Advanced Manufacturing | 07.09.22 | 5 min

Quality packaging "made in Entlebuch"

On March 30, 2022, a world first will be presented at the "Empack" packaging trade fair in Zurich: Ecopack from KISTAG. It is the world's first climate-neutral wooden packaging. Commented as an "ecological marvel", Ecopack corresponds exactly to the slogan of KISTAG from Entlebuch: Individual, innovative, simply KISTAG. We wanted to know more.

"We design and manufacture each package individually according to the customer's wishes," explains Ruedi Zihlmann, Head of Planning and Development at KISTAG. The company hardly knows any standardization. This is due to the competitive situation and price pressure: For the Swiss market, speed is what counts with simple packaging, or you have to be able to offer complex solutions in order to survive. A comprehensive service, which is upstream and downstream of the actual packaging, rounds off the product range. The masterpiece "Ecopack" proves: creating complexity is no problem for KISTAG. The special thing about the Ecopack packaging, which is certified with the firstclimate label: it is consistently CO2-neutral. The pollutants in the production process are mainly emitted before the materials arrive at the workshop. In addition, Ecopack is recyclable, modulable and is assembled without tools. With these special features, the world novelty sets a completely new standard as far as ecological packaging is concerned. It is not surprising that Ecopack is the ideal ticket to new customers for KISTAG. Once they are convinced of the principle, the prototype can be manufactured individually according to customer requirements. Further types of packaging are already planned for the "Ecopack family".

Careful use of resources

The start after the launch has been successful: Ecopack has got off to a successful start, interest is high. Sustainability is therefore a trump card for KISTAG - and slowly but steadily also a duty. "Careful use of natural resources is an important concern for us. But customers also have increasingly specific expectations. Because they naturally pursue their own climate goals," says Zihlmann. Sustainability is evident in various areas at KISTAG. For example, in the use of resources: 95% of the solid wood processed comes from local forests. A photovoltaic system with an area of 1000 square meters is located on the roofs of the production halls. On sunny days, KISTAG can completely supply itself with its own energy. An expansion of the plant is already being planned. "Of course, it could go even further: Relying exclusively on electric trucks for transports would be a sensible approach," says Zihlmann. At the moment, however, this is still a question of cost. Economical use of financial resources is a top priority at KISTAG. "We have had some catching up to do in recent years". For example, the company has built two new production halls since 2016 and doubled its machinery. "These investments have enabled KISTAG to continue to grow, and failures of individual machines no longer affect the ability to deliver," says Zihlmann. Not to be forgotten is the consistency in dealing with partners. The fact that KISTAG is able to get its materials in the current difficult times is due in no small part to its long-standing relationships with suppliers.

Creative minds create innovations

"Packaging in general doesn't have an easy time of it. Everyone needs it, but no one wants to pay for it," says Zihlmann. However, a change of attitude is taking place here, he says. "Many of our customers appreciate high-quality packaging and see it as adding value to the product." A high-quality product deserves packaging of equal value, or to put it another way, you should be able to tell from the packaging that it contains the highest quality. For example, KISTAG designed tiltable packaging for a customer's magnum wine bottle. However, packaging for the end product is the exception at KISTAG. The rule is industrial packaging that helps save shipping time. For a customer in the medical industry, for example, KISTAG designed packaging in which the individual parts are perfectly arranged - exactly in the order in which they are subsequently assembled. The best possible protection of the goods is the top priority. The question arises as to the brains behind these creative ideas. Are they university graduates in packaging design or wood technology? "Not at all," says Zihlmann. "The innovations come from skilled carpenters and joiners. It takes practitioners to get the technical insight." One challenge, however, he says, is that there are no trained professionals in the packaging field. These are trained internally at KISTAG. The shortage of skilled workers has also left its mark on KISTAG. The training of apprentices is therefore emphasized. "We are also very open to lateral entrants". For example, there is a young woman working at the company who worked at KISTAG during the semester breaks of a study program outside the industry. She was hooked on working at KISTAG and stayed. "We have a very loyal workforce. Our employees stay with us for an average of 15 years," Zihlmann says. A decisive factor is certainly the great quality of life in Schüpfheim. 80 percent of the workforce can spend their lunch break at home, which is very much appreciated.

Impressive variety of products

After the informative talk with Mr. Zihlmann, it's time to get a taste of the company air. Ruedi Zihlmann takes me into each building and through each individual department. The typical smell of freshly sawn wood pervades, sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker. I am amazed at how little mechanized, standardized work is done despite the size of the company. The employees are concentrated on their work, much of it is manual labor. The variety of parts and products in the halls is impressive. Finished and semi-finished packaging of all types and sizes alternates with individual wooden boards, here a kitchen drawer system, there an element for store fitting. Everything has its order and its system. Ruedi Zihlmann explains what many of the products are, takes the parts apart and shows me how they work. The number of constructions, which are unique to KISTAG, is remarkable. We enter the last hall, on the top floor of which the original reason for my visit is waiting: Ecopack. Like a treasure that must be protected from the prying eyes of the public. Visually, to the layman's eye, the novelty is not much different from other packaging. But the knowledge is enough: Ecopack is the packaging of the future.


Anja Hammerich
Manager Communication/Content