Smyth Companies Sees Large Returns on FIRST Company Certification

A little can equal a lot. Take, for example, the incrementally small bump in price to go from a medium to large soft drink at any fast food restaurant: How can McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and the like make any meaningful profit from selling an additional 20-oz. of soda for pennies? The answer is, they don’t: They make a few cents on each transaction. But when those pennies are multiplied by the 60 million customers McDonald’s serves every day, it equals some serious coin.

Smyth Companies logoThat same logic can be applied to Flexographic Image Reproduction Specifications & Tolerances (FIRST) Company Certification: On a single job, maybe a printer only saves a couple minutes, a few feet of waste or one fewer pull to match. But multiply that by the number of presses—in FTA member Smyth Companies’ case, 36 machines comprising flexo, litho, digital and screen—and locations—for Smyth, a half dozen in five states—and those insignificant savings compound into something real and tangible.

“The benefits of our implementation were clear from the very first project to go through a press, when our operators ran to their numbers and matched the proof on the first pull,” reveals Kim Madigan, director of corporate color management at Smyth. “The change was noticeable.”

Here, FLEXO Magazine talks to Madigan, Marketing Communications Manager Bill Orme, and some FIRST Certified employees, who discuss the company wide effects they’ve seen from the various certifications, the need for standards and how FIRST Company Certification delivers an important message to customers.

FIRST Company Certification

FLEXO Magazine: Achieving FIRST Company Certification is the end of a long road. How does it feel to have reached it?

Kim Madigan: It feels like Smyth is being recognized for processes we implemented ourselves years ago. We’re happy all the hard work has resulted in this certification, and that we have the FIRST branding to signify all that effort.

FLEXO: Take us through Smyth’s timeline to reaching FIRST Company Certification: When did you achieve each of the other requisite certifications?

Madigan: Our Minneapolis facility has been compliant with the processes of FIRST since 2005. But working to actually become certified added another level of commitment. We put 40 percent of employees through the online courses. They prepared for the on site audit, and are now submitting data weekly to the FIRST certification portal.

FLEXO: Why did Smyth initially seek out FIRST Certification? What made the company decide that printing to the numbers and statistical process control were essential?

Madigan: Smyth is committed to statistical process control. The FIRST Certification signifies to our customers that we have our process under control. It also allows us to provide customers data using a variety of systems or data collection theories in a concise manner. We can provide verifications from one data collection methodology.

FLEXO: Was the decision to ultimately achieve FIRST Company Certification, and therefore the other certifications, a means to an end, or did you set out to achieve a single certification and later decided to build on that?

Madigan: The FIRST Company Certification did not exist when we initially implemented the methodology. Our ultimate goal, more than 10 years ago, was to develop a consistent, repeatable color workflow in order to increase productivity, improve customer satisfaction and reduce waste. At the same time, we were trying to create a team atmosphere internally that would break down communication barriers, enhancing both internal and external customer confidence.

FLEXO: What was the employee response to FIRST Certification?

Smyth Companies FIRST Company Certification

Madigan: We definitely had some doubters within the organization when we began our optimization effort. Change is difficult. But because our Minneapolis facility was so far along with its implementation program, the individual and plant level certifications were “icing on the cake.” Employees are now engaged and continue to ask when they will be able to take the individual classes.

FLEXO: Were employees permitted to go through the training on company time/computers?

Madigan: Smyth set up computers for use by employees during work hours. They were also able to take the individual courses on their own time, from home.

FLEXO: How does FIRST Certification change day to day activities at Smyth?

Madigan: Smyth now transfers the data it has been collecting to the FIRST Certification portal, in addition to adding the numbers to our own databases.

FLEXO: Do employees notice a change in what’s coming off the press?

Madigan: The benefits of our implementation were clear from the very first project to go through a press, when our operators ran to their numbers and matched the proof on the first pull. Yes, the change was noticeable.

FLEXO: How are Smyth’s various FIRST Certifications integrated into promotion materials and conveyed to clients?

Bill Orme: We use the FIRST logo on all proofs going out to customers, and we use the methodologies to share color information with all of our separators and customers. We also talk about FIRST and use the logo in sales presentations to existing and potential customers, and feature it prominently on our website and other marketing materials.

FLEXO: What does Company Certification add in terms of attracting new clients? How does it strengthen your marketing abilities?

Madigan: We’re hearing from more and more customers who have questions about the FIRST certification. Many requests for information (RFI’s) from existing and potential customers ask about our color management efforts, and explaining FIRST is an effective way to demonstrate that we have a controlled and repeatable process. For customers and prospects who are more knowledgeable about printing and prepress, the FIRST logo is that “feather in the cap” signifying our commitment to process control.

FLEXO: Before receiving FIRST Company Certification, Smyth underwent an on site audit. How did that go?

Madigan: The audit was a nice confirmation that everything we had put in place was working. It also got us to look deeper for process verifications and set up additional audits to keep us from sliding every day in all areas.

FLEXO: What would you say to a printer considering any FIRST Certifications?

Madigan: Certification is worth investigating even if you have a color managed operation. If you are color managed already, your team will understand the FIRST vocabulary, and they’ll know why the company is committed to this process. If you are not currently color managed, this is the starting point for communication and global understanding of what is going on in all processes that support the pressroom.

FLEXO: How large is Smyth? Number of locations/presses/employees/shifts?

Orme: We operate six production locations. They are:

  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Austin, MN
  • Bedford, VA
  • Wilmington, MA
  • Green Bay, WI
  • Golden, CO

Most of the time, our facilities operate 24 hours a day, six days a week. Currently we employ approximately 480 people. We have 36 presses total, and the technologies represented are flexo/UV flexo; lithography; digital and screen.

FLEXO: In what market segment does the company do business?

Orme: Our primary markets served are food and beverage, personal care, household care and automotive.