Three years of extensive investment in new production kit at Grafobal Bohemia in the South Bohemian village of Holubov, near Ceske Budejovice and Cesky Krumlov, culminated a few months ago in the installation of a six-colour Rapida 106 with two coaters – the first configuration of its kind in the Czech Republic.
"While Grafobal Bohemia is a new enterprise, it continues a local tradition of printing packaging embodied by Artypa since 1946," explains Grafobal Bohemia managing director Ivan Chovanec. Artypa was the name given to the company by Frantisek Sklar when he founded it 65 years ago, and is an acronym of the Latin words ars, typus and papyrus – art, type and paper. Its acquisition in 2007 by Slovakian printer Grafobal in Skalica was a milestone in the company's evolution.
Grafobal is not only the biggest producer of packaging in Slovakia, it is also one of the biggest in Europe. Over the past 20 years it has seen tempestuous growth and expansion into foreign markets. As well as the Czech plant Grafobal now has subsidiaries in Russia, Lithuania and Bulgaria. "Grafobal is a strategic investor in every market. We promote advanced technology and quality excellence in production," says Ivan Chovanec. All the group's subsidiaries have been transformed into cutting-edge production facilities, and this investment in machinery, technology and buildings is also apparent at the plant in Holubov, whose floor capacity has been expanded to almost 5,000m² (54,000ft²). Initial investment focused on finishing, with the installation of die-cutters and gluing machines in a dedicated 1,900m² (20,500ft²) hall. Offices and a press room followed, occupying a further 3,000m² (32,300ft²).
Surpassing the standard: KBA Rapida 106
The new Rapida 106 is one of the most advanced B1 presses on the market, and thanks to its high level of automation is also the makeready world champion in its format. The 18,000cph six-colour two-coater press at Grafobal Bohemia has two intermediate dryers, a double delivery extension and an array of extras that include high-speed automatic plate changers and a capability for printing board and corrugated up to 1.6mm (63mil) thick. To accommodate the 1.7m (67in) piles that this can typically entail the press stands on a 450mm (17.7in) plinth. The two inline coaters can apply aqueous and UV coatings, the two VariDry IR and thermal dryers are augmented by IR, thermal and UV dryers in the delivery extension. Inline coating has enabled the company to dispense completely with offline facilities. The Rapida 106 has thus enhanced both quality and efficiency. "The press is a generation ahead of its time," says a delighted Chovanec.
Grafobal ordered the Rapida 106 in February and it was installed in July. Commissioning was followed by intensive training for the operating crew at the new press, which came on stream in August and now runs in three shifts. The specified configuration has delivered a raft of benefits. For example, Grafobal Bohemia can now produce the corrugated packaging that many customers had requested, and this has given it an additional edge over its rivals. Also, it can now offer the quality excellence demanded for top-of-the-range products.
Part of a powerful group
Grafobal Bohemia is a major group subsidiary. Alongside folding cartons it generates ten to twelve per cent of total sales with labels. Maintaining high production standards – whether at the parent, Grafobal in Skalica, or at its subsidiaries – is an integral aspect of the group's vision. "We don't want to use old technology, we strive to upgrade our press fleet on an ongoing basis so as to enhance productivity and maintain our competitive advantage," declares Chovanec.
Printing and finishing have a long tradition in Holubov, and according to Ivan Chovanec, Grafobal's highly skilled team is its biggest asset. The Rapida 106 has substantially expanded the company's printing capacity, so sales activities have been stepped up to ensure that this is exploited to the full.
The global financial and economic crisis had a relatively minor impact on packaging printers. At times demand stagnated, but at other times it actually rose, and some of the Grafobal group's customers were barely affected by the meltdown. At the same time Grafobal implemented a raft of optimisation measures, among them the highly automated technology upgrade at Grafobal Bohemia. Ivan Chovanec says: "We continued to expand and invest at a time when others were sitting on their hands waiting to see what would happen. So once the crisis had passed we got cracking immediately with new technology and greater efficiency."
KBA makes excellent first impression
Ivan Chovanec describes the installation and commissioning of the Rapida 106 as "totally professional", with KBA going that extra mile to comply with Grafobal's every request – even beyond the agreed scope. "Our first impressions of working with KBA are excellent," says a delighted Chovanec.
The installation of the high-performance Rapida 106 signals a new era in Grafobal's relations with KBA. While there are a few Rapida 105 sheetfed and Compacta commercial web presses at some of Grafobal's subsidiaries, most of its printing technology has been supplied by other vendors. "We are hopeful that the new Rapida 106 represents a permanent switch," says Jan Korenc, managing director of KBA CEE, KBA's sales and service subsidiary for Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.