Becoming a Full-Service Packaging Partner
Printers and converters of packaging are manufacturers. As a functional description, this may be technically correct, but it doesn’t do justice to the scope and value of the work that full-service package manufacturing entails.
The most competitive producers know that pre- and post-manufacturing support counts as much as anything that takes place on their presses and finishing equipment — and they have oriented their business strategies accordingly.
Producers’ across-the-board expertise often gives customers design and structural options they weren’t aware of, improving the performance as well as the appearance of their packages.
William M. Codo, VP of Accord Carton in Alsip, Ill., recalls a project for a refrigerated dinner kit consisting of individually wrapped meal components that the customer wanted to package in a clamshell surrounded by a cardboard sleeve. The sleeve was to have a large diecut aperture for ventilation, but that caused a production issue — the large opening made the sleeve difficult to run through a folder-gluer.
Accord recommended switching to a more gluer-friendly carton that eliminated the need for the clamshell by enabling the wrapped items to be placed directly into the carton. Air circulation through diecut holes in the top and sides kept the polypropylene window material across the reconfigured opening from fogging. An anchor lock with a tear-off tab for the lid made the container secure to ship and easy to open.
A solution like this, notes Codo, takes time and patience to develop. “You start with version A, and then you tweak it to version B,” he says. But in this case, the revisions “went all the way through the alphabet” before the structure of the package could be finalized.
Different, and Better
Like persistence, practical ingenuity serves printers and converters well. At Colbert Packaging in Lake Forest, Ill., president and COO John Lackner expects to win a contract to produce club-store display packaging that a competitive supplier couldn’t or wouldn’t offer the customer a sustainable alternative for. He says Colbert has proposed replacing the blister cards containing plastic that the customer now uses with pressed paper trays that will work better — without requiring the filling operation to be retooled when the changeover takes place.
One way for packaging producers to assist their customers along these lines is to invest in technologies that let their plants offer a broader range of creative possibilities. Hilda Murray, executive VP of TPC Printing & Packaging in Chattanooga, Tenn., says this is what her company had in mind when it became the first site in North America to install a Scodix E106 digital enhancement press — a device for post-print special effects that the company has put to good use.
It’s the linchpin of a project for pre-launch test packaging that consists of 12 graphic designs on two different substrates in runs of 1,000 for each design: 12,000 cartons in all, with foil stamping, embossing, and silk screening as highlights.
Murray says that instead of having to perform multiple passes on conventional, offline finishing equipment to add the effects, it’s possible to complete them in just two passes through the Scodix E106 (which uses polymers, metallic additions, and other techniques to achieve the desired look and feel).
Murray adds that besides getting great-looking test packaging, the customer also saves money: $25,000 for stamping dies that won’t be needed, and $10,000 for conventional silk screening replaced by simulation of that effect on the Scodix.
A desire to better assist customers with the effectiveness of their creative was behind the recent addition of a third-party design validation service at Bay Cities (Pico Rivera, Calif.), a producer of POP displays as well as retail and industrial packaging.
Nanneke Dinklo, senior director of marketing and branding, says the system uses eye-tracking technology to generate “heat maps” indicating what parts of the design viewers are looking at, and for how long. A panel of experts reviews the findings and sends them with recommendations to Bay Cities, usually within 48 hours.
For packaging producers, the key to adding value beyond basic printing and converting is being involved in projects as early in the planning as possible — ideally, at the creative brief stage, where essential requirements for the package’s structure, appearance, and performance are set.
Dinklo says this is typically what happens at Bay Cities, where the staff includes about 25 graphic and structural designers. Since most customers don’t know how to turn design concepts into effective packaging, they expect Bay Cities to translate their needs — for store displays, transportation, or e-commerce purposes — into the solutions they’re looking for.
“We make the dielines for them,” Dinklo says, adding that the consultation doesn’t end there. Staff designers ensure correct placement and alignment of text and artwork with the help of mock-up cartons. Testing for compliance with International Safe Transit Association (ISTA) protocols for survivability during shipping and distribution could also be part of the assistance provided. As Dinklo points out, there are many factors that a producer must address in developing a successful package.
Until We Get It Right
Lackner says that at Colbert Packaging, every project is reviewed by the company’s structural design group for opportunities to optimize the package, including its performance on filling lines. With the help of Zünd G3 L-3200 cutting systems installed at its plant in Kenosha, Wis., and at its Elkhart, Ind., facility, along with the latest Artios CAD software with 3D renderings, Colbert can show customers multiple iterations of package prototypes until the right combination of form and function has been achieved.
Codo says that while some of Accord Carton’s brand-owning customers provide their own fully realized packaging ideas, others bring “wish lists” for the company’s creative specialists to build concepts around. Although Accord seldom gets directly involved in the graphic design per se, it does advise customers about how their design preferences could affect the cost efficiency of producing the package.
For example, says Codo, a customer requesting a large area of foil stamping on one surface of a package and a smaller hit of foil on another surface would be informed that the total “pull” of the foiling would be excessive and that the design should be reconsidered.
At TPC Printing & Packaging, which specializes in high value-added cartons for spirits, fragrances, cosmetics, and beauty products, creative assistance is very much a family affair. Murray says that she and her three brothers, partners in the 95-year-old Schmissrauter family firm, are all “trench workers” who engage with projects early in the design stage within their respective areas of responsibility (hers is cosmetics).
“The family is totally entrenched in day-to-day operations,” according to Murray, adding that the company’s one-stop services sometimes include help from outside sources of packaging components — for example, ribbons, labels, and thermoformed trays — that TPC doesn’t provide. Whenever there is a contribution from a partner, says Murray, “we assume the liability of that design” as if it were the company’s own.
Pick, Pack, and Profit
Post-manufacturing support in pack-out and fulfillment management can add as much value for customers as the creative assistance they receive upstream. Lackner says that by analyzing patterns of demand, Colbert Packaging’s ERP system lets the company help customers produce and ship their packaging more efficiently. This leads not only to smaller inventories but to less administrative costs as a result of having to process fewer purchase orders.
Accord Carton’s automated, lights-out warehousing and delivery system is, says Codo, one of the first of its kind in North America. Within its high-density, 45,000-sq.-ft. rack storage environment, conveyors and RFID-enabled robotic vehicles transport and keep continuous track of 13,000 pallets of packaging materials. Codo says that because customers can access the warehouse’s database, ordering, releasing, and shipping the quantities they need becomes “much like an online shopping experience” for them.
Few packaging producers have logistics capabilities rivaling those of Bay Cities, which operates secure fulfillment centers in Los Angeles and Chicago. With a combined total of more than 650,000 sq. ft., and more than 96 loading docks and 20 production lines, the centers act as depots for retail products that Bay Cities packs into display containers and reships to wherever the goods are to be sold.
With all of the services they potentially have to offer their customers, says Mike Rottenborn, CEO of HYBRID Software, packaging producers will do well to look beyond printing and converting for opportunities to provide them. He notes that the impetus often comes from customers’ requests for the kinds of support that printers and converters haven’t offered — but now find themselves expected to furnish.
HYBRID Software assists packaging plants and trade shops with solutions for workflow management and file editing. “We get involved whenever production is pending,” says Rottenborn, noting that a HYBRID product, the HYBRID VDP variable data printing solution for labels and packaging, has received a 2019 InterTech Technology Award from Printing Industries of America.
Expertise for the Asking
Customers will also find it advantageous to think of their packaging producers as more than manufacturers. As Dinklo points out, printers and converters often know things brands don’t know about the retail spaces where the packaged products will be displayed. She says that because packaging producers understand the stores’ style guides and other intricacies of distribution, “we are the intermediary between the brand and the retailer. We can help you sell more.”
Murray agrees that producers shouldn’t hesitate to offer this kind of expertise to customers “who are not intimidated by that.” Newcomers to consumer goods packaging, she adds, “can take advantage of our grey hair” and learn what they need to know from those who know it best. Lackner offers the same advice to the industry’s “younger entries,” whom he believes Colbert Packaging has a duty to educate. He says the result of sharing knowledge often is to hear the junior person admit, “I can’t believe what it takes to make a carton.”