Maintaining the competitive edge

Uflex commissions new converting plant at Jammu

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Every visitor entering the shop floor of the spanking new flexible packaging plant of UFlex Ltd. in Jammu, North India has to wear a net cap and sign a health questionnaire querying whether or not the person is free of certain specified ailments, infections and allergies! Following this, the visitor passes through a double door chamber which gives a pressure air wash. This is symbolic of the company’s emphasis on hygiene and safety in a factory producing packaging material for many companies in the food and pharmaceutical industry.
Uflex Ltd. is India’s largest manufacturer of flexible packaging materials of virgin and converted film based structures and is also India’s largest exporter of converted flexible packaging materials. Converted film based structures are now being produced in 3 locations at Noida, Malanpur and Jammu. High anticipated growth in requirements prompted the company to set up the Jammu plant and reorganise the main plant in Noida, which will primarily be geared towards fulfilling the demand from the export markets.

As a part of their land bank, UFlex had invested in a plot of land measuring 20,000 sq. meters in the industrial complex of Bari Brahmana located on the outskirts of Jammu, a large town in North India which is developing fast as an important commercial hub with good infrastructure complementing industrial growth. The plant has a covered area, at present, of 10,000 sq. meters. This is proposed to be increased by another 5000 sq. meters by the 3rd quarter of 2008, when additional equipment will be installed and warehousing space increased.

Capital investment in the new Jammu plant exceeds INR 1.3 billion (USD 32.50 million) and this will increase further within this year with the installation of additional converting equipment related to capacity enhancement as well as new processes (extrusion coating).

Production at this factory started a few months ago during the winter of 2007. The current installed capacity is 1000 TPM which will increase to 1500 TPM towards the end of this year. High levels of productivity have resulted in actual production levels in excess of 650 TPM.

New state-of-art converting equipment installed in Jammu include:-
Printing: Cerutti gravure presses with 8 print stations with a maximum print deckle width of 1305 mm. Machine design speeds are at 350 m/min. UFlex claim that the print registration equipment installed on these presses, give a +/- 100 micron accuracy, reputed to be the highest in the industry. Fast turn around speeds and higher level of print quality are facilitated by the use of a sleeve system in place of the conventional pressure roller. An ingenious print defect detection and data monitoring system, Vigitek, observes and records print deviations from the master control parameters, gives an alarm and  also fixes bar coded labels at pre-specified web lengths. This is linked to the subsequent print inspection machine operation. The inspection machine reads the label and will either slow or stop the roll being inspected to enable the operator to physically observe the defect and remove it if it deteriorates from the acceptable quality level (AQL). This ensures that customers receive 100 % acceptable quality defect free material. The data logger in the Vigitek also enables personnel to understand the nature and frequency of defects which helps them implement corrective steps in the production process.

An interesting safety feature on the Cerutti machines is the installation of CO2 flooding fire safety system.

Lamination:  Comexi and Nexus EVO solvent and solvent less machines from Spain run at around 400 m/min. The lamination process is decided based on the job requirements. The adhesive dispensing system ensures high accuracy of viscosity control. Extended drying hoods on the solvent based machine provide safety from odour entrapment – an issue which is always a source of worry in the production process of any converting company. Additional equipment is being procured.

Slitting: Kampf slitters from Germany capable of handling a deckle of over 1300 mm run at speeds between 500 and 600 m/min. Slitting accuracy is said to be +/- 0.5 mm. Print inspection machines of a very high order (capable of reading the Vigitek bar codes) equipped with CCD cameras complement the post print inspection facility.

Metalliser: A 1250 mm deckle General Vacuum plasma enhanced metalliser has been installed to produce metallised and holographic films. Most applications require metallising to the extent of 1.9 to 2.0 Optical Density.

Holographic film: Holographic film using PET (normally 12µ) and OPP (normally 20µ-30µ) are being produced though capability exists to do embossing up to 150 micron thick film. The master design is produced and supplied from the Noida facility where laser engraving up to 12,000 DPI is possible using high resolution 2D & 3D images. Subsequent production shims on 60-100 micron nickel plate is electroformed in the Jammu plant. Each shim is capable of producing about 500 kgs to 750 kgs of holographic film.

Pouching: An entire range of pouch making facilities will soon commence once equipment has been installed and commissioned. Some new formats will also be introduced in the near future.

Extrusion coating: New equipment is being sourced with the capability of co-extrusion including the use of ionomers. The company did not divulge where the equipment is being sourced from but we feel it will be in place within the next 4 months.

Coextruded blown film: An associate company of UFlex already has a “feedstock” plant which has been operating in another location in Jammu for the past two years. This plant has been producing multi-layer co-extruded blown films with a capacity of around 50 mtpd. It is planned that capacity in this plant will also be augmented within a few months with a state-of-art 5 layer blown film extruder.

A fully equipped laboratory with all the equipment expected in such an establishment is installed including gas chromatography for detecting residual odour in a laminate and a Universal Testing Machine (Lloyds) for measuring mechanical properties of films and laminates. Ink mixing is rigorously controlled though group in-house manufacture ensures that premixed ready-to-use inks are supplied to the Jammu plant from a central facility located in Noida.

Material handling equipment ensures that there is no material in contact with the floor. Pallets and racking storage systems are extensive.

UFlex maintain a very strict inventory management system and endeavour to keep inventory levels of one week! Considerable group in-house manufacturing within the UFlex Group enables sourcing of principal raw material (film, inks, cylinders etc.) and facilitates low inventory levels.

With regard to the infrastructure facilities in Jammu, UFlex have a generating capacity of 3.40 MW of power (which includes 100% backup). The state grid appears to provide sufficient quantity of power; however, the quality of this power is relatively poor.

Energy efficiency is addressed as the primary source of heating is from thermic fluid boilers supplied by Thermax. This heat is used in the drying chambers of the printing and solvent based laminating machines as well as in the curing / drying room of work- in-process material. Extensive use of CFLs in the shop floor & lighting also contributes towards energy saving.

Environment issues have been suitably tackled with total incineration and heat re-use of scrap generated in the manufacturing process. A Thermax supplied incinerator with a capacity of 100 kgs per hour achieves a temperature between 900 and 1200 degrees `C` to incinerate all plastic and laminated material. This incinerator is connected to the thermic fluid heaters where the heat generated in the incinerator is used to partially heat the thermic fluid. This helps in a fuel saving of approximately 25% – 30%. Incineration enables total security against diversion of proprietary printed material and obviates shredding and waste disposal. Solvent recovery systems are not in place at present though this will be considered. VOC emission levels comply with statutory requirements. Dust controlled environment is facilitated with the use of air curtains on electrically operated door openings. Cross contamination within the plant is also controlled with an extensive use of environmentally sealed areas.

The plant has targeted that they will obtain ISO approval (9000 and 22000) within the next 4-6 months.

An ERP (Oracle) system is under implementation by Price Waterhouse.
Labour costs are low in Jammu and industrial relations are excellent. There is sufficient availability of semi and unskilled labour, though skilled labour for handling high tech converting equipment is scarce. UFlex have an in-house resource training programme to address these lacunae. With manpower strength of around 170 people, the labour cost component is low.

State govt subsidy exists for procuring generating sets and laboratory equipment with a financial ceiling of Rs.2.50 million (USD 62,500) in each of the two categories.  In addition, there is capital equipment subsidy for procuring manufacturing / production equipment to the extent of 15%.  Relief from govt sales tax and some portion of the excise duty is also applicable for a specified period. There is also a transport subsidy to the nearest rail head.
Interacting around the plant with Mr. Daleep Tikku (V.P. Operations) and his colleagues, one is infused with a feeling of  “getting the job done” quietly and effectively.

Speaking to Mr. Amitava Ray, the effervescent & dynamic CEO and President of the converted products division of UFlex Ltd. one hears about the “comprehensive empowerment” given by the Chairman of UFlex, Mr. Ashok Chaturvedi to operating divisions. Mr. Ray emphasises that a substantial part of discussion time with Mr. Chaturvedi focuses around innovations and the product mix of UFlex. In a low margin business, UFlex maintain their competitive edge by following the dictates of scale, initiative, high productivity, cost management and constant growth. Customer response is of paramount importance and the Vision Statement of UFlex speaks about how “collaborative innovation will be our way of doing business” and their “responsibility” as a leader in flexible packaging. These factors have taken ULEX to its position of eminence in the flexible packaging industry with plants located in India and abroad.

Uflex win Prestigious Award, have ambitious plans
I spoke at length with Mr. Amitava Ray, President and CEO of Uflex’s Converted Products Division about their achievements and future plans. In the last few years, there have been significant improvements in all operating parameters with output, sales and profitability all showing marked increases. The Converting Division, he substantially increased the quantum of exports and brought in the quality and reliability focus that goes with it.

A major recent achievement has been the winning of the prestigious AIMCAL Marketing Award in the Packaging: Food category for 2008 for a stand-up pouch for Tata Tea Life tea mix (see picture alongside). The 3-layer laminate structure consists of a 12 micron BOPET film reverse printed by rotogravure in 8 colours and laminated to 12 micron metallised BOPET film that is further adhesive laminated to a 50 micron blown PE film. The metallised film ply significantly improves barrier properties and extends shelf-life. The pouch is a quadtech stand-up bag made from five independent input laminate webs. Uflex had also won the 19th DuPont Award for Excellence in Packaging Engineering in the Food and Beverage category in 2006 for a quadtech pouch for Ankur Salt. It was the first time any manufacturer had produced a  stand-up pouch using five independent laminate web inputs.
Uflex have very ambitious plans on the anvil for this division. When I asked Mr. Ray whether he agrees with the projections made by PCI Films Consulting that, between last year and the end of this decade, as much as 50 per cent of new additions to converting capacity are going to come up in China and India, he said that this is probably correct. But, what this does is to place enormous demands on the likes of Uflex to be globally competitive on both quality and costs. Their plans are to leverage their technology strengths and scale of production to stay ahead by formulating an optimum product-mix and growth strategy by focussing on high productivity, value-addition, product development and customer service. They have plans to go in for more new technologies and systems, details of which we will continue to bring you as we go along.

Uflex have made several new innovations and introduced a number of new products and systems in the last few months. These will be the primary focus of their display at Interpack 2008. Details of these developments have been discussed in our Interpack Preview section elsewhere in this issue.

Uflex are looking to maintain their CAGR of 30 per cent per annum and hit a group turnover of US$ 1 billion during 2009. Now, that would truly make them a global player to contend with.