“Our core market is still the printing industry”

The Planatol Group has been developing and manufacturing adhesives since 1932 and adhesive application systems since the 1950s. >Frank Heuer, Managing Director of the engineering area Planatol System, explains in an interview how adhesives and application technology developers work hand in hand at Planatol, why it’s been back up since an investor’s entry and how far the diversification strategy has taken.

Mr. Heuer, can you briefly introduce Planatol?

Frank Heuer, Geschäftsführer der Planatol System GmbH

Frank Heuer

Frank Heuer: We are a medium-sized company with approximately 150 employees at the production sites in Rohrdorf and Herford as well as two own sales and service locations in France and Italy and worldwide sales and service partnerships. Our annual turnover is around 50 million euros. Planatol develops, produces and sells adhesives and adhesive application systems. In the mechanical engineering area Planatol System GmbH, which I manage, the R & D ratio was last at 6.9 percent.

Since 2009, Planatol has been owned by the investment company Blue Cap, which is driving forward a strategic realignment. What has changed since then?

Heuer: We have sharpened our profile and expanded our product portfolios. Our parent company Planatol has commissioned a state-of-the-art plant for the production of dispersion adhesives. Since the acquisition of Wetzel GmbH we also make hot melt inhouse. And the development of our new Coldjet and Hotjet application systems was the key to new markets for us, including the packaging and furniture industries.

What role does the printing and paper industry play?

Heuer: It is virtually the “cradle” of Planatol – and continues to be fundamental to us, even as we build and expand other pillars. In addition to the Coldjet / Hotjet systems, we have recently developed a system for injecting fragrances into sponges for a major US corporation. In such special projects there is always an opportunity to open up new markets.

Since 2012, you supply special adhesives for the packaging and wood processing industry. Is this offer available?

Heuer: The new product areas are now developing well. The positive market environment in Germany helps. In addition, we rely on technology partnerships with companies, universities and associations to align our products and innovations to the requirements of the markets. That’s crucial. As a medium-sized company, we can respond quickly to customer requests and think about problems from the perspective of our customers. Our New Business Development is working hard to establish our adhesive solutions in other markets. These efforts are bearing increasing fruit.

What proportion of the products of the Planatol system are exported?

Heuer: Directly we export 30 to 40 percent. In addition, our application systems are used in the rotary presses of leading printing press manufacturers, most of which go to third countries. You can be sure that eight out of ten rotary bonded jobs are now produced by Planatol systems and adhesives.

How are your systems different for the printing and packaging industry?

Heuer: In the printing area, we develop, manufacture and deliver high-speed folder gluing systems that are integrated in rotary printing presses. At speeds up to 20 meters per second, the big challenge lies in the exact interruption (intermittent) of the glue line so that the glue does not stick to the folding blades. In the packaging sector, on the other hand, it is more important to use sensors to detect adhesives and products as well as to control adhesive quantities and patterns. In addition, the quantities of adhesive are larger and there are systems in use that process both cold and hot glue.

Cold and hot glue from one system. How does this work?

Heuer: We offer systems in which the respective application heads run via a controller. Specifically for the new generation of coldjet / hotjet adhesive application systems, we have developed a controller that can control both cold glue and hot glue systems or both together. Of course, applicator heads and adhesive supply for hot and cold glue must be available separately.

Does it help that adhesives and application technology come from Planatol from a single source?

Heuer: We are the only supplier worldwide to supply adhesive application systems and adhesives from a single source. As a result, we are able to offer specially developed adhesive solutions for almost every field of application. Customers receive from us tailor-made total solutions tailored to their needs. There are daily points of contact between engineers, developers and application engineers. To leverage synergies, we use a state-of-the-art ticket system that displays real-time consulting or coordination needs. Our employees can access it anywhere, whether on the road, at the customer’s or in the lab. The various areas work hand-in-hand, ensuring constant knowledge transfer.

What role do control technology and sensors play in process monitoring?

Heuer: In our core market, the printing industry, we offer a variety of solutions: sensors for paper web detection and edge monitoring, consumption quantity measurement or, if required, camera systems. Our adhesive application systems can be operated via the control station of the rotary press and are equipped as standard with remote diagnosis systems. Also WLAN user interface and VNC interface are obligatory. The controls of our Combijet longitudinal glue systems in particular are modularly expandable so that up to 80 application heads can be controlled. In addition, the applicator heads can be moved axially and vertically by motor. A clear requirement from our target markets is simple, convenient usability of our systems. For this we rely on vivid visualizations and on touchscreens.

Do you adapt your systems to sinking print runs and frequently changing print jobs?

Heuer: This requires highly complex controls, intuitive operation and automatic product changes. We rely on touch displays and integrated product memory for up to 250 different jobs. Once set up, such systems automatically move to the next job. Operators call the corresponding adhesive variant for the next order via touch display. On the basis of the color representation, he also recognizes the condition of the application heads – whether they are sticking, softening or resting. We have also incorporated such features into the Coldjet and Hotjet systems for the packaging market.

What role do Print 4.0 or Industry 4.0 play for Planatol System?

Heuer: We are very busy with this, but we do not see the benefits that large companies with a high degree of automation have in a company on our scale. Our production is too special for that. But for our bonding technology networking it is essential, because it is usually integrated into fully networked process chains, has highly complex controls, condition monitoring and fully automated cleaning solutions. Users can even flush the application heads and lines of our systems during ongoing print production. This is important because glue lines gradually build up if they are not flushed regularly. Automation is the be-all and end-all, so that the flushing can be carried out easily and cleanly.

What are the focuses of your research and development?

Heuer: There is a demand from the printing industry for retrofittable transverse adhesive systems. For this we are looking for a workable solution with applicator nozzles. So far, there are only conventional cross glue systems on a cylinder basis, the space requirements retrofits in the commercial and gravure area in the way. In addition, we are intensively involved with application systems for applications apart from the graphic arts industry – for example in the production of insulation boards.

Their flagship Planamelt is a hot glue that fills the gap between cheap EVA and expensive PUR adhesives. What are the benefits for customers?

Heuer: The development of Planamelt is aimed specifically at the graphic arts industry, where it brings a number of technical, economic and environmental benefits. There are now four variants that cover all bookbinding and also the bonding of difficult papers and foils. Even a thin application of adhesive ensures a high quality and durable bond. In a three-month trial of more than three million brochures, we were able to reduce adhesive usage by 54 percent over commercial EVA adhesive, resulting in 15 percent lower adhesive costs and lower maintenance and replacement costs. In addition, the adhesive is virtually odorless and labeling-free. More and more customers rely on Planamelt because they can accept orders with the highest quality requirements without having to shoulder high investment costs for a PUR system.

Planatol is developing very well, according to press releases from Blue Cap. How do you assess the future of your printing and paper systems?

Heuer: It is well known that in recent years, also because of the digitization type, there have been strong distortions and a smoothing consolidation in the graphics market. Meanwhile, there is bottoming and increased willingness to invest. That makes us confident.

What role do Asian growth markets play in your strategies?

Heuer: Gluing is not as common in Asia as in Europe or Australia. But we are confident that there will be a turnaround in the near future as well. We register sustainable interest in high-quality adhesive application solutions in Asia. The core markets for our adhesives are in Europe. Increasingly in Eastern Europe. Southern Europe is recovering after the economic crisis. Northern and Central Europe remain strong.

What do you see when you imagine Planatol System in 2030?

Heuer: With Blue Cap AG, we have a strong partner that enables us to rapidly implement major development issues and investments. We have the know-how and the potential to become as successful in other markets with our adhesive technology as we already are in the area of rotary folding gluing. To do this, we will pick up digitization trends and translate them into meaningful, intuitive solutions for our customers.

Source: Verband Deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbau e.V. (VDMA): Interview with Frank Heuer, February 2018