The ties that bind

| August 1, 2017

Henkel continues to innovate to stay on top of the tobacco industry’s rapidly evolving adhesives requirements.

Contributed

The nearly 6 trillion cigarettes smoked every year have one thing in common: Each is held together by a few milligrams of adhesive. On average, manufacturers use around 0.018 grams of adhesives per cigarette. Cigars and smokeless tobacco products, too, require adhesives. The supply of tobacco adhesives is a multimillion-dollar industry, with various companies competing for business. Henkel is a leading global solution provider for adhesives, sealants and functional coatings that has developed considerable expertise in tobacco adhesives.

Henkel’s factory in Erlinsbach, Switzerland, is the most advanced tobacco adhesives production facility in the world, according to Jean Pierre De Smet, sales and segment manager of tobacco adhesives for Europe at Henkel. From here, the company plans and coordinates the worldwide development, production and sale of its cigarette adhesives.

The facility originally belonged to Laesser Klebstoffe. Henkel acquired the company in 1995 and has continuously developed the factory. Since its recertification by the Swiss organization for quality and management systems according to ISO 9002 and the implementation of a holistic, process-driven quality-management system, the Laesser adhesive division has been upgraded to an international competence center for tobacco adhesives.

“We offer the right product for every application—from plug seam, tow anchor and cigarette seam to tax stamp and carton sealing,” says De Smet. “The facilities can respond to the needs of the market by adapting the capacity. Currently, we supply adhesives to about 450 cigarette and cigarillo manufacturing locations in more than 80 countries.”

Cleanliness and hygiene

Clean production has been the cornerstone for product quality since the introduction of the concept in 1998. “The clean production facility in Erlinsbach is one of the most progressive adhesives production facilities anywhere,” says De Smet. “Its design is unique in the world, as our ‘clean-in-place’ system describes the technical design of the overall production site in terms of absolute hygiene.”

To ensure hygiene across the board, the clean-in-place system extends along the whole length of the production chain, starting with the arrival and storage of the raw materials and continuing through production and filling to the delivery of the adhesives. This includes all tanks, lines, pumps and machines. Clean rooms are separated by air locks from other areas. Air and water in these rooms are thoroughly cleaned and treated beforehand.

From batch mixing, production and package labeling through to make-up, the entire production process takes place in these rooms. The sealed containers then leave the clean rooms via an air lock. For microbiologically immaculate production, personal hygiene is important as well. It includes clearly defined hygiene measures and special work clothes for employees. Last but not least, all produced batches and all raw materials are microbiologically analyzed. The goods are released only if all the investigated parameters are within strict limits.

Efficient system solutions and added value

“If you stick to the best adhesive, you should also care about the machines and system solutions that apply the adhesive on the different surfaces,” says De Smet. Nozzle systems used for adhesive applications to ensure efficient and economical dosage are one example.

The challenge is to guarantee the exact adhesive flow in milligrams per meter; per second; per filter rod, cigarette or cigarette pack, ensuring the same amount of adhesive is used on every box, no matter whether the machine is cold or warm. State-of-the-art systems assist in troubleshooting to find out why one machine runs clean with proper bonding and another does not, for example. Added value is created when those system solutions support the nontobacco material planning and quality department by providing the exact consumption figures. It can break down consumption details to a single cigarette box for packaging machines and down to a single stick for rod makers.

Close cooperation

“Regulatory requirements are getting more and more demanding, especially with regard to additives,” says De Smet. “This requires constant reformulation for many existing products.” As legislation varies from country to country, the experts at Erlinsbach must work in close cooperation with customers and original equipment manufacturers to create tailor-made solutions.

“New materials with specific surface properties like coated rod and tipping paper or transfer metalized hinge lid blanks make it nearly impossible to have ‘universal’ grades,” says De Smet. “Therefore, we have been establishing intense cooperation with original machine manufacturers.”

Innovation work

Research on innovative products and technologies for future machine generations are part of the daily work at Erlinsbach. New machines and adhesive application systems require state-of-the-art adhesives that are developed specifically for this equipment. With ever-increasing manufacturing speeds, diverse bonding surfaces and different adhesives application systems—often on the same machine—the adhesive constantly has to meet new requirements.

New products add to the innovative challenge. The machinery producing reduced-risk products, for example, differs considerably from traditional tobacco equipment. “The challenge is to have the right product portfolio balance,” says De Smet. “What can be done with existing grades, and where do we need to develop them from scratch? We were the first supplier to receive the necessary certification by key tobacco players.”

Ecology

“We are dedicated to the principles of sustainability and environmental protection,” says De Smet. “All Henkel products therefore combine strong customer benefits with ecological compatibility. We maintain the highest standards for comprehensive product safety and health protection.”

The Erlinsbach facility has reduced energy consumption by 25 percent since 2010, according to plant manager Patrick Herzog. During the same period, water savings amounted to 48 percent, CO2 emissions dropped by 35 percent, and the volume of waste decreased by 68.5 percent.

“We are constantly adjusting the levers that optimize sustainability,” says Herzog. “We only use green electricity that stems mostly from hydropower in Switzerland, and we check for unnecessary use of electricity by avoiding standby [settings], for example. But there is much more than choosing the right energy. We are optimizing cleaning cycles and production processes to reduce the consumption of materials by preventing incorrect batching and waste, for example.

“Another point we take care of is recycling,” continues Herzog. “This extends to the raw materials purchased from suppliers. We managed to reach a zero-landfill quota. The sewage sludge is fed into a digestion tank for fermentation and the production of methane gas. Last but not least, clean room production at Erlinsbach is a factor, as it allows a considerable increase in product durability, reducing waste and loss.”

From Erlinsbach to the world

Henkel’s Erlinsbach cigarette competence center combines the resources of a global company with the flexibility of a small business unit, according to Henkel. As customers with global operations need global suppliers, Henkel is capable of efficiently supplying adhesives for the tobacco industry to all corners of the globe.

The Tobacoll brand adhesives are produced at selected locations close to the tobacco industry, with at least one production plant on each continent. An internationally implemented and consistently applied quality-management system enables Henkel to maintain a high product standard at every location. Henkel’s worldwide footprint also means that, regardless of a customer’s location, there is always a team of specialists on call to resolve problems.

“We know that our customers appreciate Henkel’s overall offer,” says De Smet. “Factors like security of supply, agility, responsiveness to IT-driven processes, development capabilities, listening to the customer and global coverage seem to be our strong points. Henkel offers support to tobacco customers in all regions in a harmonized but tailored way, whether it comes to quality standards, specifications or efficiency.”

So when it comes to Henkel tobacco adhesives, it all starts with Erlinsbach—that little Swiss town in the midst of hills, creeks and green pastures that has been populated since the Bronze Age and has a global impact today.

 

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