Cutting EdgeManufacturing growth for EskoArtwork sees Kongsberg's second factory open in Brno.
The beginning of March saw the official opening of EskoArtwork's new Kongsberg manufacturing plant in the Czech Republic. Aimed at providing much needed extra production facilities to complement the existing factory in Norway, this new location has been chosen because of strong beliefs that Brno has the right sort of logistics, demography and skills to match exactly the criteria being sought by the company.
EskoArtwork's strong position with Kongsberg dieless cutting and creasing tables has been boosted considerably by the growth in demand for precision output from within the sign and display markets. This requirement from users of wide-format printing machines complements the Kongsberg table's strong position in the packaging and folding carton industries.
Nicolai Gradman, senior vice president for CAM and the supply chain at Esko Artwork, explains: "The trends for corrugated packaging, point-of-purchase and folding cartons is for greater flexibility, more complex and sophisticated applications and the need for tailor-made and just-in-time solutions. These principles apply to the sign and display segments, too, with users wanting to convert and finish jobs using a diverse range of materials. There's a high demand for a multi-functional finishing solution which incorporates knife cutting for flexible and rigid substrates, along with milling."
Estimating the company's growth patterns, EskoArtwork recognised that additional production facilities were required in order to keep abreast of demand. The question was where to locate a new manufacturing plant.
Brno is an example of a typical growth city within Eastern Europe. However, it has the benefit of more than 50 years' tradition in the automotive, defence and aerospace manufacturing sectors, an ability to conduct business easily with an excellent supplier base and affordable costs. Also essential for EskoArtwork was assurance that the area was economically stable on a macro level, with ample infrastructure and transportation. Additionally, there's good availability of qualified employees, with the future showing some 60,000 students, 18,000 of which are following a technical route, currently in the education system.
"Employees in this area tend to have a mind-set which is conducive to accuracy and precision manufacturing and build," Gradman continues. "We're also planning to develop a relationship with the University of Brno as we believe strongly in the importance of people as well as having a good local supplier base and logistics' infrastructure."
Manufacturing of tables at the Brno site will be based around a core staff of 14 people who have already been trained at the Kongsberg factory in Norway. There's also an experienced local management team in place. "Our long term strategy is to double our current production capacity," Gradman continues. "Brno is particularly well suited to our needs as it gives us valuable resources, including mechanical and electro-mechanical expertise, based on employees who have had a good technical education and understanding of craftsmanship."
The Brno facility is to be operated as a manufacturing subsidiary for Kongsberg. Initial plans are for the Kongsberg XL10 and XL20 tables to be produced in the Czech Republic but, with a total of nine different models for packaging and folding cartons, and seven for the sign-making industry, it's anticipated that there will be a degree of flexibility between the two production sites according to demand.
Until now all tables have been developed and built by Kongsberg in Norway and this area, again, is known as the technology hub for the country with good access to highly skilled employees. No newcomer to the market, Kongsberg is now owned by EskoArtwork but has been a manufacturer of plotters and cutters for some 43 years. The company says that, during the past four years, annual sales of its tables have increased by 150 percent and its forecasts show a similar growth pattern to take place for the next five years.
In market terms, Gradman prophesies a growth of between 15 and 20 percent purely in the wide-format segment. Currently around 50 percent of manufactured tables go to the corrugated industry, with 20 percent being used in the folding carton area. The final 30 percent represents the machines sold into the sign and display sectors, with many being purchased as add-ons to existing printers as users decide to bring cutting and creasing in-house as part of their companies' work-flow.
Kongsberg tables aren't mass produced. Instead each one is manufactured individually. Such is the precision needed for fabricating these machines that no two are identical, with production being individualised for each unit. It's not a process which can be rushed or automated, hence the importance of having a work-force well acquainted with precision. The outside appearance might be a little misleading and doesn't really give credit to the high amount of exact engineering which is contained within.
EskoArtwork currently has a sales and support organization which covers Europe, the Americas, Asia/Pacific and Japan, backed up by a network of distribution partners in more than 40 countries. Head-quartered in Gent, Belgium, there are R&D and manufacturing facilities in Europe and America. The company's also launching SignUp, a new integrated nesting application for sign and display producers, as well a two new, wider Kongsberg tables.