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The 'Forgotten' Gluing/ Finishing Department

By Tom Weber

February 2, 2017

I recall the days in the early to mid-1970s as a summer intern working my way through college, and then as a supervisor fresh out of college, when our 13-machine gluing department was producing 75,000 tons annually of folding cartons across a three-shift operation. We had only two brands of gluers in those days—Post and International—and they were very niche in their approach to successful manufacturing of a particular carton design. The make-readies were long, the waste high, but the speeds were OK as I reflect back on those exceptionally lengthy runs we used to produce.

Fast-forward to today. The runs are short, raw materials are ever so precious, and the time frames to produce the business are even shorter yet; there is no time for errors, increased costs, or quality . What are we to do?

Embrace new technology, and then collect the cost-savings associated with that decision!

In so many facilities I see the same significant investments in prepress workflow, printing equipment, die cutters, etc.—and then I see the same old gluers I was running in the ’70s. Why? Simply because they can? Not good enough!

Arguably, gluing is one of, if not the, most labor-intensive/highly skilled departments in most folding carton facilities, yet we continue to justify the lack of investment there because they are still able to produce a decent-quality product, albeit with longer setups, average run performance, and poor waste results.

The time has come to truly acknowledge the new technologies that have given us not only one or two, but at least three or four companies—none named “Post” or “International”—that have invested heavily in this specific area of technology for the express purpose of allowing one new gluer to do the work of two or even three, depending on your product mix and business needs. Keeping the old equipment around just because it can still manage through some “highly skilled operator divine intervention” to meet the customer’s needs is not necessarily the right choice for your business. We must all be forward thinkers. See the examples below for what new gluing equipment can add to your company:

  • A computerized “save” option to capture the data from the best-running machine settings of a production run that has just been optimized.
  • Automated setups that will gain an operator up to 80 percent of the recalled job data from the previous saved run statistics above. This saves a lot of time!
  • Exponential—not incremental—improvements in setups, waste reduction, and accuracy of both the folding and gluing.
  • The ability to add countless ancillary devices in-line to ensure the precise production of the most challenging designs and for the most discriminating clients. Short of Malnove in Omaha in the mid-’80s, I can think of precious few folks who have been applying windows in-line on a right-angle gluer. This is now a daily event for many folks in our industry, as well as radio-frequency identification (RFID), internal print, and many others.

The ability to finally utilize your gluing operators and feeder/packers in the most highly efficient manner. Again, this is one of the most labor-intensive departments in most folding carton facilities, and also the most critical, as they must somehow produce a quality product here, even if it has not been delivered to them from printing, cutting, or perhaps stripping/windowing.

There are currently several OEM contenders competing for the title of best all-around folding carton gluer. They would meet and/or exceed the criteria of today’s and tomorrow’s most critical clients. I would strongly suggest that you purchase one of them and replace at least two of your oldest gluers and enjoy the many benefits associated with freeing up that entire gluer crew of two or three for however many shifts you operate at your facility. The thoughts of making more with less, and even better and faster, have always driven me to explore the absolute best my company’s precious capital dollars could afford. I urge you to do the same, and the time is now!

I hope I have given you something to think about, and more importantly, just enough information for you to initiate your own internal investigation of what is out there for you and your respective teams. As we all know, multiple high-quality choices are always good when it comes to any major capital acquisition.

width=150Tom Weber is folding carton adviser for AICC. He can be reached at