When a family-run cartonconverter in Croatia launched its ambitious bid to break into the European pharmaceutical market, Folding Carton Industry visited Rijeka to investigate.
Although originally established as far back as 1924 as Knijigoveznica Boras, a bookbinding operation, the history of Neograf d.o.o. as a carton house effectively began in 1990 when the son of the founder, Dusko Boras, and Adriana Mikulicic, together with four employees, set up a commercial and carton printing facility in Cavle, near Rijeka on the Kvarner coast of Croatia. From early days the company specialised in carton production, but with equipment that is a far cry from the modern high-tech plant that exists today. Over the past 23 years, and through various relocations to larger premises, the company has finally settled in a purpose built two-storey facility that houses a selection of today’s top brand equipment, operated by a workforce that has grown to 33. Today, Neograf serves the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, electronics and food industries with a variety of lightweight carton packaging. But, it has been the growth within the pharma sector that has been most significant, as son of the owner, Filip Boras who is responsible for Quality Assurance points out. “One of our first customers was JADRAN-Galenski Laboratorij, now known as JGL, who were a start-up pharma company around the same time as Neograf, and the two companies’ growth and development have largely been a mirror image.” Today, one of Croatia’s leading pharmaceutical manufacturers, JGL has played a large part in shaping the production capabilities of Neograf to the point where the converter now sees itself as a specialist in producing short run, small format cartons, with the high level of quality control that is essential in pharma work. As this reputation has grown, so more of Croatia’s pharma companies, including one of the biggest, Belupo d.d., have joined Neograf’s customer portfolio, but, according to Filip Boras, this poses two major problems: “We do not want to allow our business to become too reliant on only a few customers, and more importantly, with a population of only four million, we know that Croatia does not offer us the scope for expansion that we are seeking for the business.”
High Spec Machines
Major investment in new technology to equip the factory, which was opened in 2011, includes the latest pre-press and printing machinery. Production Manager, Galja Milosevic explained: “We knew that to maintain the ISO 12647 standard we needed accuracy from the beginning of each job. Pre-press is carried out on Apple Mac computers and we installed an Epson Stylus pro 4900 with EFI Colorproof XF software and X-Rite Eye One spectrophotometer to control and manage colour. Plates are made on a Heidelberg Suprasetter chem-free CtP unit that is connected to one of the latest six-colour Speedmaster XL75 presses, which is fitted with an inline coater.” Knowing that the printed sheet is an expensive material to waste, the spotlight then fell on downstream converting, which highlighted a weakness in the folder gluer department, resulting in research to identify the best new machine for the work involved. Boras continued, “We looked closely at what the leading European manufacturers had to offer, and while all could satisfy our requirements, only Duran Machinery was prepared to design and build a folder gluer to our exact specification, and importantly,deliver it quickly into our production facility.” The folder gluer, which was ordered in September and installed at the end of 2013, is an Omega Allpro 70, fitted with Side Register, a Baumer hhs gluing unit, the Omega Braille unit and quality control components. Speaking for Duran, Sales Director Pinar Kucukaras commented: “It has been a great pleasure working with Neograf to meet their specific production requirements and we are delighted to hear that they are happy with their new Omega. We are also indebted to Grafo Servis, now our representative in Croatia, who introduced Omega folder gluers to Neograf after seeing one working at another carton converter. They were instrumental in assisting with delivery and installation and trained their engineer at our factory so they could provide local support to Neograf.” According to Neograf, the decision to buy an Omega followed working demonstrations on all of the major contending gluers. “Our requirements were specific if not over-demanding,” said Milosevic, “but only Duran listened and responded within the timeframe we had available.” She also pointed out the impressive demonstration given by a 20 year old Omega, which “was running like clockwork,” she said. Although still in its early months of commercial production, the Omega Allpro is already showing signs of significant improvements in productivity. Running speeds typically are up from 190 m/min to 350 m/min with proportionally more cartons being produced. Neograf has plans to fit camera technology for 100% inspection in the medium term. Cited as one of the key advantages of the Duran modular build system, Neograf knows it can adapt and upgrade its Omega at any time, as demand changes. The new Allpro will give Neograf the capacity it needs to grow into new markets,and Filip Boras is open about the company’s intentions. “Because of our long history of working with JGL and other leading Croatian pharma companies, we have attained a level of expertise that we want to capitalise on. Our entire investment strategy is directed towards quantifiable quality and fault elimination.” Aware that at its current size, Neograf is too small to be a major supplier to a big-name Western European drug manufacturer, the company is hoping to become an accredited second or even third choice packaging converter. Along with the small format cartons that typify the pharma market, whether OTC or prescription, Neograf also supplies leaflets, printed on two small format Heidelberg presses, and has plans to investigate narrow web flexo technology for the production of selfadhesive labels. “We know the trend is towards single-source supply and intend to invest in the technology that will allow us to work towards offering this type of service at some stage in the future,” said Boras. Versatile Production Typically, with around 80% of its work for the home pharma market, Neograf’s average run lengths are 50,000 to 300,000 cartons, but the company has the facility to produce runs of 10,000 or less at commercially viable prices and makes full use of the Speedmaster’s six colour capacity and coating facility. Equally, as Milosevic points out, “We frequently handle runs of 1 million cartons, or more, so have a very flexible production capability.” The Heidelberg press is easily capable of handling the 90-gsm papers and 400-gsmboards that Neograf works with, and, according to Milosevic, is more than comfortable running at 13,000 sph. The key at all times is quality and Filip Boras stresses that the three ISO accreditations held by the company are just the beginning of what he is striving to achieve to attract new business. “In pharma particularly, every stage needs to be monitored before the job moves on, so we need to have the controls in place. In the case of the folder gluer, it is the last stage before shipping and is when the product is at its most expensive – that’s why we specified QA controls on the Omega.”With a workforce of highly skilled people, many of whom are longstanding employees, Neograf is conscious that retained knowledge and skills are priceless in today’s highly competitive marketplace. Technology can only achieve so much, and for this reason the company constantly seeks to train and re-skill its operators to meet the changing demands of new equipment. The new Omega is a case in point, where the folder gluer operator, who was highly skilled on the old machine, had to learn a new way of working to maximise the effect of the investment. It is this attention to detail and hard work that has recently brought about a highly prized award for the company’s owning founder, Dusko Boras. In the 2013 Manager and Entrepreneur Competition, organised by The Croatian Association of Managers (CROMA), he won the top award in the Small Business Category — a fitting acknowledgment of what he has achieved in 23 years.
With prices becoming ever more competitive in the carton market, and the leading brand owners looking for single source supply of consistently high quality printed packaging, Neograf appears to be in a prime position to compete with carton converters in Western Europe — and its membership of the EU, which was gained in 2013, makes doing business even easier. With an ongoing policy of investment in the latest technology, this is clearly a company to watch. Tracing the history of its development highlights the fact that, sometimes, a company acquires the specialist skills that allow it to serve a niche and growing market thanks to its first real customer.