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In-Line Folding Carton Converting

Advances in both flexographic press and plate technologies can provide folding carton manufacturers the means to improve profits.

March 2011 BY STEVEN LEIBIN AND DR. JOHN ANDERSON
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In today's challenging business environment, folding carton manufacturers' profits are getting squeezed. Customers demand better quality, lower quantities, just-in-time (JIT) delivery, sustainability, and more point-of-sale "pop," all at a lower price. Yet, many converters are trying to meet today's challenges with yesterday's manufacturing processes, causing bottom-line profitability to suffer.

To make the situation more complicated, many end users see packaging as a commodity. In a commodity market converters need to follow time-tested business practices:

• Improve production processes—get lean and focus on driving costs out;

• Add value to your product—value innovate.

Printers that are still using the multi-step manufacturing technology from 10, 20, or 30 years ago will have a difficult time answering these production challenges. However, today's in-line flexographic production process provides folding carton converters the means to meet customers' demands and maintain profit margins. Flexo is no longer a secondary citizen of the printing world. Flexo press and prepress technologies have advanced so much in recent years that flexo printing can now be included among the best solutions.

Market demands

For many years, folding carton converters enjoyed long production runs with few product changes, and differentiation based on artistic talents. Those days are gone. Today, customers want smaller run sizes with more market-oriented changes (holiday, language, seasonal), delivered just-in-time to their plants. Quality and consistency are expected. Competitors are everywhere and supplier differentiation is becoming harder and harder. Price is an important factor that consumer product goods (CPGs) manufacturers use to separate suppliers.

For printers, the question becomes, 'How have your manufacturing processes adapted to meet these challenges?' If the answer still includes the use of older printing processes, company profits are probably being squeezed.

Car industry comparison

For comparison purposes, take a look at the auto industry and the changes in its production processes over the years. For years the Big 3 in Detroit used the Henry Ford assembly line production process and were very successful. They sold everything they built and made a handsome profit. Then the Japanese entered the U.S. marketplace with their Kaizen production philosophy and started to make inroads in the market. The once-invincible Big 3 thought no one would buy a foreign made car, but they were wrong.

The auto market had started to change—quality became demanded and expected, just-in-time production was required from suppliers and auto manufacturers. Product differentiation for all the car manufacturers became harder and harder, and price became a factor in the sales process. Now the Big-3 automakers use the Kaizen production concept, producing only what can be sold instead of flooding car dealers. They continually innovate to differentiate their products in the marketplace. In effect, they adapted their production processes to meet today's customer demands.

 

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