local Swiss engineering and software companies. The Gallus ECS 340 press with its granite core was a great success when launched two years ago. Despite this, Gallus saw its 2010 sales fall by 17 percent, but has bounced back with good results for the first half-year 2011. How do they do it? Klaus Bachstein, CEO of Gallus, told your correspondent, “We have two production plants in the Euro zone and have for some years been working to establish a ‘natural hedge’ such that as far as possible we incur costs in the currencies where we have our major markets. This is of course in addition to classic financial instruments to hedge against currency fluctuations. So there’s no panic at Gallus, quite the contrary.” At least he doesn’t have to worry about a shortage of granite.

Manufacturing industry in Europe: Is Poland a second Germany?
The label industry rises and falls with the volume of manufactured goods. Services like insurance and banking are no good (and you can take that whichever way you want). We need things you can drop on your foot. And Poland is getting to be the number one spot for foreign direct investment in manufacturing industries. Look at a few recent announcements: Samsung is currently investing in order to increase production of refrigerators and washing machines at its Polish factories to 770,000 and 700,000 respectively, with further expansion planned. Its competitors Indesit and BSH are already making 6.7 million of these white goods items in Poland, mostly for export. All this in a country that just a generation ago was an industrial backwater.

IKEA, the Swedish furnishing company, has just started a major ($15-$20 million) project in Northern Poland; this will be the group’s fourteenth plant in the country – and it doesn’t stop at consumer durables. Every automobile needs several dozen different high-tech labels. GM’s CEO Dan Akerson says his company is considering producing the Chevrolet Cruze in Europe, and that Gliwice in Poland is the most likely site, according the newspaper Rzeczpospolita. Automotive parts makers NSK Steering Systems and Yagi have both recently expanded their manufacturing plants in Poland. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing recently sent a team of “high-ranking officials” to Poland to search for a suitable site for a plant. More than a dozen companies in the Podkarpackie province are already manufacturing parts for Boeing planes (Poland is widely considered one of the best locations for investment in the aerospace business).

All this incremental investment comes on top of two decades of steady investment in Poland by brand owners in the food, beverage, cosmetics and household products arenas. Both Polish and international label converters have risen to the challenge. It is now several years since CCL built a label plant in Poznan near the German frontier, joining several major Polish and international label groups. In June of this year (as already reported in L&NW), Multi-Color Corporation bought one of Poland’s biggest label converters, WDH, for $9 million, or almost one year of WDH’s sales. Expect to see more news of acquisitions or greenfield projects in the Polish label industry.

Tea in Turkey
In last month’s Narrow Web Europe we reported on the rapid growth of the Turkish label and packaging market. Now comes news that Istanbul converter Bilnet has moved into digital label printing with the purchase of an HP Indigo WS6000. The company makes a wide range of print and packaging products, and already has several HP presses, but this is its first narrow web digital machine.

Commenting on this latest investment, Bilnet president Cem Ozturk says, “We like the extensive substrate versatility of the HP Indigo WS6000 coupled with its ability to print longer run lengths or just one personalized label cost-effectively. Not only that, but the WS6000 enables us to produce a proof, identical to the final product, while the customer is still drinking tea in the meeting room. That really makes a good impression!”

The competition heats up for digital label presses
While HP, Xeikon and a couple of other “veterans” were piling on the sales pressure at Labelexpo, a number of newcomers with leaner marketing budgets were appearing on the scene. Nyoxprint has its headquarters in the unfortunately-named Dutch city of Doom, and in cooperation with German thermo-transfer specialist m-print has developed a UV inkjet digital label printing and converting line. What makes this combination interesting is the print and converting speed (the makers claim 155 fpm with a web width of 9.5”), the LED drying module and the “intelligent” digital rotary diecutting unit. This line comes with an (optional) digital TT print module for laying down high-opacity whites, metallics and spot colors.

International label conference
Although accounting for some 40 percent of total world label usage, wet labels have an image problem. They are seen as unexciting, unimaginative and generally unsexy. Despite this, they are an important market for machinery makers like Heidelberg and Polar Mohr, and for many paper makers including Austria’s Brigl & Bergmeister. B&B are concerned to stress the economic and ecological advantages of paper labels as against the filmic ones, which are starting to eat into the market. This will be the theme of this year’s annual label conference to be held in Austria in mid-October.

B&B, who will host the conference, makes an astronomical 100 billion labels per year at its plants in Austria and Slovenia. The 2011 conference, the ninth of its series, is open to label printers, suppliers and brand owners.

Transparency: the Good, the Bad and the Borderline
It is some time since this column updated L&NW readers on corruption in Europe. In its latest report, Transparency International comments on countries that have moved up or down the scale of honesty. The report says: “Notable among decliners over the past year are some of the countries most affected by a financial crisis precipitated by transparency and integrity deficits. Among those improving in the past year, the general absence of OECD states underlines the fact that all nations need to bolster their good governance mechanisms.”

In the latest ranking of 178 countries, all four Scandinavian countries make it into the top 10 of least corrupt places to do business, as do Switzerland and the Netherlands. Most other Western European countries figure in the top 50 along with Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, and Slovenia (USA by the way is 22nd). Of the Western Europeans, Italy ranks 67th and Greece takes the wooden spoon at 78th, which is unlikely to surprise anyone.

In case readers are interested in, or maybe interested in avoiding, countries at the lower end of the scale, be aware that Ukraine ranks 134th, alongside Zimbabwe, which is unlikely to please either of them, and Russia at 154th almost falls off the bottom of the scale. You have been warned.