[Editor’s Note: This article is republished from BoxScore Magazine, the official publication of AICC. It represents the first in a series designed to expand coverage of the corrugated marketplace via partnership between FTA and AICC, and their respective magazines. Collaboration between the memberships of both organizations is encouraged.]
Whether you call them “factories of the future,” “cutting-edge” or “forward-thinking,” a small group of industry leaders shares an overarching commitment to remaining at the forefront of what is possible—and what may become possible—in packaging. Their unique approaches highlight the range of opportunities available for companies willing to take the lead.
Committed to the Cutting Edge
John Kelley, president of FTA member Dusobox, says his personal commitment to the cutting edge came about while talking with a Dusobox employee. “I’m third-generation in this business,” he says. “I think my commitment to what we’re doing now started when I joined the company after college. I sat down with one of the original employees of Dusobox that my grandfather had hired. She said, ‘Your grandfather’s done X, Y and Z, and your father’s done X, Y and Z. So, what do you want to do?’ At the time, I’m sure I had a deer-in-the-headlights look! But that led to me asking how we can best help our customers. How can we make a one-plant, multigenerational family business relevant to major brand owners? How do we bring more value to customers and introduce our thinking to a broader customer base? These are the questions that continue to drive me, my brother Richard and our entire leadership team.”
While focusing on the cutting edge was the next step in Dusobox’s growth as a mature company, a commitment to the cutting edge was fundamental to the core vision behind Packrite. Michael Drummond, its founder and president, notes he launched his company specifically to be a forward-thinking supplier to the industry. “We started as a company that would help other companies be more successful with all they do,” he says. “We created something that was different from what anyone else had ever done before.”
At Vanguard Packaging, CEO Mark Mathes decided that it was a choice of being cutting-edge—or else. “What drove me was the desire to still be in business in 10 years,” he says. “You’re either going to do it or you’re going to get eaten up. In today’s world, anybody can be anything. The lines between independents and integrateds have completely blurred. Yes, there is always a place for well-run, niche-based companies. But if you put this technology in, even the small guy can play big.”
One good reason to operate a step or two back from the cutting edge is the cost commitment involved in constantly implementing the latest technologies.
Mark admits, “We don’t even look at equipment available today. If you can buy it today, it’s already obsolete. We have already begun to put out POs for equipment that’s two years out.”
“The technology in our industry is changing so fast, you’re always trying to catch up,” echoes Michael. “I remember one time when we bought some equipment from a major machinery supplier. By the time I went to Europe to see it before it shipped, they had introduced a new model!”
Among the machines that help to shape Packrite’s factory of the future, Michael mentions a Bobst Asitrade, custom-built to meet Packrite’s needs. “We followed that with the Masterfold 170 with a double Gyrobox, the only one of its type in North America, which we bought more than five years ago. Then we bought the Mastercut 2.1, which is one of 12 in the country. In 2016 we installed the Masterflute MF324 Asitrade single-face laminator, which is ‘bleeding-edge’ technology.”
Of course, choosing the right “bleeding-edge” equipment means matching new functionality to a packager’s real-world needs. Michael notes that the Masterfold 170 features a cloud-based tracking option for all its gluing information. “If we ever had a quality problem, we could go back into that cloud-based information and trace that back to the specific glue error that may have occurred.”
Dusobox has made a similar commitment. “On our production side, every piece of equipment is state-of-the-art, with the most advanced quality-control features,” John says. “We’ll image every sheet. We’ll inspect every glue point. If there’s any fault, it never gets to the customer. We are embracing zero-defect packaging.”
Mark, though, believes the days of huge, multiple-machine installations are likely coming to an end. “We installed a WSA pre-feeder behind a brand-new Latitude. This pre-feeder is about 30 percent smaller than any other we’re aware of. Space is money. With the right four or five pieces of equipment and the right scheduling of the plant, you can do with 100,000 sq. ft. what it used to take 200,000 sq. ft. to do. In addition, we put in an extremely high-speed laminator, which enabled us to eliminate three traditional laminators, and we still increased capacity. Then we put in a high-speed, short-setup flexo folder/gluer, eliminated others and still increased capacity. I took a total of about six shifts of work down to two shifts. That has translated to the bottom line.”
Forward-thinking companies are not dependent on equipment manufacturers for all of their innovation, however. Dusobox, for example, has teamed with app developer Augment to create an augmented-reality (AR) app it uses as both a design and marketing tool.
AR is the concept behind such popular entertainment apps as Pokémon Go, which allows smartphone users to “see” Pokémon cartoon characters “in the wild” as they explore their own neighborhood, and Instagram filters, which allow smartphone users to add masks and makeup effects to their own selfies in real time. Dusobox designers can design and render near-photorealistic 3D images of a client’s proposed point-of-sale display; then, using their AR mobile app and an iPad, show the client exactly what that display would look like in a real-world environment—without actually producing a single physical prototype.
John credits Dusobox’s Jason Hays with spearheading the app’s development and the company’s relationship with Augment, a company that had previously focused primarily on furniture and hard goods, not retail or point-of-sale. “Now we can get into collaborative discussions regarding POS needs and work with a team in real time, as opposed to days, weeks, whatever,” John says. Such pre-prototype visualization also saves money. “It allows everyone to achieve the largest dividends by capitalizing on the dollars previously wasted on trying to get it right without visualization first.”