The giant of plastics

Great things are being done in the small village of Teerijärvi in Finland, quite literally too. That’s because Rani Plast is manufacturing the world’s widest seven-layer plastic film here.

AT 50 METERS HIGH, Rani Plast’s factory building is a spectacular landmark in the surrounding village. No wonder then that Sales Manager Christer Vidjeskog and CEO Jari Palosaari look so small next to the giant machine the size of a small highrise building.

The production line is an impressive sight – the molten plastic is injected into a die 2.3 metres in diameter, from which it is blown up as a bubble towards the high ceiling. When it has almost reached the industrial hall’s ceiling, the enormous bubble of film is pressed together using a roller mill as if in a huge mangle. The end result is plastic film up to 22 metres wide.

“The process requires height to allow the film to cool down before it is folded and reeled up. This means that the size of the production line dictates the height of the building,” Vidjeskog explains.

Rani Plast is the only company in the world that makes seamless seven-layer film this wide.

THE UNIQUE TECHNOLOGY of the film machine, which was pressed into service at the turn of the years 2016–17, is based on seven extruders that melt and mix the pellets of raw material into a mass. The extruders give the plastic film its structure, which consists of seven layers. This is significant because previously Rani has manufactured wide film using a similar but smaller production line that produced three layer film at a maximum width of 18 metres. Perhaps the most notable thing is that there are no seams even in Rani’s widest film.

With its seven-layer film, Rani Plast’s new machine is unique in the world.

“Rani Plast is the only company in the world that makes seamless film this wide in seven layers. Seamlessness guarantees that the film is leakproof, whereas the several layers allow us to vary our recipes for plastics more than ever. By varying the production materials, we can create film with different properties, such as those that improve the storage life of animal feed,” Palosaari says.

“A long storage life improves the quality of the feed, while top quality silage helps to maximise productivity, which is one of the greatest challenges of dairy and beef production worldwide. In order to find solutions for this challenge, the industry needs better packaging solutions,” Vidjeskog continues.

THE INVESTMENT was more than 16 million euros in total, the single largest investment Rani Plast has ever made. It took several months to install the machine, but after commissioning production has run according to plan.

“The machine itself has worked excellently during its commissioning but the packing and labelling of rolls proved a challenge. We have had to work very hard to make all the parts of the line work as intended. But now production is running like a dream,” Palosaari says.

Even though the new and unknown always brings along some challenges, the investment has been profitable. The new machine more than doubles the company’s production of wide film and the entire factory’s production capacity has increased by approximately 15% since the machine was adopted.

The most notable thing is that even the widest film is seamless.

“You have to remember that wider film takes more material – the production line consumes about 2.3 tons of plastic raw material an hour. You also need more storage space. With the commissioning of this machine, we have had to rethink our storage solutions for raw materials and the finished film. A huge reform like this requires great contributions from the whole company, but I haven’t regretted taking this path for a minute,” Palosaari smiles.

AS FARMS KEEP growing bigger and bigger, the demand for wide agricultural film increases. The new width has allowed Rani Plast to also develop new products.

“The 22-metre wide film is found, for example, in our RaniCover, RaniBel and RaniSilo products, which are used for covering silage clamps. Our RaniPeat product, on the other hand, is used to cover peat piles,” Vidjeskog says.

Currently, the film manufactured with the large new machine goes to agriculture and the peat industry. According to Vidjeskog, the new products have also allowed Rani Plast to expand its operations to new markets.

“Our exports have increased significantly. As well as to Europe, we export more and more to North and South America, where our 22-metre, or 72-foot, seamless film has become a new standard. The new machine and the products we have developed since commissioning it have raised a great deal of interest all over the world, which is a huge competitive advantage for us.”