BOBST - Inside the plant making ‘zero-defect’ packs

Switzerland's K+D uses the latest BOBST technology to ensure that the packaging it supplies will run seamlessly on clients' packing lines.

The packing operations of medical-technology and pharmaceutical manufacturers are well known for expecting only perfect folding cartons from their suppliers: sometimes a single defective carton is enough to see a whole consignment rejected. It is a challenging environment for carton makers and yet it drives companies such as K+D to continually invest in new technology and processes. This explains why, recently, the company not only replaced almost its entire folder-gluer machinery with new BOBST equipment, but also specified BOBST ACCUCHECK 100% quality-monitoring systems and ACCUBRAILLE GT in-line Braille embossing units for all of these new lines.

"The new equipment is a huge technological leap forward compared with the previous models," says Stefan Kuhn, chairman and CEO of K+D. "It has allowed us to significantly improve our quality and productivity. Thanks to the new features, we can also respond more flexibly to our customers' needs."

Quality control

Three new folder-gluers are equipped for automatic 100% quality control with BOBST ACCUCHECK.

"On request, and for a small supplement, we can provide 100% quality control for our customers. This is absolutely essential for the value chain in pharma and medical-technology production. When the customer receives the items, all they need to do is to carry out an identification check," says Kuhn, defining the benefits from the point of view of its packaging customers. "For them, this substantially improves productivity. Depending on the inspection process, they can save up to 20 minutes an order in quality control."

PDF files of the jobs are supplied by the customer and imported into the ACCUCHECK database. The system compares each blank with its associated reference image, at speeds of up to 70,000 boxes an hour. ACCUCHECK tells the flipper ejectors of the three EXPERTFOLD machines to eject any boxes with imperfections, which could be mix-ups, printing mistakes, dirt, incorrect die-cutting or tears. For every job, the customer receives a certificate listing in detail exactly what was inspected by ACCUCHECK during this final stage of packaging production.

The three ACCUCHECK systems are also connected to each other in a network and, in a world first, BOBST has integrated these ACCUCHECK systems to form a single system for multiple machines. This means that the job data for repeat orders - representing about 70% of all orders - can be sent to any of the machines from the system database for quality control.

Valuable benefits

How happy are customers to pay a higher price for 100% inspection?

"Wages are high in Switzerland," says Kuhn. "That forces us to take a global view on where and how we can drive out costs from the value-creation process throughout the company. Against this background, we invest in new technology that sometimes hugely benefits our customers too - as with ACCUCHECK. But the investments also have to make financial sense for us. Most of our customers understand this very well.

"ACCUCHECK hasn't changed anything as far as our high-quality standards are concerned," Kuhn adds, stressing that the 100% inspection is an add-on service for the company's customers. For example, in-house quality management was introduced 15 years ago as a way of moving responsibility for quality to the individual process steps, within defined limits, while consistent use is made of all the possibilities offered by the available quality-control technologies.

K+D's workforce is highly trained, with three quarters having completed apprenticeships and/or higher education. At least 10% of employees are in training at any one time, guaranteeing staff continuity into the future. The company is proud to have held ISO 9001 quality-management accreditation for more than 20 years, ISO 14001 environment-management accreditation for over 15 years, and ISO 15378 accreditation (for the primary packaging of materials for medicinal products) for ten years. "We're not happy just checking the quality. We need to create it," explains Kuhn.

Braille embossing

All three of the most recent folder-gluers are equipped with ACCUBRAILLE GT Braille embossers.

"Because there are systems on the left as well as the right sides of the machine, we can emboss Braille onto all four sides of the boxes in a single step," says Urs Metzler, a member of the management board and head of technology at K+D, explaining the thinking behind this configuration. In the past, boxes needed two passes if just the first and fourth side required Braille embossing.

For K+D there were two important benefits in moving this process away from die-cutters and onto folder-gluers. First, the individual dot heights are always uniform; and second, the make-ready time at the die-cutters is now shorter because the related Braille embossing set-up activities are not needed. Jobs with a large number of items on a sheet can also particularly benefit from the lower tool costs of ACCUBRAILLE GT. This Braille embossing solution is also really easy to use. The embossing heads, with up to five lines of Braille, are simply clamped to the cylinder, which rotates in the machines and embosses each individual box.

The company's meeting room has a glazed side with a direct view of the production hall where the two EXPERTFOLD 80s and the EXPERTFOLD 110 are neatly lined up. The folder-gluer department has been completely renewed thanks to these new machines and, as they run, EASYFEEDER GT pre-feeder units introduce large stacks of blanks to them, which leaves personnel more time between loading the blanks than other solutions. CARTONPACK GT units, in-line with the two EXPERTFOLD 80s, can handle 200,000 boxes an hour - arranging them in up to six rows and eight layers - while the other folder-gluers, which are geared to a different type of product, have semi-automatic HANDYPACK GT packers.

Machinery concept

"We update our equipment regularly," says Kuhn, which explains why the innovative family firm, with a workforce of around 100, hardly has any equipment more than eight years old. "We use the 'Kaizen' philosophy of continuous improvement to consistently help optimise our customers' value chains, in which we are seamlessly integrated as a supplier."

The panoramic view from the meeting room, the spotlessly clean and bright production hall and the relentless output of the EXPERTFOLD lines, all underline this emphasis that K+D place on their customers' needs.

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At K+D in St Gallen, Switzerland, all three of the new EXPERTFOLD folder-gluers are equipped for automatic 100% quality control with BOBST ACCUCHECK.
(Above and below): ACCUCHECK ejects any boxes with imperfections; these could be mix-ups, printing mistakes, dirt, incorrect die-cutting or tears. This is the first time three ACCUCHECK systems have been integrated to form a single system for multiple machines.
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