Cartons Lighten Up

Advances in technology usually are good for a company's success, especially in the converting industry. But that certainly wasn't the case for Printed Specialties Inc. (PSI), which was established solely to convert labels and jacket covers for vinyl records and albums for Columbia Records in 1982 — ironically the same year the compact disc made its debut.

What really might have been PSI's death knell, however, sounded seven years later when Sony bought Columbia, and Shorewood Packaging took over production of record labels and album sleeves. By then, albums already had begun to go the way of the gramophone. Says PSI president Greg Smith, “It was either close the plant or diversify.”

Now, more than 20 years later, PSI is one of the country's premier suppliers of folding cartons for such diverse markets as health and beauty, medical, consumer goods, gourmet foods, hardware, software, and yes, home entertainment. Smith credits its fast five- to six-day turnarounds and the adoption of lean manufacturing and sustainable development practices as just a few of the keys to its ongoing success.

“We've always had flexibility,” says Smith. “One of the reasons is that we're a small company with 48 employees, and we behave like a small company. All our decisions are made locally, and we are very flexible in how we work with clients. Our goal is to be a world-class manufacturer, and how we get there is through lean manufacturing and our ability to produce things very quickly and very efficiently with a minimum of waste.”

The printing and converting equipment at its 40,000-sq-ft facility includes six-color Komori sheet-fed presses, die-cutters and folder/gluers from Bobst, Kohmann window machines, and a Brausse hot foil stamper/embosser. Smith says this equipment is critical to PSI's outstanding quality and quick turnarounds.

Lean and Green

Most recently, PSI was certified by both the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI) for its use of “environmentally responsible substrates” that come from certified forests. FSC and SFI are the world's leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to responsible forest management, with FSC being largely a European designation and SFI being popular in North America. To gain certification from these organizations, companies such as PSI must submit to an extensive third-party audit on purchasing practices and control systems.

Smith says many customers have shown an interest in using recycled stock for their packaging but don't have the volumes necessary to make it a viable alternative. The use of certified stock, he notes, “allows our customers to make their commitment to the environment clear in their retail packaging.

“Recycled stock is really difficult for small companies to get in volume, on the folding carton side at least,” explains Smith. “You have to buy a truckload of it, which we can do, but a lot of our customers just want 5,000 or 6,000 sheets. We service a lot of small- to medium-sized customers, and even the large companies want smaller runs, so it actually can be a better option than recycled fiber.”

Smith says the new certification should raise the visibility and benefits of working with environmentally responsible substrates, among both converters and their customers, particularly in light of the industry's overall efforts on sustainability.

“We're still trying to educate our customers and even ourselves about what the opportunities are and how it can work for the customer,” explains Smith. “It's early, and you can see the mills are still trying to get into it and figure out how to present themselves.”

Smith says that in its sustainability efforts, PSI pays close attention to the little things that can make a big difference, some more obvious than others. For example, the company consistently pursues makeready reductions, which save time and materials. It utilizes only chemicals that have low or no volatile organic compounds and reclaims all of them. It also uses plastic rather than wood pallets, and recycles the wood pallets it does use: a local outbound school makes Adirondack chairs out of the raw materials.

“Those are the small things that hopefully add up,” says Smith. “It's all about sustaining the business in a responsible way. We're practicing lean manufacturing, which is the elimination of waste in all forms. It's smart business; you don't waste something if you don't have to.”

Supplier Info

Contributing Editor Edward Boyle, based in Reading, PA, has covered the converting industry for more than 24 years. Contact him at EJB Communications; 610-670-4680; ejbcomm@aol.com.

Converter Info

Taking Off Pounds

Greg Smith, president of Printed Specialties Inc., says PSI's sustainability efforts extend to its customers, many of whom are striving to meet targets established by the Wal-Mart Scorecard initiative. For example, one customer that sells flower bulbs to stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot was using corrugated inserts to secure the bulbs during shipment and for in-store displays. But the inserts used a high volume of corrugated and didn't prevent the bulbs from deflecting and denting the front panel of the box.

“We went to them and said, ‘You don't really need to put the corrugated insert into each of those boxes,’” explains Smith. “‘If you let us put patch panels onto the front and back of these boxes, it will reinforce the folding carton and save you the time and effort of putting in the corrugated insert. Plus, it will help with the Wal-Mart Scorecard.’”

On its first run of reconfigured boxes, the company was able to replace 120,000 lb of corrugated inserts with just 32,000 lb of patch panels. The company expects to save more on subsequent, much larger runs.

“I had no idea that it would take 88,000 pounds off the first run, and they didn't either,” explains Smith. “It was a good deal all around and really helped them with the Wal-Mart Scorecard, and from a sustainability standpoint, it's just a smart way of doing business.”


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