Flex Middle East Striving for Excellence

India’s vertically integrated multinational

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The Uflex range of products extends from basic raw materials like PET chips, inks and adhesives to intermediate products like BOPET/BOPP/CPP/ coextruded films, metallised films and gravure cylinders to finished products like multi-layered laminates and pouches, holograms and packaging systems. They also make a whole range of packaging and converting machinery.
In 2004, they decided to take their production international and set up their first overseas factory at the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai (UAE) for the manufacture of plain and metallised BOPET films. The plant was commissioned in 2005 and has been very successful and achieved over 100 per cent capacity utilisation in less than 2 years. They have also established a highly deserved reputation for quality and have won the IMC Ramakrishna Bajaj National Quality Special Award for Performance Excellence in the Overseas category for 2007. This is India’s topmost quality award.

The Flex Middle East facility at the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai was the first overseas manufacturing operation set up by the Uflex (formerly Flex) group, India’s leading packaging company. It was commissioned in late 2004 with the setting up of a 2.5 meter wide, 6,000 MT per annum high-barrier metalliser from Galileo and a state-of-the-art BOPET line was commissioned soon thereafter in March 2005. This was a 7.2 meter wide, 400 meters per minute, 20,000 MT per annum line from Dornier for producing thin BOPET film in the thickness range 9 to 50 microns primarily for packaging applications.

After this plant achieved a capacity utilisation of over 100 per cent, a second state-of-the-art 8.7 meter wide, 450 meters per minute Dornier line for 3-layer coextruded BOPET film was commissioned in September 2007. The total capacity at this site is now 54,000 MT per annum and this is being upgraded to 60,000 MT per annum by speeding up the lines and by de-bottlenecking. The first line has already been speeded up to run at over 430 meters per minute and the second line is being brought up to 500 meters per minute. The Galileo metallliser is being upgraded with the installation of an inline plasma treatment unit that will substantially enhance film barrier properties and deliver higher and more consistent optical densities as well as improved metal adhesion.

One was very impressed with the whole operation and the way it is laid out. The Dubai team is led by their General Manager, Mr. Sanjay Tiku, who took me around the plant. Mr. Tiku is a long-term Flex man who started his working life as a management trainee at their Noida plant and has worked in various parts of the operation including an initial stint in their converted products division. The whole team at the Dubai plant came across as being highly committed and efficient, which explains their resounding success.

The plant is laid out on a 75, 000 square meter site, of which about 45,000 – 50,000 square meters is already built up. There are three sections housing the metalliser, the first BOPET line and the second BOPET line respectively. The latter section has a provision to house a new metalliser. The additional space at the site will be used for housing a new Dornier 5-layer coextruded BOPP line (8.7 meters wide, 500 meters per minute, 35,000 MT per annum) that is due to come up during the first quarter of 2009 and for production of value-added products like films for thermal lamination.

Flex use only PTA-based PET chips for better film quality. The incoming resin is transferred for storage to a 200 MT silo that can accommodate more than 1 day’s requirements. It is then sent to the crystalliser and for formulation with additives. The resin is then fed to the main extruder and satellite extruder. The extrusion system uses an EDI die with heated bolts and the extrusion profile is computer controlled through constant monitoring by an oscillating primary gauge. After the cast film goes through the MDO, where it is stretched about 4 times, it is passed through an inline coating system which consists of a corona treater and a kiss-roll coater for acrylics.

The film is then stretched about 3.5 times through the TDO, after which it is corona treated and wound up on a Kampf winder. The film rolls are then slit on an 800 meters/minute Atlas primary slitter and wrapped. The primary packing is done in the main plant itself as the environment is controlled. There is also a secondary slitter but this is used only for narrow widths and rolls of less length, requirements of which are rare. All scrap and waste film is fully recovered and granulated via an EREMA recycling plant.

I saw the second line running consistently at around 450 meters/minute and delivering film with a good gauge profile and good winding quality. All film is packed using wooden end-fitments and then strapped and stretch-wrapped. The wooden fitments and pallets are of high quality and imported. They are specially heat-treated and fumigated. All despatches are made in containers, which are sent to the port inside the free zone. About 75 per cent of the output is exported to Europe, North America and Latin America and the balance 25 per cent is supplied to GCC countries and Asia. I saw the loading of a 40 foot container being completed in just 20 minutes or so.

The plant runs round the year in 12-hour shifts. Total manpower strength is about 135 people, of which 110 to 120 are engaged in production. Downtime is very low because a lot of the routine maintenance is multiculously  planned and carried out during filter changes.
The number of countries to which their film is exported has gone up from 64 to 94 over a period of time. They have developed a number of new film grades like heatsealable films, direct embossable films, special films for liquid packaging, matt films and ultra-clear films. They have a well equipped laboratory and quality is a major focus area.

One was impressed with a number of things at the plant. They have used an innovative skylight design that keeps the factory well illuminated and bright during daylight hours without the use of artificial lighting. The whole plant and the metallising section was spotless and there was no scrap film lying anywhere on the floor (unusual for a film plant). All pathways were clearly demarcated and the whole environment was bright and cheerful. Hygiene and cleanliness is rigidly enforced. Before entering the plant, I was asked to sign a declaration that I had no illnesses or infections.

I had to don a sterile cap and gown and had to use a sanitising wash on my hands, something all plant personnel have to do as well. They have won the special award for Environment, Hygiene and Safety for 2006 given out by the Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority. Policies for quality and safety, company vision and mission statement were clearly laid out and prominently displayed all over the plant. The plant has been certified as complying with ISO 9000, 14000 and 22000 as well as HACCP.

According to Mr. Tiku, being based at the Jebel Ali Free Zone has been an advantage in terms of infrastructural support, quality and availability of power and lack of bureaucratic hassles. This gives them as much as a 15-day advantage in delivery lead-times compared to the Noida operation. This is why they have realigned their working in such a way that Dubai would cater to export requirements from Europe, America and Latin America and supplies to GCC countries whereas Noida would cater to the requirements of the Indian domestic market and the rest of Asia. The availability of local labour is very poor and they have had to draw on Indian labour, who are provided accommodation at the JAFZA itself. Therefore, their labour costs are high although productivity is very high. Overall, there has been no major cost advantage although their service levels and delivery lead times have improved substantially.

Flex have ambitious plans in the pipeline and, in keeping with their policy of being “near the customer”, they intend to set up production facilities in 7 more countries abroad by 2015.
In conclusion, I must admit that the plant is very well organised and well-run and compares favourably with any film plant I have seen worldwide. I had been eagerly looking forward to seeing what is one of the world’s largest BOPET lines in operation and I was not disappointed.