- October 01, 2001, Claudia Hine, Senior Editor
Crown Photo Systems manufactures film negative sleeves to very tight tolerances. Web-guiding systems from BSTProMark are helping to keep the converter on the cutting edge.
Producing 30 million of anything in a month is an impressive accomplishment, but doing so month in and month out with optimal efficiency and minimal waste — while exceeding your customers' expectations for quality, delivery, and service — that is an even bigger accomplishment. Crown Photo Systems of Marysville, WA, does precisely this.
Located about 45 miles north of Seattle, nestled among 50-ft cedar trees, Crown Photo System's primary product is plastic sleeves for film negatives. Whenever you pick up film that has been processed by Walgreen's, K Mart, Costco, Wal-Mart, and just about every major drug store chain, retailer, and cruise line you can name, your negatives are tucked neatly inside a Crown sleeve. If you thought the digital revolution was going to eliminate how much we use our 35-mm cameras, think again. Crown produces enough sleeve material for 360 million rolls of film every year!
The original business was established in the early 70s. King Size Photo operated kiosks all over the West Coast, where customers would drop off film for processing. The company began operating as Crown Photo Systems in 1985 and is owned by John Hahgen Jr., who is very active in the management of the business.
The business continues to grow every year, so much so that in the past two years two new plants have opened. Today, Crown operates plants in Marysville; Andover (England); and near Shanghai, China. Combined, the facilities employ more than 125 people.
Teamwork and Pride Equal Growth
The Marysville plant is the anchor of the operation, running three shifts, seven days a week with 80 employees. In addition to photographic sleeves, the firm produces dark boxes, photographic tapes and labels, and an assortment of photo equipment, which is sold to photo labs worldwide.
At Crown there is camaraderie among employees and management and a tremendous sense of teamwork, reports VP of operations Don Branch. “Our owner and the people I work with are great. You get up every morning and you want to come to work.”
Maybe that is one reason Crown is a leader in its field. It has grown its business with a relentless focus on quality and customer service. And supporting the needs and demands of tens of thousands of photographic processing outlets in virtually every city of the country is no small task. Crown takes great pride in providing what it calls the best product on the market, and supports it with whatever it takes to keep the customer satisfied.
Meeting the production requirements of those same demanding retailers takes excellent people, teamwork, and process control systems that add value through efficiency. In Marysville, Crown has eight blown film lines and one cast line. Running 25 hr a day, five days a week, the 50-mm dies produce high-density polyethylene from 7-18 in. in both clear and matte finishes. The blown film lines run at 100-150 fpm, and the film is corona treated in-line with Pillar equipment. The company uses up to 240,000 lb of resin a month, so it brings it in by rail car and stores it in two 200,000-lb silos.
Key to the efficiency of the extrusion department is how it processes film after it has been extruded and cooled. Because film negatives are placed into the sleeves by machine, tolerances of the finished sleeve products are very tight. The lip on the sleeve must be held to ±1 mm, and the overall sleeve width also must be held to within 1 mm. Any variation will cause jamming when the negatives are inserted into the sleeves.
Web Guides Key to Efficiency
To meet those stringent quality requirements, Crown enlisted the expertise of web processing specialist BST Pro Mark. Of the eight blown film lines, six use web aligners; BST replaced the web guiding systems on four of these, enabling the company to fold and pre-slit the film in-line prior to rewinding. “The web guides are essential for allowing us to achieve this, and they have performed phenomenally,” says Branch.
He adds, “The BST web guides are one of the keys to the efficiency of our extrusion department. Not only have they allowed us to almost eliminate waste from the extrusion department, but they also have allowed us to cut waste in the printing department. We used to have edge variations on the rolls of up to 2-3 mm, which was murder in the printing department. Now, with the BST web guides on the extruders, the rolls are folded precisely, slit, and wound at extremely tight tolerances.”
Branch continues, “The impact on our production operation has been more than significant. Besides allowing us to cut scrap in the extrusion department by two-thirds, we have also tracked a 10 percent reduction in pressroom waste. We clearly saw that not all web guides are the same, and that a higher quality, more precise, and more reliable web guide can and will have a significant impact on both production efficiencies and on downstream processes.”
Adding the In-House Touch
Crown converts all that film on nine printing presses. As Branch puts it, “You can't buy a press to do what we do.” So Crown buys the basic one-, two-, or three-color, 16-in. presses, adds AAA ultraviolet curing units, and then applies the talents of its own machine shop and personnel. The finished production press includes special heat seal dies for making the individual pockets of the sleeves, its own perf dies, special folders, and a unique lift-off system — all made in-house by Crown.
Crown was so impressed with the results of the BST guiding systems on its extruders that it started replacing the web guides on presses as well. According to Branch, “The BST guides run nonstop now with absolutely no problem. They aren't the least expensive, but they are worth it. I bought them for their quality and heartiness, but I have found they are so much more precise and reliable. In our business, we have to keep these machines running all the time. Any little disturbance in production could mean an unhappy customer. I can't afford any downtime.”
Even though most of the printing is one or two colors, presses typically run at 350 fpm, so all the presses at Crown have BST Pro Mark video web inspection systems on them. Explains Branch, “We need to get the very best product that we can out the door. The video systems make it easy for the operators to print, since they can monitor the quality of product from just about anywhere. The operators can make adjustments on the fly and see the impact immediately. That's a real plus. We are able to run at top speeds with minimal waste.”
As for doing business with BST Pro Mark, Branch said, “There are a lot of companies out there that make web guides and video systems, but for what we do, BST Pro Mark has been the best. With them comes a great technical support system and great local sales support that makes them a pleasure to do business with.”
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