Marcus Tralau: From the roots of industrial packaging production to the future of folding carton production 4.0

The fourth industrial revolution, known as the “Internet of Things”, is intended to connect the factory of the future and its entire production surroundings to create an intelligent environment. Hardly any company will be able to evade this trend. KAMA, a machine manufacturer based in Saxony, has picked up on the sign of the times and is increasingly focusing on the topics of process optimisation and networking of machines.

1 May 1851. Masses of people gather at London’s Hyde Park where Prince Albert is opening the first World’s Fair. The visitors celebrate the trailblazers of the Industrial Age, most of all the first industrially usable steam engine and the progress made in the telegraphy sector. The impact of the first Industrial Revolution is well-known and has been extensively analysed from a social-scientific perspective. It was accompanied by significant social and economic changes and reformed industrial processes to an extent never before experienced. 

A similar dynamic devel­­op­­ment took place a mere 150 years later: the second Industrial Re­­volution, which was mainly characterised by the use of electrical power, again resulted in a significant increase in productivity. Suddenly, it was possible to build products (e.g. cars) in different variations. Assembly lines increased productivity through acceleration and standardisation of internal company logistics.

While steam power and collaborative mass production were phenomena experienced during the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial production underwent a permanent change in the 1970s through the introduction of computers into work processes. Complex work processes could now be planned and controlled down to the last detail. This third Industrial Re­­volution resulted in various specialised fields such as measuring technology or automation technology, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and, to an increasing extent, computer science interlinking to create extremely efficient production sites.

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Networking for the next quantum leap. Today’s production activities in the most diverse sectors are interconnected to an extent never experienced before. But a new fundamental transformation process has been making its way into industrial production over the past years and its impact can already be experienced first-hand. In future, all machines, people and even individual components will be connected via the Internet and communicate interactively with one another. This means that isolated solutions and cable-only connections will be a thing of the past. The objective of this revolutionary change has already been identified and can be described as “merging the IT world with traditional automation technology”1. This merging requires that machines contain embedded systems, which will become cyber-physical systems (CPS) when connected to global networks (Internet) – the basis for Industry 4.0, the fourth Industrial Revolution.

Not all topics concerning Industry 4.0 are new – the concepts of computerised factories and production data models came up many years ago. In this case however, the term Industry 4.0 represents a completely new level of organisation and control of the entire value chain across the products’ life cycle. This cycle encompasses different phases: from the idea to development, production and delivery of a product to the end customer and all the way to recycling. The basis is the permanent availability of all relevant information in real time, the networking of all instances involved in the value chain as well as the ability to derive the optimum value-added flow from this data at any time.

As revolutionary and innovative as these changes may sound, the fact is that these processes cannot be applied in daily workflows without any previous em­­pi­ri­­cal and practical values. Companies are complex structures and the conversion of production processes to Industry 4.0 standards is a technical development process that requires considerable know-how, investment and a certain amount of courage.

From creasing lines to networked workflows. The corporate history of the Dresden-based KAMA GmbH provides an excellent example of how to set the course for this development. When Carl Theodor Remus filed a patent application for his “process and equipment for bending cardboard at sharp angles without prior scribing or grooving” in 1894, the thought of digital networking was a long way off. The timing of the invention of the creasing line for cardboard was perfect, for industrialization was accompanied by an enormous increase in the need for packaging for consumer goods – and cardboard and paper were inexpensive. From the 1920s to after 1937, the company, then known under the name SCAMAG, repeatedly impressed the market with innovations in printing and processing machines, and it developed the world’s first automatic die cutter. The Dresden-based company experienced turbulent times during and after World War II and during the years of East Germany’s economic system. 21 remaining “Kamanians” succeeded in joining a one-year government-financed job creation scheme after reunification, which formed the basis for re-establishing the company in 1994 – exactly 100 years after the first company founding. Today, KAMA is active in two business sectors: the production of die cutting and finishing machines and folding/gluing machines as well as the development and production of system components. The export quota in both sectors totals more than 80 per cent.

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Since 2000, the company has been introducing innovations to the market every year – a basic requirement in successfully accomplishing the digital transition to Industry 4.0. This is of particular importance as the exponential development of digitalisation and industrial production literally demands constant innovations and requires highly qualified development engineers. KAMA cooperates closely with universities in Saxony. The paradigm shift to Industry 4.0 is a long-term project. KAMA identified the potentials early on and its in-house development and collaboration within the industry have made the company a pioneer in finishing processes for digitally printed batches in job and packaging printing.

World premier for folding cartons “on demand”. With their efficient end-to-end workflow for digitally printed folding cartons, KAMA and HP Indigo presented their first big step at the Finishing Days 2014 in Dresden. New to most companies in the packaging industry: all machines in the workflow are connected via a network – a prerequisite for coordinating many small orders (track and trace). The so-called “Cockpit” is the main control console for the KAMA machines and the network client. The entire process control, machine presettings, inspection systems for quality assurance and the evaluation of performance data is handled by the electronic job ticket. The folding cartons are printed and coated using digital sheet-fed printing, for example with the HP Indigo 30000. Finishing is handled by the versatile KAMA DC 76 die-cutting machine, optionally with or without hot foil stamping. In the final step, the Flex­­­Fold 52 folds and glues the blanks to create deliverable straight-line boxes or crash lock bottom boxes (automatic boxes).The first folder-gluer for short runs – the latest devel­­opment from KAMA – has networking capabilities and features a fully automatic set-up system for very quick changeovers.

Process optimisation in real time. The efficient complete solution for small folding carton runs is exactly what the market was looking for: packaging manufacturers are faced with special challenges due to the increase in the number of short runs for cosmetics, medical/pharmaceutical products, beauty & care and food. The highly productive production systems are designed to handle large runs with millions of units. Small runs are difficult to integrate, but this is exactly the segment with tremendous market growth. Solutions with short set-up times are required, which can handle multiple changeovers in a short amount of time while delivering the high-end quality needed in the packaging market. Using the new FlexFold pays off for runs as small as 1,000 units. KAMA has filed a patent application for its new development.

The transition to networked and flexible production technologies will provide KAMA’s customers with many benefits. It will enable them to react flexibly to market developments, short-term changes in production demands or fluctuating raw material and energy costs, even including reacting to unforeseen events or disruptions such as power failures or delivery delays. The next phase in Industry 4.0 is already on its way. In particular in the area of B2C, customers will in future be able to control their electric devices per touch via a smartphone app and call up additional information.

Marcus_Tralau_KAMA_CEO_Marcus Tralau
The author is the co-founder and CEO of KAMA GmbH. After several successful years as a management consultant working for the German government, Tralau became CEO of the machine manufacturer for the graphics industry. Through new developments and strategic partnerships, the economist and avid sailing enthusiast brought the traditional business back on the road to success; currently with the first e2e workflow for the production of digitally printed folding cartons.