The Noida-based packaging major, Uflex, believes that COVID-19 is going to have an impact on all the industries alike. “Since we belong to the essential service sector, our plant is open with minimal staff strength to support the packaging demands of FMCG and pharma. The demand curve witnessed a brief surge as a result of panic buying. However, with supply chain constraints during the lockdown, we, too, are likely to be impacted in domestic and international markets. The real impact of COVID-19 on our business will be ascertained once we contain its spread and return to normalcy. However, the engineering business may suffer more as it is capital intensive. People stop new investment first and keep it last – in the line of recovery,” says Ajay Tandon, president – Engineering & New Product Development, Uflex.
As far as the Indian economy is concerned, rating agencies such as Moody’s have already indicated an economic slowdown by slashing the annual India growth rate from 5.3% to 2.5%. Following seven quarters of economic downturn, other agencies have downgraded their growth forecasts even lower to 1.8%. The automobile, consumer electronics, aviation, and hospitality sector are facing real heat. Due to fear-mongering and hoarding in a pandemic, the consumption of essential commodities such as food and medicines increases. Hence, packaging which caters to these lifeline industries doesn’t suffer from de-growth.
“However, in our equipment industry, face-to-face contact and the physical display of the product is extremely important. Major trade fairs canceled or postponed will have an impact, which will be seen over a while. It will take away many sales opportunities for equipment manufacturers apart from the loss of platforms to showcase their innovative technologies,” adds Tandon.
New printing, packaging and converting equipment
Innovations must have clear and precise objectives. Uflex deliberated on its aim to consolidate and penetrate further in packaging machines for multi-layered paper-based laminates and mainly to boost productivity in the packaging light-weight snacks. “Accordingly, a collar-type machine CTCH for packing chips, wafers, and extruded snacks is one of our recent innovations. We have also developed the CT-120 for high-speed packing of namkeen, snacks, and allied products. Also, we have come up with a secondary slitter by the name Accuslit-25 for the slitting of jumbo PET/BOPP or other films,” says Tandon.
Recently, Uflex conducted an open house to showcase a specialized 4-color rotogravure press specially designed for handling aluminum films. “Pharma and some specialty food applications necessitated the need for a machine that enables printing on aluminum films. The rotogravure press is on a platform that addresses the handling of fragile foils. Precautions using tension control and special rollers used in this press allow wrinkle-free printing on foil,” explains Tandon. The first such 4-color rotogravure press for foil is currently under installation at Kalyar Replica in Bangladesh.
Uflex’s co-extrusion laminator and CI flexo press
Close to a dozen co-extrusion lamination machines have been sold in the Indian market in a short period. “In addition to the overwhelming response in India, we have started getting demand from overseas markets as well. There is a sharp increase in the inquiries for the co-extrusion laminator from several countries,” Tandon says.
With the current orders at hand for the Uflexo CI flexo press, the company expects to complete half a dozen installations soon. “Over the years, we have seen constant innovations in the fields of printing, and new processes have arrived. We are yet to see any process getting redundant. Similarly, flexo printing is gradually finding its place in flexible packaging and is showing signs of growth. Be it rotogravure or CI flexo, every process has its strengths and weaknesses and a niche of its own. CI flexo is better placed to handle short-runs,” Tandon suggests.
New launch pipeline post-COVID-19
After the pandemic, Uflex hopes to bounce back with a series of launches from its Engineering Division. These include an MT-CONT machine for high-speed sachet filling and an SP-W stick pack format packaging machine adapted to wider webs. It also plans to launch an aseptic liquid packaging machine on a servo platform, targeting a speed of 10,000 an hour, and a secondary slitter with a web width of 3000 mm for jumbo film roll slitting, and a paper bag making machine.