Whether new printing techniques, spectacular designs or bespoke custom-made products: Rastal has set benchmarks over the past years. The drinking vessel customising company has also proven its knowhow and top performance in the promotional product sector.
Although the dimensions of the Rastal headquarters in Höhr-Grenzhausen are impressive, in spite of its vastness the premises are located in the centre of the small town in Western Germany, which is an indication for the close links the ceramic company that was founded in 1919 has with the region. The region is also known as “potter land” due to the clay found there and its tradition in the production of earthenware and ceramic products. However, this nickname no longer does justice to today’s alignment of the regional industry. “The local ceramic industry has more than just ‘potters’, today it stands for high-tech“, explained Sabine Sahm-Rastal, co-proprietor of Rastal. “For example, dentistry products are made here, as well as acid or fire protection products or tools made out of ceramic – as well as innovative glass or porcelain designs and customisations, as in the case of Rastal.“
The customising specialist has been demonstrating its innovative spirit for decades: For instance, in 1964 it brought the first bespoke glass onto the market for the Bitburg Brewery, numerous further brands followed suit with their own exclusive glasses. Today, the programme encompasses over 1,000 forms. Around 100 million drinking vessels leave the production department in Höhr-Grenzhausen every year – that corresponds to approx. 300,000 a day. True to the motto “Rastal. The glass. And more,” the company designs and customises not only glasses, but also cups and mugs made of porcelain and ceramic. The Product Manager Ulrike Müller stated, “We develop cups, mugs and glasses especially for hot drinks, which are often implemented as branded promotional products.”
The company has been ISO 9001 certified (quality management) for 20 years. As one of the first companies in the industry, Rastal placed its bets on quality very early on.
For the customising processes, the company combines artisan skill with fully automatic production processes and technologies. “For the industrial customising of glass, ceramic direct screen printing is still the preferred choice,” explained authorised signatory, Anjo Tegelaers. “It is economic, very durable and offers a wide spectrum of colours.”
Up until five years ago, the customising of glass could only be carried out using ceramic enamel dyes, which had to be hot branded at approx. 600°C. Rastal presents an alternative in the form of the UV direct print: As opposed to conventional techniques, this innovative method uses organic dyes, that no longer have to be hotbranded, but which are instead hardened. “Our first UV fully-automated machine that went into operation in 2009 was a world novelty – the first machine of its kind that was ever built for drinking vessels,” stated Sahm-Rastal. “This was considered impossible for a long time within the industry. The development that we carried out to an extent in-house, was extremely sophisticated.” In order to guarantee the precision of the imprint on the glass and porcelain, the machines have to be able to deal with every form of geometry – from round, to twisted and flattened, through to angular. Rastal has in the meantime three in-house UV machines, which are equipped with servo-controlled printing stations and optic orientation.
This allows the pattern to be precisely aligned to predefined elements. The glasses are pre-treated to ensure an increased adhesion. The blank product has to pass through several stations before it turns into the finished product. Each individual colour is dried under UV light, before the next colours are applied in further processing steps. Finally, the printing result is checked by sensors in the form of an automatic all-round check. Since the fully-automatic method requires high set-up efforts, it is only viable for order volumes of at least 3,000 pieces. For smaller quantities, Rastal also offers organic dye customising using a 3-colour machine or per manual screen print.
Organic dyes have a number of advantages: “The UV print is energy-efficient and kind to the environment, furthermore the dyes are lead and cadmium-free, which means they can be implemented for areas that come into contact with the mouth without reservations. “Because the glasses don’t have to be burnt during the UV printing process, even the particularly break-resistant, hardened glasses from our collection can be decorated without the curing being destroyed as a result of the heat generated in the burning process,“ added Müller. “This is particularly interesting for implementation in the catering sector. In terms of dishwasher-compatibleness, the organic dyes are just as efficient as the ceramic dyes.“
However, the biggest advantage of the innovative process is its print quality: The UV print produces sharp, photo-realistic printing results and the possibility to print on a transparent or dark background. The 4c-screening can be implemented accurately and enables the finest patterns. “Using the UV tech process and its organic dye system, all colours including also matt gold and silver effects can be produced,” stated Sahm-Rastal. “The real precious metal colours have to be fired.“ This is why the selection falls on direct printing using ceramic dyes for some orders, here the dyes are burnt into the products scratch-proof, furthermore the colours gold and platinum can be further processed so that they have a shiny effect.
Overall, thanks to its capacities in the printing area, Rastal today offers and combines a wide range of innovative decorating options, which are long since not limited down to optical attributes: Additional stimuli for all of the senses are for instance offered in the form of thermo-sensitive finishes (DecoHot), tangible motifs (Deco- Touch), frost effects (DecoCool) or scented prints (DecoSmell) – multisensory customisations that are highly interesting for corporate branding.
Unmistakable brand messengers
For those companies for whom this does not suffice, exclusive glasses or cups can be created thanks to the in-house design department – a service that is in the meantime used by customers of all kinds of industries, including beverage manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, coffee roasting companies or fast-food chains. After the first design draft, a 3D animation is created per CAD technology, subsequently a first prototype is created per 3D print. Here, not only design requirements have to be met, technical obstacles also have to be overcome: “The transformation of logos and key visuals into a 3D glass relief is quite a challenge,” commented Jakob Dück, responsible for CAD construction and product design. “Not every filigree line can be exactly reproduced on glass, because the material has certain tolerances. If the glass is to be imprinted on a certain spot on top of the relief logo, a groove has to be incorporated for the orientation, so that the machine places the additional print in the right place.“ Ultimately, the customer receives a unique glass brand messenger.
Some of the creations that Rastal has designed over the past years prove that customised glasses are becoming increasingly popular in the promotional products sector: For example, a dosing cup for the medicine Doppelherz was implemented as an onpack, a similar product had previously been created for Klosterfrau Melissengeist, which the promotional products distributor received a Promotional Gift Award for. Recently a series of exclusive latte macchiato glasses was created in Höhr-Grenzhausen for McCafé, which were implemented in Austria for a premium collection campaign.
World Cup and Oktoberfest promotion
“Incidentally, we offer customers from the promotional products market, who don’t directly want to have a custom-made product designed, own assortments designed especially to meet the needs of the industry,” Müller added. “We not only develop new shapes of glasses for the beverage industry, but also concepts for the promotional products and promotion sector.“ Rastal is quite often pioneering here too, – the doublewalled ToGo porcelain mug launched a few years ago was one of the first of its kind and has in the meantime been imitated countless times. Numerous products are available in special gift packaging.
10% of the overall turnover is achieved by the Promotional Products Service division (WAS), which besides the beverage industry and trade channels is one of three independent corporate divisions. Shortly before the Football World Cup, the number of fan items produced in Höhr-Grenzhausen will increase rapidly due to the special editions the beverage manufacturers are ordering for retail promotions. The same will apply when Rastal deals with is next big special batch: For years the company has been imprinting the official beer glass for the Oktoberfest, which is redesigned every year and which is not only sold via the souvenir and merchandising sector but also on the promotional products market. “The tankard is an extremely popular gift for companies that operate abroad,” reported Sahm-Rastal. “It sort of is a symbol for ‘Germany with a handle’”. The earthenware blank is incidentally produced in “potter land” – which thus closes the circle. However, an awareness for tradition is often an important driver of innovative power.