The Missing Link: Plastics History Leads to Packaging

From fake flowers to hygienic-paper packaging, Germany's Böhme family has been in plastics for nearly 50 years. For almost as long, the company has linked its print quality to Fischer & Krecke presses.

There's not too much plastic flowers and toilet paper packaging have in common. Well, there is the “plastic” part (in toilet paper's outer wrap). And then, of course, there's the Böhme family business in Germany, part of which (the part that makes the packaging) recently invested in a new Fischer & Krecke central impression, gearless flexo press — the Flexpress 16 S.

Hmmm…that leads to another commonality: Plastic flowers are available in a variety of colors, and the new eight-color Flexpress can print a variety of packaging colors! Okay, that's a stretch, but how the Böhme family eventually linked plastic flowers and packaging isn't.

Plastics Prodigies
Böhme GmbH Verpackungsfolien, Dombühl, Germany, is the packaging part of the Böhme business. Managing director Ulrich Böhme says his family has been working with plastics for nearly 50 years. “I'm from a very old industrial family of entrepreneurs; we came from eastern Germany as refugees in 1950. In 1955 my father invented the plastic flower. It was produced by a blow-molding process.” Böhme reports his father invented the plastic flower long before it was produced in the Far East, and with an unnamed Italian partner, his father grew his plastic flower-making business.

Soon, though, other Böhme family members were sprouting into the company. “My brother came in as a 10 percent shareholder. I had been working as a lawyer, and at 25, I became in charge of the board. A few years later, my family decided to build a plastic film facility, a subsidiary, in Dombühl, 30 kilometers from the mother company.”

Only a year after the subsidiary had been operating, Böhme's father wanted him to direct the growth of the budding plastic film plant. “He asked me to be the managing director. I was a lawyer, but I had a lot of experience working in his company when I was in high school and the university.”

Böhme was only 28 years old when he embarked on his managing director course, but he took strong cues from his entrepreneurial fore-fathers and went right to work. “After two or three years, I invented a side-welded bag for packing toilet paper rolls. Previously, manufacturers had been using side-fold bags, which could not be printed on the side. But the side-welded bag could be printed everywhere — side, front, back. This still is one of our key products.”

Since Böhme took over the Dombühl operation, the company has remained in the family, and it has flourished. But, he says, there are no willing Böhme-family successors, so in 1998 Böhme GmbH Verpackungsfolien decided to merge with the American operation, Clopay Plastics Co., Cincinnati, OH.

“My sister and I are looking toward retirement,” Böhme explains, “and my nephew is a sales director, but he didn't want to take over the responsibility for the whole company. So we decided to merge. We wanted a strategic merger, which means we were looking for a film-producing company into which we would fit.”

Synergistic Strategy
It seems Clopay (a wholly owned sub. of Griffon Corp., Jericho, NY) offered Böhme GmbH Verpackungsfolien just the right size. “Our major customers were [and are] all international operating companies,” says Böhme. (Customers include Procter & Gamble, Fort James Hygienic Paper Products, Hartmann AG, Kimberly Clark, and SCA Hygienic Paper.) Böhme realized that, as these companies increased their global presence, his family-owned company didn't have the resources to keep up with customers' production requirements — a compelling endorsement for a merger. “They needed huge capacities, and though we had a very strong position here in Europe, we didn't have the resources to spread operations to the United States or the Far East.”

The joined company now has a global presence, and he notes, Clopay has a strong position in the multi-national specialty plastic film business.

The merger has been good for the German operation, too, he says. “The growth goes both ways. The assets that came with Clopay strengthen our position in Europe and other global markets.”

In addition to the global benefit, both companies complement one another in other ways. “Clopay had no printing,” explains Böhme. “It was specializing in cast film extrusion and extrusion lamination.” (Clopay produces embossed and laminated specialty films for baby diapers as well as feminine hygiene, adult incontinence, and medical products.)

Böhme Clopay's production doesn't look that much different from when it started as Böhme GmbH Verpackungsfolien in 1970. “[Our] products originally included polypropylene cast film, printed shopping bags, flower-packing film, and printed and nonprinted packaging film,” says Böhme.

“In 1973, [we] began to supply printed bags and wrapping paper for the packaging of hygienic paper products — toilet paper rolls, kitchen rolls [paper towels], disposable diapers, and handkerchief [tissue] overwrapping films. Now, 70 percent of our output [consists of] printed and converted packaging films and bags — approximately 1,500 metric tons per month. [The other] 30 percent is in technical films. [One of our current projects in this area] is for the newest diaper [design]. It's a coextruded, three-layer film, 20 microns — or a little bit less — thick, and it's a six- to eight-color flexo-printed application.”

Gearless Gains
A long-standing relationship between company and supplier is what led Böhme Clopay to F&K, says Böhme. In addition to the company's new F&K gearless, eight-color flexo press, the German operation prints flexo with three other F&K presses, two eight-color models and one six-color. In fact, F&K's flexo technology was around at the company's inception; the first press it purchased (in 1970) was an F&K 31 DF.

Over the years the company added the other Fischer & Krecke machines. Böhme says staying with F&K's flexo technology enables the company to be more flexible. “The presses all have the same width and the same printing cylinder technology. We can interchange printing cylinder sleeves, and the operators can run any of those lines.”

Böhme Clopay ordered F&K's CI, gearless Flexpress 16 S in January 2000, a few months before Drupa, where it was unveiled. “Because of our relationship with F&K, they informed us about their new gearless technology; they had a test line installed in their plant.”

Though Böhme wasn't planning to invest in any more flexo at that point, he agreed to take a look at the gearless machine. “Originally, I had intended to wait for the technology. But the Fischer & Krecke trials were so good, so convincing, we decided to buy the new F&K gearless press.”

The line in Böhme's facility currently is the flexo press that was demonstrated at Drupa. Böhme says this is where the company's new press was tested, and the Drupa demo provided another perk as well. “Because the show wouldn't wait,” he adds, “we benefited from a short delivery time.”

Böhme Clopay has been running the 1,300-mm-wide (60-in.) gearless press line since the end of July, and the managing director extols the machine's performance; he also notes the gearless technology provides notable production advantages. “Because it's electronically driven and controlled, a gearless printing press can run without steps and with variable repeat lengths. Everything is electronically driven and controlled.”

Böhme also reports that the gearless F&K incorporates sleeve technology, which is yet another advantage. “So all we have to do is open the side and put on the sleeves. It reduces changeover times a lot.”

Trade Show Trials
Fischer & Krecke's CI, gearless flexo technology — the Flexpress 16 S — made its American debut at last month's CMM Intl. show. Böhme says the Drupa appearance of the press was of immense value. “Because the line operated for two weeks at Drupa, we were convinced the line would also run here.”

And running it has been — Böhme reports the gearless press is a significant contributor to the company's tremendous production, and he reiterates that the investment in F&K machines has paid off. “To maintain quality, we work hard to find equipment from technology-driven suppliers, the suppliers that lead in their respective industries. We have reaped much benefit from Fischer & Krecke's commitment to innovation, quality press construction, and reliable customer support.”

It might be a stretch to find the similarities between plastic flowers and toilet paper packaging. (Let's see…sometimes toilet paper packaging has flowers printed on it. Now that's a tangible link, right? Maybe not.) But, according to Ulrich Böhme, it's certainly no stretch of the imagination to link Fischer & Krecke with quality, innovation, and service. And he should know; he's been investing in it for 30 years.

Böhme Clopay GmbH Dombühl, Germany
Ph: +49 09868/9810-0
Fax: +49 09868/9810-33

Tools of the Trade
Böhme Clopay, Dombühl, Germany

Total Plant Size: 10,000 sq m (108,000 sq ft)

Film Div. Operation: 7 days/week, 24 hr/day, four shifts

4 Windmöller & Hölscher blown film lines
3 Kiefel blown film lines
3 Reifenhäuser cast film lines
1 SML MDO cast film system

Converting Div. Operation: 5 — 6 days/week, three shifts

Flexography: 4 F&K presses

Gravure: 1 Cerrutti; 1 Holweg

Substrates: Proprietary

Inks: Siegwerk and Sun Chemical

Slitting/Rewinding: 4 Atlas slitter/rewinders; 80% slitting off-line

Corona Treater: AFS

Pollution Control: Siemens catalytic air-cleaning system

Fischer & Krecke GmbH & Co.
, Bielefeld, Germany; +49(0)521-3048-0;

Windmöller & Hölscher, Lengerich, Germany; +49 5481-14-0;

Paul Kiefel Extrusionstechnik GmbH, Worms, Germany; +49 6241-9020

Reifenhäuser, Ipswich, MA; 978/412-9700;

SML Maschinengesellschaft GmbH, Lenzing, Austria; +43 7672 912-0

Cerutti Giovanni Officine Meccaniche, Casale Monferrato, Italy; +39 0142 459491;

Holweg, Molsheim, France; +33 3883848 95

Siegwerk, Siegburg, Germany; +49 2241/304 222

Sun Chemical Corp., Fort Lee, NJ; 210/224-4600;

Atlas, Valmet Converting Equipment, Bedford, England; +44 1234-852553;

AFS Entwicklungs- und Vertriebs GmbH, Neusäss, Germany; +49 821 48076-0

Siemens AG, Redwitz an der Rodach, Germany; +49 9574 81-0;

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