Nothing but Litho-Laminating

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Nothing but Litho-Laminating

February 29, 2008 - 20:00


You can put your product on my shelf, if it will sell itself.

Retail executives throughout the world have been telling their suppliers this for quite a few years now. They no longer want to spend money on employees who will walk their aisles and politely ask, "May I help you?" If the package isn't already selling the product, you can be assured that they will find a colorfully printed or litho-laminated alternative that will catch the consumer's eye and entice him or her to buy.

 John Wheeler, Glama Pak's managing director, checks the quality of one of the many litho-laminated packages his company produces.
John Wheeler, Glama Pak's managing director, checks the quality of one of the many litho-laminated packages his company produces.

Packaging industry veteran John Wheeler, managing director, Glama Pak, Melbourne, Australia, knows all too well the clout of retailers. In his native country, Coles and Woolworth's control 80 cents of every dollar spent.

The company he runs today exclusively produces litho-laminated packaging; 30 percent of it is for the wine industry. The rest of Glama Pak's business comes from the alcoholic beverage, agricultural, candy, and household goods industries. If a high-end product in Australia is worth more than $25, there's a very good chance it's in a Glama Pak litho-laminated box, Wheeler maintains.

Gavin Hogan started Glama Pak, which today employs 97, 21 years ago in Melbourne. Initially it was a trade services business that specialized in providing packaging coatings and varnishes. In 1995, Visy Board, one of the two largest corrugated box makers in Australia (the other is Amcor), acquired Glama Pak for $3.1 million (U.S.) At the time, Wheeler was working for Visy Board as general manager of the corrugated box division.

Glama Pak runs a computer-to-plate making machine from Switzerland's Lüscher Swiss.
Glama Pak runs a computer-to-plate making machine from Switzerland's Lüscher Swiss.

"We bought Glama Pak because we saw the growing market for litho-laminated products and wanted to get a toehold in the market," he says.

Parting of the Ways

For two years, Wheeler operated Glama Pak for Visy Board, which is privately owned by Richard Pratt, chairman, Visy Industries. But in 1997 Pratt and Wheeler found themselves having more disagreements than agreements about the business. Wheeler realized than he wasn't going to become ceo of Visy Board. So he decided it was time to move on. That's when Pratt suggested he purchase 50 percent of Glama Pak.

"The opportunity to buy a controlling share [51 percent] in Glama Pak was a once in a lifetime chance to develop a wealth base in a private company environment," Wheeler says. "It was an elegant solution for both parties."

Singleface is laminated on a 65-in. Asitrade inline corrugator, one of two operating at Glama Pak.
Singleface is laminated on a 65-in. Asitrade inline corrugator, one of two operating at Glama Pak.

Thanks to the growing popularity of Australian wines, many of Glama Pak's laminated packages find their way to store shelves throughout the world. The 75,300 sq ft operation in Melbourne uses B-, C-, E-, G-, and N-flute. It can also produce any flute combination a customer could want. Each year it laminates 17 million sheets onto 7,500 tons of board.

All about the Flutes

Flute flexibility gives Glama Pak distinct advantages in the marketplace. Singleface board is laminated on a 65-in. Asitrade inline corrugator (a second one was just installed) that offers the option of applying in-line a linerboard top or a printed litho sheet. Using G-flute, which has 9.3 flutes per inch, reduces significantly flute show when laminating the top sheet, Wheeler notes. Flute flexibility also allows him to employ lightweight linerboard. The corrugator typically runs about 390 ft/min with a three-man crew.

Glama Pak's 800 customers are demanding a greater number of stock turns. So you won't find a warehouse of finished cartons. It's a made-to-order business with a two-week lead time (quicker in a crunch). Although he doesn't always achieve it, Wheeler's objective is to make an order (average size is 4,000) and deliver it in the same day.

A small sampling of Glama Pak's litho-laminated handiwork.
A small sampling of Glama Pak's litho-laminated handiwork.

About 60 percent of the company's work is promotional, so it is constantly dealing with new artwork and plates. Glama Pak makes 44 percent of its revenues from January to June; 56 percent from July to December.

"What's important to customers remains making samples quickly and getting quotes out quickly," Wheeler states.

Shortly after taking charge of Glama Pak, he recognized the competitive advantage he could maintain by employing large sheet printing presses. Large sheets don't limit you, he reasoned. So he bought a six-color, in-line 64-in by 47-in KBA press (with varnish); he recently installed a 56-in by 40-in seven-color KBA press. The plant also operates two MAN Roland five-color presses: a 700 and an 800.

Other converting equipment at the Melbourne facility includes three flatbed diecutters (two from Bobst), an automatic folder-gluer from Mega, a Tanabe automatic folder-gluer, and an automatic folder-gluer from Taiwan. It also operates a computer-to-plate plate making machine from Switzerland's Lüscher. But Wheeler knows that having the proper equipment only goes so far; timely, quality production is what counts.

Keeps Promises

"We do what we tell you we will do," Wheeler stresses. "I don't make promises I can't keep. We've put money into the company and you can see where it went. We've invested to grow."

Still, he has been around long enough to realize that, as he tells his salespeople, "customers always buy, you don't sell. If you do what they want when they want it, you have some hope. But they make the decisions."

Thanks to continually reinvesting in Glama Pak, customers keep buying. In the 11 years that Wheeler has been operating the company, it has always been profitable. In seven of those years, the company had record results. Yes, litho-lamination's growth has come at the expense of corrugated boxes. But then that's why Wheeler jumped at the chance to run Glama Pak. Today's retailer wants shelf- and customer-ready packaging that moves off the shelf.

For all his hard work, Wheeler admits that a certain amount of luck has played a role in his long packaging career. But luck usually comes to those who have prepared to take advantage of it. That's why right now, Wheeler is looking at lenticular printing on semi-rigid plastic to make point-of-purchase displays.

"It's not big now, but it's growing," he states. "Something is always dropping off, so you have to have as many strings to your bow as you can fit."

Wheeler keeps his bow well-stringed. This year Glama Pak will turn over $37.4 million. He continues to invest $7 million annually in new machinery and products, even as he slowly phases himself out of the day-to-day details of running the business. But even in semi-retirement he will remain a director and own a piece of Glama Pak. It's too deeply ingrained in his DNA for him to let go completely.