If the perception of the Asian label and labelling industry is considered as being less sophisticated in the use of label production and application technology as compared with the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia, then there should be a rapid reappraisal of thoughts and ideas. Asia, even excluding Japan and Australia/New Zealand, boasts some of the leading self-adhesive label plants in the world; has sophisticated UV-curing roll label presses, operates accurate and efficient labelling machines, bar code and has label companies operating with 100 per cent QC inspection, maybe UL or FDA approved and having clean room manufacturing facilities.

Customers include leading multi-national branded products companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Lever Bros, Shell, Esso and Johnson and Johnson, who demand as high standards of label specification and manufacturing as they do in the west – and all with automatic roll-label applications of volume products. In-mould labelling and sleeving are also well understood and used.

When it is considered that the South-east Asian label market is currently growing at around 20 per cent per annum, converts around 1,000 million square metres of labelstock a year at the present time and, with Japan, could be a bigger label market than Europe by the year 2000, then the Asian market needs to be taken very seriously by both industry suppliers and the leading western label converters.

To further put the Asian label market into perspective it is perhaps interesting to look at one of South-east Asia’s leading automatic labelling system manufacturer and self-adhesive label converters, the Komark Group of Companies which consists of General Labels and Labelling and Kohlabel Industries.

Headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this company has manufacturing/sales offices and appointed agents throughout Asia and exports to China, India, South-east Asia, Japan, Papua New Guinea and the Middle East. It even exports ‘Made in Malaysia’ products such as automatic labelling machines and related technology, products know-how and technical expertise all over the rest of Asia – even to Japan and the USA.

Currently employing some 300 people, the company was originally founded as Koh Trading Company in 1975 and was initially producing fabric labels. Within a year of being established the company had already expanded to include the printing of self-adhesive labels, stickers and offset printing. A name change to General Labels and Labelling came in 1979 to more accurately reflect the company’s business.

Continuous growth lead the company to gain market prominence and to establish itself as the market leader in Malaysia for all types of labels and tags – including products labels in reels for automatic application, bar coded labels, scale labels for digital computing scales, clothing tags in reel form for bar code printers and pricing labels for hand labellers.

By 1983, General Labels and Labelling had established a firm foundation marketing a complete range of labelling equipment from hand applicator guns to label dispensers; computerised label printers to automatic labelling systems; tag guns to scanner and bar code printers, Branches were also set up in other parts of Malaysia and by the end of 1983 the company had offices in Penang, Ipoh and Singapore.

An R&D department to develop the company’s own range of automatic labelling machines and other related labelling equipment followed in 1987/88, with the first of their new systems being installed in Malaysia in 1988, so making them the first manufacturer and supplier of advanced labelling systems in South-east Asia. Simultaneously, the approval of ‘Pioneer Status’ in the manufacturing of automatic labelling machines and label dispensers was granted by the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (MIDA).

Today, General Labels and Labelling claims to be Asia’s leading automatic labelling systems and self-adhesive prime label producer, outside of Japan, with 80 per cent of its customers being well-known, world-class multi-national corporations – and over 100 units of their Komark automatic labelling machines have been sold locally and internationally.

Naturally, the company uses world-class label production technology and top quality materials to meet its multinational clients’ demands. Over RM 1 million (US $390,000) has been invested in the latest pre-press equipment – from Macintosh origination such as colour separation and image setting to complete film and plate-making facilities – and the company has recently ordered its ninth and tenth Ko-Pack UV rotary letterpress machines with 11 and 13 colours printing facilities. In 1996, two new overseas branches were established in Bangkok, Thailand and Guangzhou, China respectively. The Shanghai factory and office was inaugurated at the end of 1995 producing prime labels for most of the multinational companies in China and would commence assembly of automatic labelling machines by the end of 1996. Most probably, the above projects would be the pioneer in China.

In total, General Labels and Labelling operate some 43 label presses (19 of them rotary) which include Onda, Shiki, Labelmen, Hikari, Gallus, ITO and the ten Ko-Packs, between them covering flat-bed letterpress, rotary letterpress, screen process, offset and flexo. The production planning and control department provides for 100 per cent inspection in processing of artwork layout, film and platemaking to give QA approval before printing. Raw materials are also inspected and approved, printed surplus must be approved and there are printing process routine checks by quality control with a final 100 per cent quality control inspection of finished goods before packing and shipping to customers.

Labels are produced in both roll and sheet form on a 24 hours continuous round-the-clock basis, with progressive manufacturing methods bringing down costs, offering competitive lead times and maximum flexibility – and enabling value for money products.

Filmic labelstocks are widely used and some 35 per cent of the company’s production is now non-paper. Polyethylene, polypropylene and polyolefin labelstocks are most common and much use is made of the ‘non-label’ look. Holographic and tamper-evident projects are in hand.

Already working in UL approval, the company hopes to achieve its ISO certification in the near future.

Major international customers for General Labels and Labelling products, equipment and systems include BP, 7-Eleven, Johnson and Johnson, Hitachi, Slumberland, Dreamland, Sony, JVC, Sanyo, Esso, Shell, Castrol, Canon, Sterling Drugs, Unilever, Warner Lambert, Proton, MAS – an impressive list by any standards, and by no means exhaustive.

So where does the company look for its next development and growth? ‘In 1995 we invested some RM 10 million (US $3,999,000) in acquiring 8.5 acres of freehold industrial land and are currently in the midst of designing a bigger office and factory which we aim to open within the next 18 months,’ Mr Koh, the company’s managing director, explained.

‘Our breakthrough in developing automatic labelling machines locally in Malaysia by our R&D department has benefited manufacturing industry in the country, offering considerable saving over imported machines. Savings which are as much as 20 to 40 per cent lower. Such is the potential for this equipment in the rest of the region we are now actively seeking agents in Asia to grow an export market for these machines also.

‘We have also recently developed and fabricated our own 1-2 colour rotary presses, rewinders and slitters for our own use and see significant potential to develop and grow an export market for these machines also.’

‘Our sales growth in recent years has been quite dramatic with an average of 20-25 per cent in 1994 and 20 per cent yearly – and we are looking to continue such growth levels in the future through being seen as the main and only label company in South-east Asia, China and India, promoting Labelling Automation since 1988, and through our reputation as Asia’s leading self-adhesive prime label producer and manufacturer of automatic labelling systems.’

‘As a member of FINAT, the worldwide self-adhesive label association since 1983, and the pioneer FINAT member in the region, we also look to play our part in developing a wider label market, both within and outside Asia.

‘General Labels and Labelling has progressed by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years and we are proud to believe that we have helped Malaysia to become the most advanced country in the field of labels and labelling technology in Asia, outside of Japan. Hopefully, we can retain that position.’

With continued dedication, commitment and hard work along with many innovative projects pending pioneer status in the pipeline, there seems no reason why General Labels and Labelling should not become a leading world class supplier of labels and labelling systems to the Asian market over the next five years and, who knows, to the worldwide labels and labelling market as well.


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