When Puerto Rican converter Alco High-Tech Plastics needed a new Corona system for the extrusion side of its business in 2018, it turned to Danish manufacturer Vetaphone. Three months on, it added a second Vetaphone system because of the ‘very positive’ experience it had enjoyed with the first installation, according to Operational Manager Gilberto Nieves.
Founded by Maria Nieves in 1997 in Corozal, some 25 miles from the island’s capital San Juan, Alco has grown from its original investment of $1.5m and 22 people to be the island’s leading manufacturer of high quality flexible packaging, all produced under the guidance of the FDA’s ‘Good Manufacturing Practices’. Products produced include printed and laminated bags, films, stand-up pouches, zip lock products, and more recently flexo printed labels.
The majority of the company’s output is for local consumption, but a growing export business sees Alco products finding markets as far away as Spain and India, as well as more locally in the USA, Dominican Republic and Mexico. But fundamental to all the packaging is the company’s capacity for extrusion, with currently seven lines in operation from a variety of manufacturers, making it the largest extruder on the island.
When the time came to install a new extruder, Alco looked long and hard at what ancillary technology was available, as Gilberto Nieves explained: “We had always used American Corona systems before, but poor after sales service and spare parts availability prompted us to invite competitive quotes. For whatever reason, our existing supplier showed little interest, whereas Vetaphone took the time and trouble to visit us in Corozal and engage in discussions about how their technology could improve our efficiency.”
That commitment was sufficient to earn the first order, for a two-sided 1.4m wide VE2B-A Corona system, that was fitted to a Carnevalli line in December 2018. “The commissioning went really smoothly – everything arrived in the one box and assembly was straightforward, since which time it’s been working really well, and incidentally uses significantly less electrical power for the same Corona output,” he added. Vetaphone’s B models are designed for the slower extrusion process and this 1kW system is ideally suited to Alco’s production with its 25m/min operating speed. It also features segmented electrodes lane treating, built-in guide rollers and QC quick change electrode cassettes.
Also drawing praise is Vetaphone’s modular generator, which offers easy maintenance and repair, and the first-class service support that Alco says it has received from The Works Corporation, who represent Vetaphone’s service interests in North America, and who keep a stock of parts at their headquarters in Wisconsin.
In February 2019, a second Vetaphone Corona system was installed, also fitted to a Carnevalli extruder, but this time to a machine that had extremely limited headroom. This is also a VE2B-A model but this time with a 2.2m width and with 4kW power specified to run at 60m/min. Installation of this one proved more tricky, as Ted Wolski, Vetaphone’s Area Sales Manager for the Americas, explained: “The limited space dictated another B model to be supplied as anything larger would just not have fitted under the roofline. It’s testimony to the way we can tailor our systems to fit space limitations and other unusual requirements – that’s what Vetaphone is all about.”
Most recently, Alco has installed one of the latest Bobst Firenze (Gidue) eight-colour narrow web flexo lines to offer labels and shrink sleeves, and it was no surprise that it came fitted with a Vetaphone Corona unit. It typifies the company’s commitment to re-invest its profits in new technology, and also into regular training of its staff to maximise on their effectiveness and improve overall production efficiency.
Today, Alco High-Tech Plastics employs 90 staff and occupies a modern 70,000sq/ft property, which delivers sales of $12m to more than 300 different customers. Markets supplied include pharmaceutical and general packaging, as well as food and beverage. More than 70% of its business is still extrusion, but it is taking positive steps towards growing its supply of printed products.