Kurz Australia celebrates its 50-year milestone

An excerpt from AP September 2020 

Kurz Australia marks 50 years of operations, having grown from a rather unusual start. For Kurz Australia managing director Stephen Pratt, who has been with the business since 2014, celebrating 50 years in existence means driving innovation and delivering on quality for its Australian customers. And the company has been doing just that since its beginnings.

The idea of Kurz Australia developed when Geoff Johnstone, who was working for a shoe manufacturing business, Blandford, back in the day, was using Kurz foils for decorating leather products that the business was manufacturing.

Johnstone saw that there was a wider opportunity for the usage of Kurz foils in Australia and wrote up a business plan, which he sent across to Germany to the Kurz family – to Dr. Herbert Kurz, who was then the CEO.

Kurz was so impressed with the plan that he travelled to Australia with his son, Walter, to meet Johnstone. About 12 months later, in 1970, they opened up Kurz Australia with Johnstone as its initial managing director.

Kurz Australia was the first English speaking subsidiary of Kurz as at the time of Kurz Australia’s set up, the other subsidiaries were based in Europe.

Kurz Australia managing director Stephen Pratt

“The Australian operation has always been a very important part of the Kurz business,” Pratt mentioned.

“The business model used in Australia, of bringing in a local managing director and setting up direct operations and direct sales distribution, became the business model for the 23 subsidiaries that Kurz now has.”

Ideas and innovation were also being contributed by the Australian subsidiary.

“One of those innovative, big ideas that came out of Australia was the use of decorative foils onto wine labels. This wasn’t being done anywhere else in the world at that time,” Pratt said.

The Kurz family was made known of the idea when Dr. Kurz, Walter Kurz and Geoff Johnstone visited one of Kurz Australia’s customers, the Ever-Redi Press Label business in Griffith, who showed them some of the applications that were being done with Kurz foils.

The Ever-Redi Press Label business was hot stamping gold and silver foil onto wine labels and this intrigued Dr. Kurz and Walter Kurz,” Pratt said.

“They then took that idea overseas and promoted it to other wine districts, particularly in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain and fast forward 50 years to today, almost all wine labels have foil on them.

“The idea was so unique to the point that Count Cinzano, who was the head of the Cinzano wine and spirits company, visited Ever-Redi Press and saw for himself what was being done and took the idea back to his company. All Cinzano products then had foil on them moving forward.”

A rare photo of the first three generations of Kurz ownership: Dr. Herbert Kurz, his father Konrad Kurz and his grandfather Leonhard Kurz

In the early days of Kurz, Johnstone used to meet clients and show them how to utilise Kurz products in applications, which also led to him pioneering the use of woodgrain foils to decorate furniture.

“Kurz was a supplier of an imitation wood grain product called Touch Wood, that was used extensively in for decoration in the caravan industry in Australia through the ‘70s and ‘80s,” Pratt said.

“That application was then exported and duplicated in other key markets overseas, creating a huge business for the Kurz family.”

Since then, Kurz Australia has continued making its mark in the industry and is now the major player for embellishment in the labels and packaging space.

“Decorative metalised foil has become such an integral part of labels and packaging. It’s not only being used on labels for wine bottles but also perfume bottles, pharmaceuticals, make-up and personal care products, as well as food and other FMCG goods. The highly reflective nature of metalised transfer foils attract the eye and attention of the buyer, enticing them to pick it up and buy it,” Pratt said.

“Kurz Australia was and still is driven by the market. Back then, the market started asking for foils to go on to labels and in those days, it was wet gum labels. So, they needed to be hot foil stamped onto the product and then the label was applied to the to the product.

“And in the packaging industry, they needed transfer products that could go on to cardboard, cartons and coated products and as packaging technologies progressed, then onto various plastic substrates like polypropylene, polyethylene, and other forms of plastics that we now routinely see decorated.”

Unusual applications for Kurz

Little is known about some of the other work Kurz Australia does out of the printing industry. The company works within the automotive field amongst others, for example, with Mercedes Benz.

“Mercedes approached Kurz, wanting to remove chromium out of their manufacturing process because it was noxious and extremely dangerous to handle from an industrial work, health and safety perspective,” Pratt said.

“Their designers had a vision for a front grille with a revolutionary diamond pattern in chrome. Working with Kurz, we created a robotic stamping machine capable of stamping onto the highly complex design of the diamond grille of the current Mercedes Benz C-series.

“We also created a new metallic chrome-like transfer coating that is able to meet and withstand all of the rigors and very difficult specifications of the automotive industry like oxidisation, the harshest of weathers, and chemicals used.

“We were able to fulfil the Mercedes Benz designers’ vision of a ‘diamond’ chrome grille, and solve the health and safety issue they faced through the continued use of chromium in their workplace. This is a great example of Kurz’s solution-based philosophy and a true win-win story.”

The company also designed an interior lighting system for BMW’s Mini Clubman range.

“It enables the user to change the colour and effects of the interior lights of the cabin. We’ve also designed a touch control sensor that is moulded into the central steering wheel during the injection moulding process using the unique PolyIC technology from Kurz,” Pratt mentioned.

Developing long-term partnerships with our local customers, and sharing the unmatched knowledge that Kurz Australia has gained over 50 years in business, the business is now seen as a go-to company for application and technical knowledge within the industry.

“People come to us because we know what we’re doing; we often work alongside the converter and the designer together to ensure that they, along with their customers, are all happy with the result at the end of the process,” he said.

“We take advantage of trends in the industry as well – we have an active design department that (when travel was allowed) attend fashion shows in London and Paris to see the latest trend products, colours, fabrics and designs, which then flow into our trend colours in the general market in the following years.”

Moving towards the future 

Currently going through and surviving a pandemic-stricken world is no easy feat and Kurz Australia has plans in place to ensure that the business keeps running far into the future.

“We realised pretty early on that we couldn’t transact with our customers in the usual ways. e-Commerce is one of the biggest areas of opportunity post-COVID-19. We’re also utilising more electronic communication tools to work with our customers and troubleshoot for them remotely,” Pratt said.

“We introduced the Kurz Web Shop about nine months ago and since COVID-19, its uptake has been growing steadily.

“When COVID-19 first came out, we also had a massive run on some products in our range including thermal transfer ribbons, which were used for fast, inexpensive packaging for high demand products like hand sanitisers and industrial chemicals, as well as foils used for FMCG, which were in demand at that stage.

“As this pandemic has extended out, we’ve started to see a shift back towards our traditional markets like the wine industry and farm goods products.”

The original Kurz Australia managing director Geoff Johnston and Karin Heinz, export manager of Kurz Germany

According to Pratt, the future of Kurz lies with the future of packaging.

“We will continue to innovate and follow the trends that are happening within the packaging industry. One thing for sure is that whatever we produce in the future, it will be done in a way that is far more environmentally-friendly than what was done previously,” he said.

With packaging becoming ‘smarter’ in the future with the integration of data smarts and technology, Pratt claimed that Kurz Australia will have a bigger role to play in that area in coming years.

“We see this in our Trustconcept solutions which we market for anti-counterfeiting and brand protection. That space has become interactive, where it used to be just stamping of highly complex images which couldn’t be counterfeited.

“These days it’s also about being able to scan that image and provide information for the user, whether that be track and trace, serial number recognition or customer and consumer information about the product itself, or other goods and services.

“There are a lot of companies that don’t make it past their first few years, so delivering consistently for our customers for 50 years whilst innovating with the latest of technologies and meeting customer needs is what drives us ahead. We are a family-owned company and with family values at our core, we will forge on.”

Kurz as a global conglomerate

The global conglomerate of Kurz was started in the 1890s, beating (hammering) ingots of 24ct gold down into sheets of gold leaf approximately 0.1 micron thick so that it could be gilded or pressed onto the covers and bindings of books.

When Kurz invented a vacuum metalisation process, which used pure aluminium that could then be coloured during a subsequent printing process instead of pure gold, this revolutionised and industrialised the world of stamping foils and created and expanded markets in previously unthought-of applications, catapulting Kurz to the forefront of the global hot and cold transfer products market across the globe.

“What it meant was that instead of using real gold, Kurz was able to use aluminium, which was melted at a very high temperature and then applied onto a polyester coating in that vacuum metalisation process,” Pratt said.

“Once applied, you could print the aluminium with colours other than the standard gold and silver. So, when we talk about Kurz transfer foils, and we have some 300 different shades, you still get the shine and the bling of the metal, but those shades are created through a printing process.

“That process fast-tracked Kurz from a bespoke backyard industry into a highly industrialised industry.”

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