ICO gets set for the digital transformation

Founded in 1952 in the port town of Pescara on the eastern coast of Italy, Industria Cartone Ondulato – ICO – has grown steadily over the years to become one of Italy’s leading privately owned corrugated businesses. Having started out in one small factory all that time ago, the company has grown significantly in the last couple of years following investment in leading edge equipment and the appointment of a new CEO. As a result of the investment strategy, the business produced 71m in sales in 2017 and then showed exceptional growth in 2018, recording sales of 102m, rewarding the faith of the owners.

ICO employs a little over 270 people and now operates four plants. The company’s headquarters are still on the land where the company was founded – a stone’s throw from the Pescara airport. The site houses not only a corrugator and converting equipment, but is also home to the company’s 2.45m paper machine, which produces up to 190 tonnes per day of fluting and testliner. Corrugated production of the Group is well over 200 million sqm per year.

Elsewhere, the company has an expansive factory in nearby Pianella, where they run a new Agnati Quantum2 corrugator and a wide range of converting equipment. They acquired this site in 2005. They also operate a plant in Foggia (which they acquired from Smurfit Kappa in 2000) with a corrugator and three converting lines. The latest addition to the group was a tissue paper mill in Alanno, which was acquired in 2013.


Strong Customer Base

“We have a diverse range of customers throughout Italy and service companies such as Coca Cola, Ontex and Henkel and other leading FMCG brand names on a daily basis,” explains Manlio Cocchini, CEO. “There is quite an interesting fact about our customer base – we have around 1,800 customers that we serve with corrugated packaging needs, but around 30 of them account for over 50% of our business. This means we have literally hundreds of customers who want small orders and that all needs to be catered for.”

Having identified the importance of efficiency in dealing with these hundreds of small orders, the company has invested heavily in systems and equipment over the last two years – to the tune of 20m. “A new corrugator concept from Agnati, a state-of-the-art Vega gluer, new conveyorisation systems from the Emmepi Group and the imminent arrival of an HP PageWide C500 industrial digital printing machine are all part of our plans to implement a true ‘smart factory’ as we look to embrace everything that Industry 4.0 has to offer,” states Cocchini. “We also have a high rack storage system being installed soon, to handle the WIP and finished goods.”

He continues, “With fully integrated ERP systems within the company – and in some cases, inside our customers’ facilities – planning in our factories is key to our success. We make it our mission not just to be a supplier to our customers, but to be a true manufacturing partner, ensuring success at all levels. For us, Industry 4.0 is about our systems learning about our customers’ needs and reacting on a ‘just in time’ basis and utilising the latest corrugating and converting equipment that can react to the rapid changes in box styles, therefore reducing inventory for our customers.”

Flat Board in all Flutes

With high volumes of short orders, minimising waste is critical for ICO. When looking at which corrugator to choose, the company studied the market thoroughly and chose the latest generation of speciality corrugator from Agnati – the Quantum2. Running a broad range of flute formations, including N, E, D, B and C (and in various doublewall combinations) board formation and stack quality is paramount to ensure the converting machines receive exact numbers of sheets allowing them to be almost first sheet saleable and minimising waste sheets in converting.

“With the first installation of a Quantum2, ICO shares the vision of Agnati, which offers a highly innovative solution for the corrugating process,” explains Michael Schmiedt, Sales Director, Agnati. “In order to remove critical issues found with the traditional production process, we can now meet market demands to increase board quality further.”

The Quantum was developed in 2010 as a result of intensive research and development by Agnati. The aim was to deliver a complete corrugating line which could produce single wall board with new technology. “This new line has revolutionised the traditional production process, by enhancing the quality in terms of strength, flatness and printability,” says Schmiedt. “The Quantum2 is the latest development of this ambitious project, which confirms the quality and the innovative content of the corrugators made by Agnati.”

The Quantum2 is a doublewall corrugator which achieves the highest quality standards thanks to the innovative production process that allows for the production of perfectly flat sheets of corrugated board – even with fine flutes, where the reduced flute height guarantees high compression tests values.

By doing away with warped board, Agnati says that the Quantum2 guarantees sheet adequacy, not only for traditional flexo and litho printing, but especially for digital print. The line at Pianella is also equipped with an E+L alignment system throughout and a sophisticated dust extraction system that ensures any dust is removed prior to stacking.

“The technical characteristics and the production process of the Quantum2 have simplified production and reduced the environmental impact of the plant in Pianella,” says Schmiedt. “The Quantum2 is more compact then a traditional corrugator and maintaining a constant temperature during the production cycle avoids the initial thermal peaks and the high energy consumption of the traditional production process. With this line, users can reduce energy consumption by as much as 30%.”

Recognised Regionally

One aspect of the new corrugator is certainly the reduction in energy usage. But this is just one part of where ICO stands out in a crowded market place.

“We were one of the first companies in Italy to achieve the ISO 9001-2015 accreditation and for sure, we are fully FSC compliant,” explains Cocchini. “We work very hard at complying to all international production and manufacturing standards and our work has been recognised by the Regione Abruzzo, when they announced that we were one of the leading sustainable businesses in the area. As well as working practices, they also took into account the recycling and waste collection that we do, which of course helps feed the OCC we need for our paper mill in Pescara.”

Digital Future

With the first steps now completed, including the new corrugator, intricate materials handling systems and the Vega gluer, the next step will be the arrival of the HP PageWide C500 press, which is due to take place during the autumn.

“We are excited about the new digital printing machine,” says Cocchini. “For us, this is our major step in the digitisation of our business. With the smooth ERP interfaces already in place, we can concentrate all our rapid-reaction, short order work onto the digital printing machine, allowing us to focus our bigger run work on the flexo converting lines, thus ensuring speed to market for the short orders and optimum quality versus cost ratios for the longer run, regular work.”

He concludes, “With high technology comes the need for perfect, flat, high quality board. With the Quantum2, we are achieving this and the addition of the new HP printing machine later this year will give us a strong machinery park with which to serve our customers nationwide. With true water-based digital ink capability, all our products will be fully recyclable and totally sustainable.”

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