While relatively new into narrow web production, the company’s history dates back originally to 1828 in bookbinding, but more latterly in sheet fed offset printing from 1960, with the company being regarded as a pioneer of UV technology, which was first introduced at Kolbe-Coloco in 1975. Current Managing Director Michael Leon takes up the story: “When I joined as Production Manager in 2010 the production floor was lacking investment in new technology and needed a forward-thinking strategy to buck the trend in the industry at that time. For me, automation offered the key to productivity, and that’s how we found ourselves talking to Martin Automatic at Labelexpo Brussels in 2017.”
Kolbe-Coloco offers a wide variety of roll- and sheet-fed printed products in a range of print techniques including digital, but it was the installation of a Gallus RCS 430 in 2012 that pushed the production of self-adhesive labels to a completely new level. The Gallus RCS is a highly specified all-servo 12-colour press, with a combination of offset, flexo and screen all inline. It was joined in 2017 by a second 9-color RCS 430. Capable of producing very sophisticated work, the Gallus presses were nevertheless lacking efficiency with the frequent roll changes required.
“We knew we had one of the most flexible presses available but needed more continuous production than manual roll changes could offer. So, we spoke with Martin Automatic and took references from two of their existing users, GEWA Etiketten (now Multi-Color Corporation) in Bingen, Germany, and Desmedt Labels near Brussels. These visits were eye-opening in terms of improved press efficiency and waste reduction of expensive substrate,” he explains. The result was a decision to order two sets of Martin Automatic MBS automatic unwind/splice units and LRD rewinders for both of the Gallus RCS presses.
In order to fit the nonstop unwind, Kolbe-Coloco removed the original unwind unit from one of its RCS 430s to replace it with the Martin MBS splicer. On the second Gallus, the floorspace allowed the company to keep the existing unwinder, and the new non-stop splicer has been added to the existing unit. “When installing the Gallus RCS presses we did have in mind to add non-stop automation at a later stage,” Michael Leon explains, adding, “So it was helpful that Martin Automatic offered flexible solutions to retrofit their units into an established production environment.”
On the rewind side, the existing press configuration has been maintained and the automatic transfer rewinders have been fitted inline. They handle production rolls up to 800mm in diameter without stopping the press and provide the ability to separate start-up waste directly at the printing process. This means that the rolls going into the finishing department contain mainly good production material. “The facility to size the rolls on the rewinder according to the job needs makes it easier for the finishing team in terms of roll handling. Now, we do not need to wind rolls as large as possible to prevent us having to stop the presses – we can wind as large as necessary to keep everything as ergonomic and smooth as possible,” says Production Manager Alexander Thöle.
“Part of the difference that automation makes is a change of mindset. To date, residual material under 700 linear meters has been disposed of, as manual loading of the machine was unprofitable. Now, we can act more sustainably by eliminating start-up waste and disposal costs. Additionally the LRD, which has an exit ramp at pallet height makes for improved off-loading without the need for a cart, and the whole operation gives better handling in the finishing department,” says Thöle.
But it’s not just a matter of waste reduction. Michael Leon calculates that his operators made around 3400 roll changes a year on each Gallus machine, and the time-savings now achieved with the Martin technology are impressive. He says, “If we calculate four minutes per manual roll change, that amounts to 226 hours a year with the press stood idle, or double that if you count both ends of the two presses. We estimate a saving of 40 hours machine stoppage per month in total, on top of the 430,000 linear meters of material that we’re now not throwing away.
"We can also buy smaller rolls too if the price is advantageous, so 2000 metre rolls, which are easier to handle, instead of the 3000 or 4000 metres rolls previously," Leon adds. "It means that our ROI on the Martin equipment has shortened from the predicted 3 years down to 18 months – that’s the value of automation!” This is the reason that Leon sees real growth potential for the company that currently generates around €30m in sales per year, as part of an H O Persiehl Group turnover of €115m across four sites.
With an impressive portfolio of international brand names to supply, Kolbe-Coloco intends to continue its policy of investment, which in addition to the Martin Automatic and Gallus machinery installed, has also seen a Heidelberg Speedmaster added to its sheet-fed offset stable in 2018, along with a three-colour Mark Andy P3 flexo press, also fitted with Martin unwind/splice technology and a turret rewind for non-stop production of finished rolls. It was also a logical step to install non-stop matrix waste extraction to all presses to make the complete process non-stop. Matho equipment was chosen to equip the entire web printing production with a solution that compacts the waste into containers outside the building.
For a company with a long history, Kolbe-Coloco has the promise of a long and prosperous future too, if the current management continues its policy of automating the latest technology in each area of production. For certain, it is well-placed technically and logistically to support the growing demand of its national and international client list, for which Michael Leon and his team deserve much credit. Having ambitious plans is not the same as having the courage to implement them.