Frankston Packaging Sees Success with <em>FIRST</em>

Norm Bullock (left) and Kyle Eldred, on Frankston’s Heidelberg XL106
Norm Bullock (left) and Kyle Eldred, on Frankston’s Heidelberg XL106

Greg Horney

Frankston Packaging Co. has been a folding carton converter since 1957. In 2000, Norm Bullock and Kyle Eldred bought the company and transitioned it from an operational focused business to a customer focused one. They emphasized quick turnaround times, JIT inventory and industry leading quality via employee training, system improvements and nearly $11 million in investments to achieve an 11 percent annual growth rate.

Many of Frankston’s customers also had flexible packaging and label needs that required the same service and quality as their folding cartons. Specifically, they wanted one stop shopping, quicker turnaround times and better management of their brand colors across multiple packaging platforms. Frankston also saw flexible packaging growing at an approximately 4 percent to 5 percent annual rate, while the folding carton market was relatively flat. Accordingly, Frankston decided to enter this new market in December 2014 with the initial purchase of a 17-in., 8-color flexo press and a slitter/rewinder.

While the company felt comfortable that it could address the service and lead time issues, it realized the concerns over quality and brand color would require something more robust. And so Frankston decided to address this through a multi tiered approach involving FIRST (Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances) Certification.


To begin, with the new flexo department at the ground level, standards and procedures needed to be developed, and a full understanding of the flexo reproduction process had to be established. Frankston’s culture is very process driven. SOPs and training are critical parts of the company’s success. Establishing similar processes in the new flexo department was essential to achieving its objectives.

A selection of Frankston Packaging's flexible packaging prints
A selection of Frankston Packaging’s flexible packaging prints

After joining FTA, Frankston learned of FIRST Certification and realized the benefits and focus were synergistic with the company’s folding carton business. Specifically, the focus on process control and repeatability, as well as improved color management and consistency, married well with customer needs. The other benefits, including waste reduction, reduced downtime and increased productivity, also fit the bill.

Vendors were an integral part of the initial optimization, fingerprint and characterization of the press, but Frankston realized the ability to perform these steps on its own was going to be essential to owning the process. The decision was made to pursue FIRST Certification for all key personnel. To help implement FIRST, a production manager was assigned and he went on to achieve Implementation Specialist Certification. The pressmen became FIRST Press Operator certified to ensure proper execution and sustainment of the process. Neither the pressmen nor production manager was new to FIRST concepts, but going through the certification process allowed them to better understand the critical steps, specifications and tolerances to ensure the image repeatability the company needed to be successful.

With key staff certified, Frankston began profiling to the variety of substrates it was going to be running with all the key input variables for their process. Print was matching proofs well and running to the numbers. Although prepress was still an external process at this point, forward thinking prompted Frankston’s offset prepress manager to be FIRST Prepress Operator certified, with the idea that this would eventually become an internal process. The certification would prove to be helpful to attack the next level of the quality/brand color focus.

Color & Inspection

Frankston also realized that managing brand colors would require a unique process of proofing, since in many cases it would be offset printing paperboard and flexographic printing on film. Matching color between those two processes would be critical.

Accordingly, the company invested in a new proofing system that would allow it to proof to actual substrates (e.g. polyethylene terephthalate, polypropylene, polyethylene, solid bleached sulfate, clay coated news back, etc.), eliminating the requirement to simulate various substrates. Executives felt by using this approach, with both processes properly profiled, they could see in real time the final effect substrate and printing process had to best manage customers’ brand colors. Although the fingerprinting, characterization and process control system is similar between the printing process, it was critical for the prepress manager to grasp the flexo side of the business to help understand key differences in reproduction of process and line print.

Rick Fisher, ensuring proper impression and registration
Rick Fisher, ensuring proper impression and registration

Lastly, in keeping with FIRST’s process control steps of reducing waste and color variation, Frankston needed to make sure that both defects and color variance are measured on press during production runs. The company’s philosophy has always been to catch the defect at the source and in a timely manner. Since rolls of film tend to consist of high lineal footage, sampling color and quality at the end of a production roll could result in thousands of feet of waste. The company therefore made the decision to invest in an inline defect and color inspection system for the press.

The color inspection system uses an inline spectrophotometer to measure target L*a*b* values, the same technology utilized on the folding carton side of the plant. This new system is able to read in real time the color patches that are in place for process control of the print during the run.

Key benefits are:

  • Spot colors ran on the folding carton side could be entered and trended for color shift during production on the flexo side
  • The ability to trend density readings on the process colors during a production run was essential in ensuring established FIRST density standards were met

The process control element of FIRST continues in the department with establishing press condition sheets for each job ran. This is to ensure the press is put in the same condition from run to run. The aniloxes are cleaned regularly and stored properly after each use with their corresponding tags and plates are labeled with unique register marks that indicate proper rotation of the print. The added use of an X-Rite eXact helps the operator to measure and troubleshoot other issues that could affect print as well. Finally, regular preventative maintenance keeps the press performing at its best.

With this approach now in place, Frankston Packaging is meeting its customers’ needs across multiple platforms. FIRST has been at the heart of the flexo department since its inception and its processes are a part of how Frankston manages its printing on a daily basis.

About the Author: Greg Horney is the production manager at Frankston Packaging. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Rochester Institute of Technology and has 30 years of experience in the flexo industry. Greg also served as an Excellence in Flexography Awards judge for two years.