Squeeze to please
Venerable Canadian tube manufacturer invests in next-generation digital inkjet printing technology to raise the bar for package decorating excellence
December 11, 2018
For most modern-day consumers, their first packaging experience of the day occurs the moment they brush their teeth after getting out of bed—blissfully oblivious to the fact that the cylindrical package containing their toothpaste of choice is just one of a multitude of other plastic tubes they will use by the day’s end.
Lightweight, leak-proof, durable, portable and non-breakable, plastic tubes may not always get the recognition and acclaim they probably deserve in the grander scheme of packaging’s natural pecking order.
But as with many necessities of life, their mere ubiquity is a worthwhile enough reward in its own right.
Making plastic tubes has certainly provided a rewarding way to earn a living for the hardworking folks at Plastube Inc., Granby, Que.-based designer and manufacturer of high-quality tubes for numerous high-profile clients in the health-and-beauty, cosmetics, pharmaceutical, food and other CPG (consumer packaged goods) industries.
Founded back in 1963, the company has undergone through numerous ownership changes throughout its 55-year history.
However, its most transformational passing of the torch took place relatively recently in 2016, when it was acquired by a Quebec-based consortium comprising private equity funds BDG & Partners Financial Corporation and Fonds de solidarité FTQ, along with private investors Marc Beauchamps and company president Gilles Decelles.
Since taking over, the new owners have initiated a series of extensive capital investments at the leased 85,000-square-foot production facility that employs about 130 full-time people, many of them with over 20 years of experience under the belt.
Totalling about $9 million, the capital upgrades included the purchase of a state-of-the-art, made-in-Germany digital inkjet printer that arrived to the facility this past summer.
“We now have the most advanced decorating technology available in the North American market,” Decelles told Canadian Packaging in a recent interview, adding the new $5.5-million press has significantly
boosted the plan’ annual manufacturing capacity to about 120 million tubes.
“Our new digital ink jet printer provides us with an impressive amount of innovative print options,” he relates, “along with and the ability to supply customers with much lower order quantities and superior speed-to-market capabilities.”
Measuring about 70 feet in length, the new digital inkjet press is a fitting addition to the company’s already extensive production machinery arsenal that includes five plastic extrusion lines; three laminating lines; three offset printing presses; three silkscreen presses; two labelers and two hot-stamping machines.
Because the new digital inkjet press is so new—being only one of two such presses in operation worldwide at the moment—Plastube is currently reluctant to share much detail about the equipment’s manufacturer or exact point of origin.
“Suffice it to say that it is by far the most expensive single piece of equipment that Plastube has ever invested in,” says Plastube’s vice-president of sales and marketing Steven MacPhail.
“What makes it so really special compared to all other tube printing equipment is its unique ability to print directly onto the circular surfaces of the tube after the tube sleeve has already been formed into its
cylindrical shape,” MacPhail states.
“This is a big technological advancement for the tube industry.”
While the highly automated machine can achieve throughput speeds of up to 110 tubes per minute, roughly 35 per cent faster than the traditional offset printing equipment, the primary reason for the hefty investment was its unrivaled flexibility in handling small production runs of 2,000 to 3,000 tubes with minimal changeover downtime.
“The press offers immense flexibility,” MacPhail states. “In fact, we can even program a small mini-run within a small run on this press with virtually no interruption, as long as there is no change in the tube’s
diameter,” MacPhail extols.
“It’s all done with a flick of a command on the screen,” says MacPhail, noting it only takes four to five seconds for the press to revert back to its original print job.
As MacPhail relates, “We see a lot of our future growth coming from the many new ‘indie’ brands springing up in the marketplace, who simply do not need large quantities of packaging during this entry-to-market stage.
“With the new press, we are now probably the best-positioned tube manufacturer to serve this indie brand segment,” MacPhail reasons.
“Not only do we have the most tube structures to offer, we now also have the most advanced decorating technology available to provide them with the small MOQs (minimal order quantities) that they need at an
Says MacPhail: “The new press enables us to personalize a lot of packages for these indie brands to the extent that we just could not do before.
“So for someone wanting to hip their products to multiple nations, I can just run the press and change the language of the text instantaneously right on the machine’s control panel,” MacPhail elaborates.
“Aside for being so flexible, the press offers extraordinary quality consistence, so that there is really no wasted materials in the process,” he says.
“With this press, the first package you print on a run will look as good as the millionth tube coming out.”
As MacPhail points out, plastic tube packaging also happens to be exceptionally well-suited for the burgeoning online shopping e-commerce segments, which many of the aforementioned indie brand startups use to enter the market.
“Tubes travel very well compared to many other types of packaging that are susceptible to breaking or coming apart during transit,” MacPhail explains.
According to MacPhail, Plastube has only commenced shipping finished tube printed on this new press to customers a few weeks ago, but the early customer feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We are very encouraged,” says MacPhail, praising the exceptionally high print quality enabled by the machine’s 1,200-dpi print resolution.
“We are also sending samples of tubes printer on our new press to many existing and prospective customers,” he says, “and we are confident that we’ll see a positive response.
Boasting the ISO 9001:2008 international standards certification for quality management, the busy Plastube facility operates a three-shift schedule to turn out a comprehensive range of tube sizes and structures for its clients—exporting about 85 per cent of its output to the U.S. markets.
Because cosmetics and personal-care products account for about 80 per cent of the company’s production volumes, according to Decelles, visual aesthetics and top-quality decorating capabilities are of paramount
importance to Pasture’s business.
“We pride ourselves on our decorating abilities,” Decelles states.
“We sell to some very well-know brands of leading CPG companies,” he says, citing Unilever’s TIGI hair-care products, Bayer’s Coppertone sunscreen lotions, Avon cosmetics, and Henkel’s Joico range of professional hair-care products as some of the company’s more prominent long-term clients.
“In addition, we have good knowledge on both the extrusion and lamination processes,” Decelles adds.
“We have a technical leader assigned to each technology, and they are involved with the assessment ofany project if required.
“We work closely with our suppliers to keep abreast of the latest decorating trends and changes in plastic technology,” Decelles says, “and we have partnered with our closure suppliers to develop some very unique offerings.”
As Decelles relates, the Plastube facility can run the four most common tube diameter sizes—including 30-mm, 35-mm, 39-mm and 49-mm—and can customize tube length from 75-mm to 215-mm as required.
“We also offer a choice of five different tube sleeve constructions, including monolayer PE (polyethylene), multilayer PE with barrier properties, aluminum barrier laminate, plastic barriers laminate and, most recently, PCR (post-consumer recycled) resin materials,” Decelles relates.
“Offering such a wide variety of tube structure enables us to follow any line extensions or formula changes our clients may launch in the market,” he points out.
“Our facility is very well organized so that we may decorate the tubes with multiple applications without long set-ups, with much shorter lead-time and lower MOQs—something our competitors can’t provide.”
For all the technological investment, Decelles also cites the company’s highly personalized level of customer service as a strong competitive advantage.
“We have has a full team of customer service representatives with years of experience to guide our customers through the process, which is greatly appreciated by our customers,” says Decelles, pointing to the
company’s three core guiding values of agility, innovation and reliability.
“Regardless of the industry, be for the cosmetic, pharmaceutical, industrial or food, we know that the aesthetics of the tube packaging plays a decisive role in consumers’ choices,” he says, citing the company’s mission statement, ‘Make your brand Shine!’
“Having this new digital press at our plant is a real statement of intent about just how serious we are about making our mission not just a promise, Decelles concludes, “ but an everyday reality for both ourselves
and all our loyal customers.
“It will certainly play a big role in all our future successful endeavors.”