Asian freshwater pearls are highly desirable. They have become the namesake of a new system for packaging feminine hygiene products. OPTIMA "Pearl" has been designed to completely meet the requirements of the global manufacturers producing in Asia, with high output packaging in small volumes, which is typical of the Asian market. What is not so typical is the exceptional priceperformance ratio.
Asia is a specific market for feminine hygiene products. In many Asian countries they are virtually luxury goods. However, rising incomes mean that many Asian consumers can also aff ord panty liners and sanitary towels. In most cases, they prefer small packaging units. This makes less of a dent in the wallet.
The demand for smaller sized packaging has an impact on the type of high performance machines that are used there for packaging femcare products. Whereas in Europe packages typically contain at least twelve or more of the hygiene products, in Asia there are typically six to ten. High performance is now demanded, just like in Europe. This level of performance was demanded by a customer with international operations who manufactures feminine hygiene products for distribution at its Asian locations. Labor costs are rising in some Asian countries, so the teams in charge of production are progressively increasing the level of automation in manufacturing processes.
Several years ago, the customer invested in a cost-effective packaging system from one of Optima's competitors, which was supposed to pay for itself as quickly as possible. However, it transpired that the supplier was unable to fulfill its promises. Despite several modifications, the machine never achieved the performance that had been anticipated and promised, so the customer contacted Optima Nonwovens, which he knew to be a reliable supplier in other international markets.
The question was whether Optima Nonwovens would be able to supply a packaging system that can operate dependably with a high output - and at a price point that would ensure a reasonable payback period for the customer's investment. Although labor costs there have risen significantly in recent years, they are still comparatively low by European standards. This has to be borne in mind against the background ofautomation projects. It was also important to the customer's production manager, who values their anonymity, to have an effective security system, reliable on-site and after-sales service including the provision of spare parts, and a compact design that saves on floor space.
Consequently, it was necessary to revise an existing concept for a highperformance system and adapt it to the specific Asian requirements. The usual systems cover a very wide range in terms of the potential packaging sizes. This high level of flexibility was not needed for the system under development, which Optima Nonwovens baptized "Pearl". As part of the customization process, it was designed to meet the needs of Asian customers – small package sizes and high output. "It was also important for all parts of the line to be as simple as possible," says the user's project manager, adding: "We also wanted the design to allow us freedom in terms of product orientation and quantity." The result was a Twin Bagger packaging system that is faster and more reliable than its competitors - and at a highly competitive price. This means that even users in developing countries who are anticipating rising labor costs can be sure of a return on their investment.
Optima Nonwovens is able to offer this competitive performance ratio with "Pearl", as technologically the developers did not have to break new ground at all. Well-established procedures like stacking and packaging can be performed with tried and tested technology. Some of the functions that are not absolutely necessary for the needs of Asian users have been left out.
For example, the usual full modularization was dropped. This concept is comparable to what Asian car manufacturers do. They provide a wellequipped standard model with attractive terms, unlike European brand suppliers. As a rule, they prefer a basic model, which is then customized by the buyer by adding various optional extras. That comes at a price. With the new "Asian model" Pearl from Optima Nonwovens, too, the customer can only choose from a few optional features - but the version contains everything needed for the purpose specified, in particular the ability to combine it with fast-running converters. It also benefits from partial modularization, which opens up a certain degree of freedom. This will satisfy even customers with a global presence and demanding maximum performance.
The project manager makes it quite clear why the company chose Optima Nonwovens as its supplier: "Over the past few years, we have tested various providers and what we have learned is that Optima is still the best and will always strive to do its best". Optima wants to secure orders by providing the best machines that are available. This applies to machine reliability just as much as to safety and quality. He is particularly full of praise for the "Think Customer" mindset: "The Optima Nonwovens management always listens to us, no matter what the problem is. Unfortunately, our experience with other suppliers has not been the same. These are the values that led us to be part of the Pearl pioneer project."
The special edition Pearl contains many frequently requested functions as standard. Here is the main compression of the products, which can easily be exchanged for a rotating cassette. For example, the shortened web conveyor on the right saves costs and reduces the overall length of the system.
The bag suction in the bag intake module was manufactured by 3D printer. With this process, parts can be produced quickly and flexibly. In addition, 3D printing technology has been used to optimize the airflow of the interior.
There is another machine that does not quite match the performance of the Pearl described above, called the FS1. It has also been developed for the Asian market and could be seen as the Pearl's "stepsister". In its case, the developers have completely done away with modularity. For many customers with regional operations in Asia, FS1 will meet all their requirements. It is scheduled to come onto the market in early 2021, whereas the first deliveries of the "Pearl" were completed in September 2020. "Pearl", as a special edition, will appeal to the widest possible range of customers, in the same way as car manufacturers' special models, thereby helping to meet the growing demand for feminine hygiene products in the Asian market of the future. This was pioneering work on the part of Optima Nonwovens and its customer, Pearl's first user. The role of the customer should not be underestimated. Ultimately, his demands were what triggered the initial spark to develop a product which will benefit future users and hence end users in Asia too.