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Model’s Robot-Assisted FFG 618

Press release from the issuing company

With orders for smaller sizes of shelf-ready packaging growing, but the average length of each run falling, Model Zagreb has installed a highly automated Bobst FFG 618 - a case maker known for its shelf-ready capabilities. 

Over the past five years the Model Group plant in Zagreb, Croatia, has more than doubled its output thanks to a program of continuous improvement that has seen substantial investments in equipment and changes in processes. The most recent equipment investment has been the installation of a highly automated Bobst FFG 618, which has made the company better able to exploit the growing market for smaller sizes of shelf-ready pack.

“We needed a new flexo folder gluer to increase productivity and to continue to improve quality,” says Franjo Skok, Production Manager and a member of the board of Model Pakiranja d.d., the Model Group plant located in the industrial zone of Zagreb, the Croatian capital. “We produce a lot of shelf ready packaging on white coated papers, with three colors, perforations and tabs. It is the new trend and it is important that we can produce them efficiently, so that is why we needed the Bobst FFG 618.”

Although the plant already had a Bobst FFG 924 Midline, two Bobst flexo die-cutter lines and a pair of multipoint Bobst folder-gluers, the trend towards smaller, but more frequent, orders of smaller -sized packs created a need for a high performance machine with fast changeovers and a reduced labor requirement. “Model always invests in quality machines with high levels of automation,” says Mr Skok. “Every machine must produce quality boxes and have good productivity.” 

The Group’s decision was to install the latest Bobst FFG 618 and to compliment it with an in-line Dücker robotic pre-feeder and robot palletizer. “This is a fully automatic line. It is the first use of robots like this in the region and the pre-feeder is only the fourth in Europe,” explains Mr Skok. “We have five FFG 618’s in the Model Group, so we know the machine well. We investigated other makers, but Bobst had the best machine in the market. We also like the service support, spare parts and, training. When you install new machines it is important to get this sort of support.” 

Fast changeover

Despite being able to run at up to 26,000 boxes per hour, it was the job changeover capabilities of the FFG 618 that were particularly important, says Mr Skok. “We often have quite short runs, so it is important to have fast changeover. We also use many different types of board, so we have to do a lot of knife changes. It is important that this is fast too.” With all of the plant’s smaller three-color work now processed on the FFG 618, the line is producing almost double the amount of boxes per open hour that was possible on the same work using its FFG 924. Mr Skok expects to see further increases over the next six months. ç

Along with its higher productivity on short run, smaller boxes, the new Bobst FFG 618 is also a very energy efficient machine. Mr Skok says that for every square meter of packaging produced, the FFG 618 uses only about 50% of the energy of the 924, due to its size and its more modern, more efficient drives. In times of increasing energy prices, such savings are important to profitability. As part of its continuous improvement program the plant has also recently installed an intelligent lighting system in its stock and production areas. Detectors in the stock area monitor movement and turn off lighting when there is no activity. In the production areas the system monitors outside light levels and adjusts the internal lighting accordingly. “We have made a 72% saving on lighting energy costs with this new system from Reflecta,” says Mr Skok.

Change of approach

Such initiatives are driven by the Model Group’s continuous improvement program, MTS, which is championed by the Group’s CEO, Dr. Daniel Model. “Since 2011 we have been running the Model Top System, or MTS, and we have made a total change in the philosophy of Model Zagreb,” explains Mr Skok, whose background in the automotive industry made him ideally placed to implement the program when he arrived at the plant four and a half years ago. 

MTS brings together best practice in continuous improvement, principles found in Kaizen, 5S, six sigma and lean manufacturing. Staff at each Model plant are responsible for the process and are aided by an external company which audits implementation. Mr Skok believes that, for success at a plant level, inter-departmental co-operation is vital. “Each department has Key Performance Indicators to achieve and each has to be a supplier and a customer to the other departments if they want to meet them.”

With investment in the new FFG 618 and a reorganized layout the plant now has a better workflow within its 20,000 square meters. The reorganized layout is also feeding into a project which will see the plant install a new full BHS corrugator line in 2016. Thanks to the relocation project, and some remodeling of the plant, the company will be able to run its present corrugator until the BHS line is at full production. “When the new corru-gator is installed we will have logistics before and after it, so we will have better flow again,” explains Mr Skok. 

Running at a hundred meters per minute faster than its current corrugator, the BHS line will not only give the plant higher productivity, it will also be more efficient, delivering 22% more square meters of board for the same energy input. Vitally, at 2.5 meters, it will also be wider than the plant’s current line; giving more flexibility in the products it produces and helping the plant achieve its ambitious aims for output growth. “We are focused on the market and on our customers. We aim to be partners of the customers by offering a large range of products,” explains Mr Skok, for who meeting customers’ delivery dates is key. “Model is a quality producer and we deliver when we say we will. Of course, price is always important, but Model has a philosophy of ensuring quality and on-time delivery.  That’s one reason our sales have doubled in the last four years.”

Indeed, in the first 10 months of 2015, the plant sold 52 million square meters of board, compared to 29 million in 2011, the year a new management team arrived and the MTS program began in earnest. This doubling of output has required some additional staff - the plant now employs 157 - but Mr Skok says that most of the increase has been as a result of new equipment and a new management approach, a key part of which has been the MTS program. This growth will continue, he maintains. “Model Zagreb has more potential and I think we are only halfway there. This year we will start up the new corrugator, and by 2018 we aim to sell  80 million square meters a year.” 

Growing with customers

The plant traces its roots back to 1948, and represents a long tradition of corrugated box manufacture in the region. At one time spread across three locations in Zagreb, including one right in the city centre, operations were consolidated at its present site in the mid-1990’s. In 2001, Model Group bought the business and it now serves customers throughout Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia, Bosnia, Serbia, and, for the last year, Austria. Much of the plant’s output is for the region’s dairy industry, but packaging for meat products, beverages, confectionery and electronics are also important sectors. Half of the plant’s production is destined for clients within Croatia, with Hungary being its next largest market. Slovenia is an important market when it comes to packaging for white goods while, in the newly opened up Austrian market, sales of food  packaging is soaring. Entering the Austrian market has benefitted the plant in several ways, explains Mr Skok. “It is a high quality standard. It’s good for us because it means we have to keep developing the quality of our production. We develop boxes with our customers. That’s very important. We have people here who can design packaging for them and, as they grow, we grow with them.”

Local support

Making the transition from an older, largely manual, machine to a modern FFG complete with robotics at both ends, required a substantial mindset change from the plant’s operators. They were, Mr Skok says, wide-eyed at the prospect. “It was a totally new concept for them, both with the machine and the robots. They feared the new technology, but now they do not fear it any more. We put young operators on the machine because, although they don’t have so much experience, they don’t have history, so they are open to new ideas.”

In such a situation, the support that the operators receive is an important factor in a new machine’s success. On-site training was provided by instructors from both Bobst Lyon, where the FFG 618 is designed and manu-factured, and from the Bobst Regional Services Center in Brno, Czech Republic. Having five such machines in the Model Group also meant that operators could swap with those in other plants to broaden their experience.

The two large Groups, Model and Bobst, have a very good partnership, says Mr Skok, and by understanding what Model Zagreb wanted to achieve, the Bobst team on the ground were able to deliver a suitable program of training and instruction. “They helped us make a big change in mentality. This machine has a lot of electronic systems, but now the operators are confident,” explains Mr Skok who also praises the spare parts and technical support from the Brno Center.  “We don’t really have any problems with the Bobst machines, so except for regular service we don’t need to call Brno much. But when we do, it is important to have good support. We do not keep many parts, we call Bobst in Brno and the parts arrive very quickly. Our contact there also speaks Croatian, so that is helpful.”


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