Switzerland's Bobst has introduced a new system for embossing Braille characters on pharmaceutical packaging that moves the process down the production line from die-cutting to the folding and gluing stage.
The supplier of equipment and services to the folding carton, corrugated board and flexible materials-converting industries is positioning its AccuBraille module as a unique solution that can improve cost-efficiency in Braille embossing. The launch builds on Bobst's own dominant position in the market for embossing through the traditional die-cutting method.
Under the European Union's amended pharmaceutical directive 2001/83/EC, all pharmaceutical packaging must carry a Braille imprint for the visually impaired. As Bobst sales and marketing manager Nigel Tracey notes, Braille embossing has typically been managed at the die-cutting stage, a market the company itself has cornered with an 80 per cent share of folded carton packaging sales to the pharmaceutical sector.
Nonetheless, Bobst's market research indicated that converters felt Braille embossing would be more cost-efficient when applied by a folder-gluer. In response, the company spent 18 months developing AccuBraille, which can be incorporated into new models of the Bobst's Alpina II and Mistral folder gluers or installed on these machines as a retro-fit.
Priced at around €100,000 per unit, the AccuBraille module consists of a rotary embossing unit including an embossing depth control system. The AccuBraille can process up to 75,000 boxes per hour or 240 metres per minute, depending on the blank pitch. It uses the Marburg Medium standard - the most common Braille font specification and recommended in guidance from the European Commission - with a maximum of four lines and will handle materials ranging from 200 to 500 gsm (gsm is the standard measurement for paper/card thickness).
Incorporating the Braille embossing unit further down the production line gives packagers better control of the process with less margin for problems such as contamination, Tracey explains. Moreover, feeding previously embossed blanks into the folder-gluer limits the machine's run capacity and can compromise the embossing effect.
Make-ready of the Braille in the folder-gluer takes less than five minutes, with no additional staffing required, as opposed to the hour's preparation needed to emboss on the die-cutter, Bobst notes.
There are also advantages in terms of the tool costs and design flexibility. The AccuBraille system uses one universal female tool and two male tools, so the next job can be prepared off-machine. And the rotary process means the tools are never in contact, avoiding premature wear. The unit's ability to apply embossing very close to cut or folded edges opens up the possibilities for pack design.
While Bobst's dominance of Braille embossing through die-cutting means its biggest competitor for the AccuBraille system "will be ourselves", the company feels the risk of cannibalisation is worth running for the sake of innovation, Tracey says. The Braille embossing will still be done on a Bobst machine and the company will still be supplying components for die-cutting and folding/gluing, he points out.
Bobst also sees a growing trend towards use of Braille on high-quality packaging for wine or foods such as chocolate and biscuits.
For the moment it has the market for Braille embossing at the folding and gluing stage to itself. According to Tracey, one other company tried something similar two years ago but without success. Bobst has already sold four of the AccuBraille units (two for new folder-gluers, two for retro-fits) and the market response so far has been "very, very positive," he comments.