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Firstan streamlines production processes with Esko-to-EFI integration

New solution addresses key market pressures by reducing errors and increasing efficiency for a Packaging Connected workflow.

Firstan Limited, Cambridge, UK, has successfully piloted a newly developed interface between Esko’s (www.esko.com) Automation Engine Connect and EFI’s Radius software applications.

The pilot at the leading independent pharmaceutical packaging and food packaging manufacturer comes two years after Firstan’s £7m investment in two Komori 18,000sph presses – a six-colour Lithrone GLX640 and a multi-unit Lithrone GLX40RP, and a Bobst Expertcut die cutting blanking machine.

Established in 1976, Firstan employs 140 and has a turnover of £24m. The company produces one billion cartons a year and has two main divisions – Firstan Pharmaceutical, which develops and manufactures pharmaceutical and healthcare packaging, and Firstan Quality Packaging, which supplies food, confectionery, cosmetics and beverage cartons and sleeves. It prides itself on its award winning in-house design and repro studio, and utilises the latest production machinery. It has an optimum factory workflow, and, with the combination of Esko’s Automation Engine and EFI’s Radius packaging MIS solution, delivers market-leading quality and service.

The company was also the first UK packaging printer to become a pressSIGN Offset Standard (POS) certified printer, which signifies it has the skills, equipment and knowledge to produce consistent colour quality. It was also the first in the UK to achieve PS9000:2010 for the supply of pharmaceutical packaging. It was ISO 14001 certified in 2012.

Joining Forces for Improved Process Efficiency and Error Reduction

Esko and EFI joined forces for the benefit of their mutual customers such as Firstan to develop a solution that would enhance functionality for the label and folding carton market segments. “There were two primary drivers for our discussions,” stated Lieven Plettinck, Esko’s Director Software Engineering, “process efficiency and error reduction.”

Plettinck points out that with print runs getting shorter and cycle times getting tighter, many companies experience excessive administrative overhead that negatively affects profitability and can even cause more time to be spent on administrative tasks than actual print production. By optimizing processes so data is only entered once, flowing automatically from the MIS system to prepress, not only are administrative processes more efficient, but there is also much less opportunity for human error.

“By addressing these two drivers simultaneously in partnership with EFI, we have been able to address these challenges more rapidly, with development taking only four months,” Plettinck added. The result is a bundled solution that can be deployed in just five days, as proven by the Firstan pilot project. We appreciate the effort Firstan put into the pilot project. Their insight and guidance was invaluable.”

Since every company has different needs, Plettinck was quick to highlight that the bundled solution can also be easily modified to address individual and specific needs, as was accomplished for Firstan.

Dean Murden, Firstan’s IT Manager, confirmed the value of the integration, saying,“This was essentially a time saving and risk reduction exercise. We had duplicate data entry going on across both Esko and EFI Radius systems. They were effectively siloed solutions. Formerly, artwork approval status required manual updates in Radius. This integration enables us to make use of a much more automated workflow, from receipt of artwork through to step and repeat, whilst also reducing risk due to data entry error.”

Hazel Hocknell, Firstan’s Pre-Press Manager, adds, “We’re still in the trial stages with the pilot project, but we are confident that this solution will ultimately enable our prepress department to become fully automated. This is a massive step towards a paperless workflow that will make a huge difference for our business.”

Packaging Connected

Murden compliments the EFI and Esko teams for the effectiveness of their collaboration, including frequent progress updates and an openness to taking Firstan’s feedback into consideration during the development process. “Teams from both companies are knowledgeable, efficient, and have collaborated in an extremely open and positive way to develop a workflow that meets our specification,” he remarked.

Kevin Blakey EFI Product Director, Packaging adds: “EFI has enjoyed a highly positive relationship with both Firstan and Esko for a number of years, and this project represents an exciting step forward for the packaging industry. We are very proud to have been part of this project to deliver a highly optimized print production workflow.”

With the integration of Automation Engine with EFI Radius, Esko has taken another important step toward creating a Packaging Connected workflow that will help move the packaging industry into a more automated future. Seamlessly connecting the workflow and power of Automation Engine with EFI Radius through an out-of-the-box approach to implementation enables rapid deployment and speedy return on investment through increased time savings and reduced errors.

This standard integration solution is now commercially available.