Like all the best business manoeuvres, Polish firm TFP’s move into litholaminated products began with a strong customer need. Having begun life as a producer of corrugated board, in the early 2000s their retailer clients began asking whether it could also supply litholaminated store displays. Rafał Leciej
, commercial director of TFP Grafika, the sister company founded to take advantage of this demand, picks up the story. “There weren’t many producers in Poland offering this kind of product,” he tells us. “So we began to develop it, activating R&D and studying the market.”
Visiting other countries to get a sense of how shop displays were developing, TFP’s team observed increasingly colourful packaging, and abundant store displays. It was clear that there was a real opportunity in litholamination, one that complemented TFP Grafika’s first steps into the new business.
“It was easier to start with displays than packaging,” he continues, “as we had no machines for high-volume production at the time. Customers were particularly happy with our creative team’s designs, and thanks to this we were able to grow.”
Building on their entry into the market as a commercial agent primarily using subcontractors at the printing phase, by 2007 TFP Grafika had invested in litholamination, die-cutting and fold-gluing machines of their own, and a new production house was born. Since then, expansions into packaging and permanent displays, and the adoption of in-house printing facilities, have contributed to the company’s growth. Rafał Leciej
The secret ingredient
TFP Grafika’s success story is a tale of acute observation and business savvy, but it is underpinned by one crucial fact: litholamination is a challenging application, and one for which material selection is tremendously important.
Metsä Board has been providing TFP Grafika with board expertise since the very beginning, even before a single sheet of Kemiart Graph was sold. Once again, it all started with the customer, and, in particular, the rapid growth of Poland’s retail chains. Their need for colourful packaging, mostly printed in offset, made excellent printability a must in TFP Grafika’s board choices.
“Our customers in retail made suggestions about the quality they wanted to see,” Rafał explains. “They had high expectations, and this translated to the need for a kraftliner with excellent printing properties, coated for offset printing. Metsä Board were on hand immediately with suggestions.”
Let’s get technical
In the litholamination process, the stiffer the board used, the better. This ensures that operations can be executed quickly without jams in the machine.
In the printing phase also, board made from fresh forest fibres offers a distinct advantage.
“Metsä’s board helps us to achieve better efficiency in printing thanks to the reduced need to clean the machine, as they don’t generate dust,” Rafał continues. “Waste-based materials make a lot of dust, and the structure of the board is not so solid.” With dust also having a visible impact on printing results, the question goes beyond reduced downtime: overall quality is also in jeopardy.
Another potential challenge in litholamination relates to cracking along the folds of the package or display, which can occur during the bending or die-cutting stages. Thankfully, this issue is also circumvented by the use of Metsä’s boards.
“Our customers, and particularly their marketing departments, are very sensitive to this fault, which often occurs when using waste-based material. For them, we need the perfect product: it has to be virgin-fibre-based board.”
Fresh forest fibres, also known as virgin fibres, and the expertise required to make the best use of them, are a clear competitive advantage for TFP Grafika. Building on their ability to satisfy their ambitious retail customers, the company was able to begin collaborations with international agencies to supply markets in Scandinavia and Western Europe. Currently, 35 per cent of its products are exported, with the domestic share at 60–65 per cent depending on the time of year.
The service mindset
Even after Rafał’s patient summary of the advantages of Metsä Board’s products, when asked what he likes best about the working relationship with his supplier, he turns right away to the subject of service.
“We see Metsä Board as the company interested in being close to manufacturers,” he enthuses. “They really wanted to help us with technical support, which is a very tangible benefit for us. With our litholaminating and printing machines, for example, they supplied us with material for testing.”
The notion of technical customer service from a supplier is not one convertors take for granted. In fact, the advice Metsä Board’s technical experts provided came as something of a surprise for TFP Grafika.
“Metsä Board helped us to test and find the best possible solution. We greatly appreciated this. Metsä Board were also constantly working on their own quality, making notes on where they might improve.
“We feel that their team listen to us,” says Rafał. “Generally, if you speak to the big mills producing hundreds of thousands of tonnes, sometimes they aren’t able to fulfil your expectations or meet your needs. With Metsä Board it’s different.”
By the sounds of it, neither party is resting on their laurels here. Yet more applications and board types are being explored, not to mention TFP Grafika’s eagerness to maintain their track record of growth and expansion. With market share and export sales on the increase, there is certainly more ground to be covered yet.TFP Grafika, based in Srem, Poland, offers corrugated board, design packaging and displays for both local and international clients. They also provide design and consultancy to help their customers arrive at the ideal solution. Relying on creativity and an individual approach to each customer, the company develops a wide range of products, combining advanced printing and electroluminescence techniques.What is litholamination?
Litholamination combines extremely high-quality graphics with the option to do short production runs. First, graphics are printed on a liner using an offset lithography press. Then the sheet is laminated onto a single-face corrugated board, which is then die cut and glued to make a finished container.