According to its own assessment, Bobst owes its success in the flexible packaging market as well as its ability to often be one step ahead of the competition to a total of six factors.
“Our globally leading market position is certainly no coincidence. We have always thoroughly analysed future market trends very carefully and adapted them in a way to be one step ahead of our competitors. In addition, we focus on high-quality products as well as close partnership relationships with our customers.” This is how Sara Alexander, MarCom Manager for Flexible Packaging at Bobst, describes the recipe that has earned the company a leading position in the packaging manufacturing market for more than 130 years. So, how has Bobst managed to build and consolidate its success in this area?
A little history
Joseph Bobst founded the company in 1890 as a shop for printing accessories in Lausanne, and the first of his own printing presses were manufactured as early as 1915.
Production on an industrial scale began in 1938 with the opening of the production facility in Prilly. In 1978 the company, which had been trading as J. Bobst & Fils SA since 1918, was converted into a listed public limited company. Subsequently, Bobst expanded its business activities to an international level, to which various acquisitions also contributed. In 1989, sales exceeded one billion Swiss francs for the first time. This expansion continued from 1997 onwards with the opening of further locations abroad.
The company’s business areas
Bobst is today one of the world’s leading suppliers of equipment and services for substrate processing, printing and finishing in the flexible packaging, folding carton, corrugated and label sectors. This is also reflected in the organisational structure valid until 2020, divided into the three business units “Folding Cartons”, “Corrugated Board” and “Flexible Materials”.
The “Folding Cartons” area concentrated on the processing of paper and cardboard and plastics, while the “Flexible Materials” area focused on the production of equipment for the printing and further processing of flexible packaging materials. The “Corrugated Board” area included production equipment such as printing presses, flatbed and rotary die-cutters, equipment for feeding, delivery and palletising, equipment for lamination (sheet/sheet or roll/sheet) as well as automatic gluing machines, stitchers and folding machines with hotmelt gluing. However, at the beginning of 2021, this organisational structure was simplified and reduced to the business units “Printing & Converting”, in which the former Sheet-fed and Web-fed units were merged, and “Services & Performance”.
Today, the Bobst Group is represented in more than 50 countries, has 15 production facilities in eight countries and employs more than 5,500 people worldwide. It has an international network of production, sales and service companies in around 50 countries, employs around 5,500 people worldwide and generated sales of CHF 1,372 billion in 2020.
Six points for success
1. Strategic acquisitions that add real value
In 1987 Bobst made its first foray into the flexible packaging market with the acquisition of a 50% stake in Italian press manufacturer Schiavi. This policy continued with the acquisition of the German flexo press manufacturer Fischer & Krecke (now Bobst Meerbusch) in 2008, and Cerutti, an Italian manufacturer of gravure presses and equipment for lamination and coating, in 2021 (now Bobst Italia). In order to also cover the promising area of digital printing, Bobst acquired a stake in the start-up company Mouvent in 2017, which was then fully integrated into the group structure in 2020 by acquiring the remaining shares.
Of course, acquisitions alone are no guarantee of success. Bobst fosters a culture enabling development of its own innovations in the flexible packaging industry. This strategy is backed by significant and consistent R&D investments as well as a clear vision of the future direction and further development of the company’s activities.
2. Complete solutions for converters
Bobst offers solutions across the entire value chain of flexible packaging production. For customers, this means the high added value of solutions supplied from a single source. This covers all requirements, from the files and specification of the packaging through all production steps until the finial product. This applies to all flexible packaging materials and applications.
All Bobst equipment and services are founded on four key driving forces of the current packaging industry: automation, digitalization, connectivity, and sustainability. They create value for the users by enabling them to act more agile and profitable in printing and converting. Offering all technologies for production of flexible packaging means that Bobst can approach each customer’s challenge from an end-to-end view and develop the solution that best fits the given requirements at every stage of the production process.
3. A true commitment to sustainability
Environmental and sustainability issues are at the top of the agenda of governments, companies and individuals all over the world. However, the qualities that make plastics so suitable for packaging application – versatility, durability, impermeability – also make them very environmentally unfriendly as they are mostly non-biodegradable and hard to recycle. It is a particular challenge for flexible food packaging, where the high barrier protection against oxygen and water that prevents deterioration is currently provided by multi-layer, multi-material packaging, which cannot be recycled.
Together with its partners, Bobst has launched samples of high barrier flexible packaging solutions designed for recyclability, taking the industry one step closer to the ultimate goal of being able to provide completely recyclable solutions to replace non-recyclable packaging. For example, oneBARRIER is a family of new integrated barrier packaging structures. Solutions already available include a recyclable full PE high barrier laminate which offers a cost-effective EVOH-free solution that maximizes the amount of PE in the mono-material packaging. This satisfies tightening circular economy legislation and increases recyclability, whilst also giving a more economical high barrier packaging solution. Work is also in progress focused on developing alternative fiber-based paper packaging solutions.
4. Establishing strong partnerships
It is a quite obvious fact that traditional operating and working processes in the packaging industry are being shaken to the core, and it is increasingly clear that individual and self-referred knowledge will not lead to substantial progress.
In contrast, Bobst embraces the value of collaborating with suitable partners along the whole value chain. Therefore, technology-based collaborations are carried in the Bobst Competence Centers and laboratories where new solutions are trialed, tested and validated. This collaboration already resulted in several market-ready solutions have have already been launched.
5. Changing competence centers to centers of excellence
The six Bobst Competence Centers are state-of-the-art facilities dedicated to flexible packaging and label technologies. They include fully equipped laboratories, pre-press areasand equipment for personalized live streaming demonstrations, latest machine configurations and process specialists. The centers enable customers to assess a product’s technical operations and costs, and to confer with Bobst experts about their specific needs.In terms of new substrates and barrier functionalities, the Competence Center in the UK offers both wet and dry coating technologies, while the Leonardo coating line in Italy offers a multitude of coating and drying systems and can perform production scale applications. According to Bobst, Leonardo is the only wide-web pilot line in the industry so the services that are offered to brand owners and converters are truly unique in terms of testing new packaging functionalities, as well as calculating productivity and profitability.
Bobst Italia’s Competence Center also houses gravure presses and laminators that are extensively used for internal and collaborative R&D and customers’ trials. Joint projects are also carried out at Bobst Changzhou in China that have global resonance, as reflected by the recent award assigned by ERA for press enhancement and optimized efficiency for performance with water-based inks.
CI flexo and inline flexo facilities are located in Bielefeld, Germany and Florence, Italy, respectively. Both offer an end-to-end experience from on-site plate production through to the finished reel, and are also equipped with pre-press areas. This means faster results and a one source guarantee.
6. Making the difference with services
Bobst’s portfolio of services supports all steps of the flexible packaging production workflow, from make-ready processes to the finial product. In addition, digital solutions, field technicians’ expertise, remote services, parts and upgrades as well as process optimization programs, are available to increase the performance of equipment and processes.
Leadership mirrored by market performance
According to Sara Alexander, Bobst’s technology and market performance has secured its leadership in the area of flexible packaging. “With the instability that has characterized the economy in the last decade, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, converters are more likely to feel confident about their future by turning to a proven, reliable business partner. Our innovative offerings cover all needs and are ensuring productivity and continuity, across all technologies, for new and installed equipment. This is an important market differentiator for our customers and for us”.