By Jeff Wilcox
PPC Technologies & Solutions, LLC
The search for a new folder-gluer can be very daunting. There are many folder-gluer OEMs out there and each have different models, features and sizes designed for a variety of applications. When a finisher or folding carton manufacturer is in the market for an upgraded or new folder-gluer, there are several questions to ask in order to find the best fit for the market they are involved in or attempting to enter.
1. Do you run paperboard or corrugated?
The paperboard market includes folding paper cartons – sometimes referred to as just folding cartons. The corrugated market produces folding boxes that often are referred to as cardboard boxes. The folding/gluing machines for these two distinctive markets may look similar, but the design and structure of the machines are quite different. There are folder-gluers that will produce products using both of these substrates, but on a limited basis. In other words, if you wish to produce corrugated C flute boxes, don’t expect the same folder-gluer machine to produce 12-point folding paper cartons – at least not efficiently.
In addition, the paperboard folding carton market typically will have more variety to the carton styles (more folded panels) than the corrugated box market. Taking this into consideration, the folder-gluer for paperboard typically has to be more versatile in its design in order to produce a wider range of carton styles. However, a “specialty folder-gluer” for corrugated can be equipped to run some of the same styles as well and may need to run special folds for applications such as POP displays.
2. What size and style of products are you running now or considering running in the future?
Let’s take bottle carriers, for example. There are some OEMs that have designed a special section of the machine that will turn the product 90 degrees inline to the running direction. These sections are amazing to watch and can run at very high speeds. However, they are available at a considerable cost and add permanent length to the folder-gluer.
If your product line has only a couple of designs that require turning, this additional section will need to be set-up to allow other products to pass through it when not turning. If you have large -volume products that need turning, this section may work very well for you. If not, you may want to consider looking at a machine that offers tooling instead of a turning section. Tooling can be placed on the folder-gluer to turn the product, will not increase the length of the machine and can be removed from the machine when not in use. Cost savings are great. Running speed can be an issue here as the tooling will not allow the machine to run some products as fast as the turning section will. Some OEMs offer a “Right-Angle” machine for those companies that have a lot of products or long runs that require 90-degree turning. A right-angle machine offers a simpler set-up and an increased running speed when compared to the tooling option.
Other items to think about are the features and age of your current folder-gluer. Obviously, you wouldn’t be considering another folder-gluer if you haven’t examined the abilities and features of what you already have on your floor. Age can equate to repairs, and upgrade installations (if available) can lead to downtime and added cost. If you need a machine that can run 4-/6-corner products and your current folder-gluer is not equipped to run them, your options are limited.
On a side note, one also must consider the folder-gluer operator. Good operators are getting hard to find these days. Having one who can understand (or has experience) on the new mechanical and electronic systems is a real plus. Having an operator who has confidence in his ability to make the transition from the old methods to the newer ones also is a plus. Either way, the operator should be included in this process in order to give an opinion and feedback. The operator can get some questions answered from the OEM during the demonstration as well. Even operators who have many years of experience can feel challenged if the company they work for decides to enter into a different market. Now the operator must learn how to run the different carton styles that the new market presents and a new folder-gluer as well.
3. What does your budget allow? What can you afford?
The price range for a new folder-gluer can run from around $200,000 for a small, simple machine designed to do simple-style products to well over a million dollars for a machine that can do large, complex styles. The price should be reflective of the technology that went into the design. However, this is not always the case. It is important to analyze all the different folder-gluers on the market, the features available and how those features meet the type of cartons you will be running. Look for extended-length parts warranties that are included in the base price. Extra operator training also can be included, in many cases, as incentive for purchase.
When comparing different folder-gluers and looking at the technology included, you have options.
Option 1. Option 1 is a model that is automated with a system that can record and store the job names, carrier locations and all systems settings, with the ability to recall them, accurately place the carriers and energize the different systems for future repeated runs. These types of folder-gluers find a good home in companies that have a lot of repeat jobs or small runs that can come up during another run. That means the operator must pull the current job off of the machine and set-up the new order. That can lead to excessive waste. An automated folder-gluer that can set itself up on repeat jobs can reduce these potential inefficiencies and can save money in the process.
Of course, folder-gluers with the automation option will be at the higher end of the price tag, but can offer cost savings in the form of reduced waste, quicker set-up times, increased accuracy for set-ups and, in turn, a higher quality product that may eventually pay for itself.
Another benefit of the automated folder-gluer is that your jobs are stored in the memory program of the machine. In the situation where an operator is out for vacation or sick, a job that is stored in the memory program can be recalled by another operator. Look for automated set-up processes that not only set-up the entire folder-gluer but also will include automation for adjusting individual carriers and individual sections of the machine.
Option 2. This is a model without automation, but with motorized carriers. This option can save on the initial cost outlay for a new folder-gluer. Even though there isn’t a memory bank of jobs to recall from when repeating jobs, motorized carriers still can save a lot of time during the set-up. Motorized carriers often will allow the operator to look over a specific area of the machine while moving the carrier(s). Folder-gluer machines that offer a numerical carrier position indicator also will help the operator place the carrier. Although these indicators are not usually very accurate compared to the automated method, the operator still can write down the numerical position of each carrier and refer to this for future set-ups.
Option 3. Option 3 is a model without automation or motorized carriers. The operator uses a hand crank to move and adjust each carrier position. This is even less costly and is old school for sure. But, it can fit into the overall budget better and the set-up methods of the seasoned operator. Numerical carrier position indicators should be a must have for repeat jobs; however, most seasoned operators won’t use them. This is okay as long as the job is set-up in good time and the waste is low. Experienced operators generally know what they are doing on a folder-gluer but would be well-served using the new technology to increase their knowledge and productivity.
A final consideration is the method of packing the cases with cartons or banding the bundles of boxes. You may have made improvements to your finishing department to make it more efficient with an upgrade to your folder-gluer, but how you handle the product as it exits the folder-gluer also should be considered. This will be discussed in a future article on automating the feeding, exiting and packing of the cartons.
PPCTS is a supplier/designer/distributor and manufacturer’s representative of quality products and equipment for the packaging, printing and converting industries. This includes the PPCTS-DGM Smartfold series of folding carton folder-gluers and IMPACK folder-gluer packing systems. For further details, visit www.ppcts.com.