Yellowstone Plastics Expands Inventory, Controls Damage with Streamlined Sleeve Storage

Flexo printers are always expanding. While they invest in presses, prepress and postpress equipment, one area that is sometimes, if not often forgotten, is materials storage. What do you do with your inventory?

Yellowstone Plastics of Idaho Falls, ID offers one answer. This flexible packaging printer knows from experience—with more jobs come more sleeves, which are very difficult to store. Inevitably, sleeves are precariously placed on skids, taking up increasing amounts of valuable floor space and becoming at risk of damage by collapsing, or by being bumped.

From production startup in early 2000 to present day, this FTA member facility has gone through several expansions and capital growth projects. It has flourished from a single bag machine operation to an 80,000 sq. ft. plant that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Left to right: Lou Figueria, Naomi Wheeler and Colter Van Eps stand in front of Yellowstone Plastics’ recently installed sleeve storage system.
All photos courtesy of Yellowstone Plastics

Yellowstone is committed to investment in the latest technology, as evidenced by the recent acquisition of a new 67-in., 10-color press. The company’s six wide web, high-speed flexographic presses, solventless laminating capabilities, and myriad converting machinery make Yellowstone Plastics a one-stop for flexible packaging solutions.

“We are more of a customer service outfit. We bend over backward to serve customers’ needs,” notes Lou Figueria, director of printing, mounting and ink. “We are large, but act like a small company that puts the customer first.”

Need for Sleeves

Yellowstone prints with flexo sleeves that are anywhere from 25.5-in. to 60-in. long, depending on the press. A year ago, it utilized haphazard approaches to storing the sleeves. “We used some carts without wheels; and others that we moved around. Another system consisted of welded shelves,” remembers Naomi Wheeler, safety and compliance coordinator. “We grew quickly, to the point where we had sleeves in boxes all over the place. We had to do something.”

Everything was disorganized. Print production team members couldn’t find different-sized sleeves. Some sleeves were damaged because they had tipped over. Efficiencies were lost because it took longer to get jobs ready for press—30 to 45 minutes just to find sleeves.

“We decided that it was important to be more efficient. We looked at a few solutions, realizing that, from start to finish we would tear down our old home-built system,” recalls Rob Kloack, previously mounting supervisor and, now, order processing specialist and graphics assistant. “An important step was that we listened to everybody in our facility to learn how to store sleeves properly and determine what constituted a good system. We wanted to eliminate damage to the sleeves by keeping them upright and it was important that they would not bump into each other. We also needed room to organize them chronologically.”

“The system we installed just shy of one year ago, was economical for us and has saved a lot of money,” comments Figueria. “I had used a storage system at another company and enjoyed it. The system that we invested in was custom-made. If needed, we can add to the unit, rather than buy a completely new system.” One key benefit of the current approach to sleeve storage: it is highly and quickly customizable for sleeve lengths. It does not take long to move pegs back and forth.

Compact and compartmentalized sleeve storage at Yellowstone Plastics, Idaho Falls, ID.

Colter Van Eps, mounting department supervisor, explains, “We wanted to organize the sleeves in length by press and by the same source (sleeve vendor). It is tough to distinguish the sleeves from one another. The difference in size can be only one-half inch and the sleeves from different manufacturers can be the same color, so it was disorganized. Now, everything is labeled nicely. We can find sleeves in 30 seconds.”

Yellowstone used to store 100 sleeves; now it has 700. The facility is full, even with the additions. “If any department can utilize a way to store things in a compact way, it is helpful for us. We’re constantly moving equipment and contemplating what to do,” says Wheeler. “Our sleeve storage system freed up space for the warehouse and the press department. We have better housekeeping. It looks nice. Everything is set in place. Our mounters do not have to take as many steps to find the sleeves they need.”

“We don’t need power jacks to move the system, which means less work. Everyone in our own department can operate the system. Short to tall people can put long or short sleeves in there. The three-tier handle lets us turn right or left. It only requires one finger to use them. We like the way the shelves conveniently and safely crank to get inbetween them. They work very well,” adds Van Eps. “It’s also an easy system to wipe down and clean—very ergonomic.”

Inventory Control

Yellowstone is also keeping better inventory—which is extremely important for the plant. “It took up to six to seven hours to count our nearly 700 sleeves, and probably 18 percent to 20 percent of them were damaged. It costs us money to replace plates. They tipped over and bumped into each other—but not anymore,” explains Wheeler. “It took space for warehousing and other storage. It was a huge bottleneck. Now everything is located in one place.”

“We now have the ability to organize sleeves in a more user-friendly way, and made it easier for people on the floor. It also made inventory cleaner,” concludes Figueria. “With our new system, there is more work space in the mounting department to lay out our work. People are not working in quite so tight spaces and can do their jobs better. We’re saving time and money.”

Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Flexopodz, manufacturer of sleeve, cylinder, plate, magnetic die and ink storage systems for the flexographic printing industry. Its extensive client base includes Yellowstone Plastics. Email the company for additional information.