Customers always come back to us!
The AFP printing department runs day and night, seven days a week. It only closes for a week at Christmas, which is when maintenance is performed on the machines. As Printing and Finishing Manager, Ben Aalderink has led this department for eight years.
This printing department, which has a total of 35 employees, is unique, he says. Firstly, because it is part of AFP. ‘We have a somewhat different approach from traditional printers, because we are fairly innovative,’ explains Jochem Sants. Jochem has worked at AFP for 12 years and, as Printing and Finishing Coordinator, is Ben’s right-hand man. Both have spent their entire careers in the graphical industry, Jochem working as a desk-top publisher, among other things, while Ben has focused on automation of graphical processes. ‘We are always trying to push the limits in terms of quality, productivity and standardisation.’
At AFP, they work primarily on food packaging. This therefore means extremely strict hygiene requirements: they are BRC and ISO-certified. ‘Our inks and films are food approved, which means they are not harmful to health.’
Standardisation and measurement
The printing department is known for its above-average quality. How is that achieved? ‘Standardisation and measurement,’ the men say resolutely.
‘We’ve made enormous strides in the past few years,’ Ben says. ‘In the repeatability of colour, for example.’ This means that they always print the same colour blue for customers, for example, which cannot be taken for granted in this industry. ‘If the customer orders again six months later, we print exactly the same colour.’
And that really does mean exactly the same. That is because photospectral measurements are performed for all colours, Ben explains. These measurements produce a value, a number, which is then compared in the Pantone Matching System (PMS), a digital database with an international standard. ‘So yellow123 is exactly the same colour in China,’ Ben continues.
‘For example, the colour yellow123 has a certain photospectral value. When we print yellow123, we compare that value with the digital database. That produces a variation value. A value of 0 means that the colours are 100% identical. In the industry, values of between 3 and 5 are used. But we use a value of 2, because the average human eye cannot see variations in shades of less than 2. So even if we print with a variation of 1.7 of 0.5, the human eye sees no difference.’
Ben therefore applies a very strict standard for the variation permitted. ‘Values of 3, 4 or 5 certainly do occur in the industry. If you put the colours next to each other, you can see the differences. With us, you can measure the difference, but you can’t see it. We’re the top of the class.’
It makes no difference to the printing process that they are printing on film; there are no limitations for this. ‘At present, we print in raster 60, which we developed in recent years. The type of raster affects the quality of the printwork; the grade of the raster determines the sharpness and the contrast. ‘Raster 60 is grade that gives you photographic-quality printing,’ Ben says.
‘Suppliers tell us that it is very rare to find this at other printers,’ Jochem adds. And they always think about the next quality level. ‘We then search for the right suppliers of equipment, including printing rollers, and for reprographers.’
It does make a difference which film you use. ‘Films have different properties,’ Jochem explains. ‘You have harder and softer films. There is a visible difference in quality between these. To us at least, because customers don’t see it.’
And every film is selected for its application: What does it have to contain? Will it be frozen? Does it have to be sterilised? etc. ‘Our film is world-famous in the Netherlands, due to the properties at the customers,’ Ben jokes. ‘We supply rolls of film and the customer turns them into bags, for example to package cauliflower. Our customers have packaging machines for that. Our films perform very well in those machines, so that they can run faster and produce more bags per hour.’
According to Ben, not all printers in the Netherlands are that advanced. This primarily has to do with money. For you have to make quite an investment: in the technology and also in training your people.
Distinction through quality
For AFP, the high quality is an important way to distinguish itself. Ben explains: ‘Our market is international. We compete with other countries every day, often low-wage countries. They can generally print just as quickly and cheaper.
That’s why we distinguish ourselves partly with that raster 60 and with the repeatability of colours. That quite often goes wrong at our competitors. And that’s why customers are happy to come back to us.’ According to Ben, there have also been customers that temporarily outsourced their orders to other countries, but have nevertheless come back to Apeldoorn. ‘For just a few cents more, you do have quality.’
Why is that high quality so important? Do consumers notice any difference? ‘They may indeed,’ says Ben. ‘You may get your hands dirty when you take a bag out of the freezer. Or then you get blue marks on your coat when you use a cooling bag.’ So that means that something has gone wrong with the ink. But you also notice it by the quality of the film, Ben explains. ‘For example, if the film is not cold-resistant, a deep freeze bag can easily break. Take our bread film, for example, for which we have a gigantic market share. That was developed especially for deep freeze applications. It’s a unique film that we developed at AFP.’
This all takes place in the Research and Development department. ‘It’s bigger than average,’ Ben says. ‘Everyone there is working only to invent, test and develop things’. They do this partly on their own initiative. For instance, they recently developed a bio-based stretch film. ‘But it may also be because of client requirements, if they need a film with particular properties.’
Customers can also contact AFP for advice. ‘The customer then goes to a design agency, which shows how the packaging of their product will be designed,’ Ben explains. ‘Then they come to us for advice on the technical level, to find out what is possible and how it could possibly be improved.’
Innovation is therefore an important part of the work at the printing works. There is always a project in progress, Ben says. ‘We are always working on special coatings, inks, machine parts, training staff and so on.’
For example, they are currently testing a new ink series together with an ink supplier. ‘With that, we expect to take another step forward in quality. The ink has better “mechanical properties”, as they are called. That has to do with bonding and scratch resistance.’ Jochem adds: ‘But the colour strength will also be a little higher. The total colour scope will be increased.’
Checking the shelves
This is what happens in the AFP printing department, 51 weeks a year. To Ben Aalderink and Jochem Sants, it’s all about the right techniques to ensure optimal food packaging. The question is: do they also check the shelves when they are in the shops in their free time? ‘Unfortunately, yes!’ Ben smiles. ‘We always briefly check the quality of the packaging, including that of competitors. In The Netherlands, but outside the country too. It’s true that we’re that obsessed with our profession!’