Even in a slumping economy, Packaging Personified has figured out how to go green, expand its operations and maintain its dedication to customer service.

Alan Kupres, plant manager at the Sparta facility, ensures employee safety and high product quality throughout the various production processes.

Driving through the tiny town of Sparta, Mich., it’s hard not to notice it’s a community that, like the rest of the state, has seen its share of economic troubles. Michigan’s unemployment rate is one of the highest in the nation, thanks to the sagging automotive industry and the closure of manufacturing facilities across the region. Economists and politicians alike say the state’s economic depression is as bad or worse than it was during the 1930s.

Although things look bleak at the moment, the ingredients for a success story are certainly there.

Take one enterprising family business with 33 years of flexible packing experience; add one struggling flexible packaging operation with experienced and dedicated workers; and throw in a community eager for a successful industry, and it’s easy to see why Packaging Personified Inc. is poised to help one company make a comeback, at the same time contributing to a rebirth of its own.

In the spring of 2007Flexible Packagingvisited the headquarters of Packaging Personified Inc., a Carol Stream, Ill.-based converter, laminator, printer and extruder of flexible packaging. This spring, we went back to visit PPI’s new facility in Sparta to see how far the company has come.

Brothers Dan (top) and Joe Imburgia

Family matters

Companies in myriad industries jump at the chance to distinguish themselves as a family-run business. Though often, the term “family-run” seems to function more as a marketing tool than a business philosophy. Packaging Personified is an exception-its history and its future depend on that family connection-and can best be observed when watching how the company has approached its expansion to Sparta. The company’s ability to revive a struggling business has earned the appreciation of its employees, and is a testament to the Imburgia family, as well as their business partners.

Packaging Personified was created in 1975 by Dominic Imburgia and his business partner Phyllis Muccianti. Now, the company’s day-to-day operations are run by Dominic’s sons, Dan and Joe Imburgia, and a team of managers.

Dan Imburgia, general manager, sales administration, is clearly proud of his family’s efforts at the Sparta plant, in terms of growing the business and investing in a community. Six years ago, PPI purchased what used to be known as Pak Sak Industries, which made commodity flexible packaging. Pak Sak primarily moved its products through distributors, whereas PPI employs an experienced sales team.

“We’ve tried to distance ourselves as far away as we can from them because the products they made aren’t the same products we make today. When we bought the company, it was 30 days away from going out of business,” says Dan. “They had been losing money every month for a lengthy period of time, and ever since we bought them, we’ve made money every month. We’re reinvesting in a geographic area that really has seen some hard times.”

One of the keys to success in any business is maintaining morale among the employees and assuring them of their physical safety. Dan says worker safety is one of PPI’s greatest concerns. As such, PPI addresses safety and efficiency concerns by implementing newer equipment (which often include more safety features) and tweaking the layout of the facility. Dan says the company has a high safety record, with no accidents for well over a year. Like press operators at other printing plants, PPI’s workers often use equipment with a lot of pinch points.

 “We’re really focusing on people’s awareness [of the potential for problems]. We’d rather have them turn the machine off than do something that might be dangerous. A lot of the new equipment we’re getting is automatic. If you go to a touchscreen, you can make your adjustment there.”

Imburgia believes his employees appreciate the fact that PPI operates as a debt-free organization and that a majority of its profits are re-invested straight back into the company. Joe Imburgia, the company’s general manager, views this as a strength, too. “We took a company that had many quality employees but aged and tired equipment, and turned it into a profitable operation-over the last 18 months alone we have invested $8 million [in the Sparta plant].”

Packaging Personified employs approximately 215 people, with 110 at its Sparta facility and the rest in Carol Stream.

PPI has invested $8 million on updating the facility with new equipment such as this extruder.

Manufacturing makeover

The decision to expand from its Carol Stream headquarters was an easy one for Packaging Personified. Vertical integration is a top priority to the company, and the ability to offer additional products and services under one roof is paramount. With the additional investments in the Sparta facility, PPI has been able to streamline its production and improve the number of products and services it offers its customers.

“At this facility we convert, print, extrude monolayer and three layer films,” says Joe, who adds that the Carol Stream facility offers extrusion, printing, converting and lamination. “The introduction of three-layer film, which is new for us, really opens up a lot of markets that weren’t open to us in the past, such as [bags/rollstock for] fresh produce, more medical supplies, lidding film for cottage cheese or yogurt.”

Joe says that the expansion has helped PPI become more efficient in terms of production and reducing costs for its customers. He says he’s proud of PPI’s “ability to work with customers to reduce material gauge while maintaining the performance of our packaging. We recently added defect detection to our printing lines, ink management to printing and gauge control in extrusion.”

PPI now has capabilities for lamination, coextrusion, eight-color printing and monolayer extrusion to produce plain and printed bags and rollstock. These products serve markets such as bakery, frozen foods, confectionery, pet foods, barrier films, produce, ice, textiles, zipper tape, office products and more.

“We have recently added new product lines which will complement our extrusion of low-, medium- and high-density polyethylene,” says Dan. “These new product lines will allow us to introduce polypropylene, polyester and nylons into laminated structures and, to some degree, our coextruded products.”

Not only is PPI able to offer more services and products, it’s been able to do this more cost effectively. According to Dan, adding the newest models of extruders, laminators and other equipment has helped reduce waste and improve efficiency since PPI bought Pak Sak.

Dan says the company has been successful in significantly reducing ink consumption and the amount of scrap produced. “There are also improvements in the quality of the film we’re making on our lines. The printing we’re doing has also cut scrap and set-up time in our converting.”

“We are committed to our organization and aggressively invest in operations that bring us the ability to perform effectively,” says Joe. “We recently added defect detection to our printing lines, ink management to printing, gauge control in extrusion. Our debt-free position offers stability and flexibility in upgrading equipment and expanding our product offerings.”

PPI now has capabilities for lamination, coextrusion, eight-color printing and monolayer extrusion to produce plain and printed bags and rollstock.

Concentration on customers

The expansion in Sparta only further cemented PPI’s commitment to customer service and its ability to offer as many services as possible.

“The other nice thing we’ve done here in the last couple of years is add coextrusion,” says Dan. “A significant amount of our customer base uses printed monolayer films. But they also use coextrusion, or they use lamination, and they used to have to go somewhere else for those two products. Now we can say: ‘Hey, you’re buying this from us, why don’t you buy this from us, too, and you can factor that in and it can be more cost-effective for you.’ We’re able to be more service oriented-that’s very important to our customers. If you call some of these [larger converters], unless you’re buying a significant quantity of something from them, you’re just a number. And a lot of our smaller competition don’t have the resources or the capital or the capability,” says Dan.

And though PPI may be flourishing with its new facilities and improving the job stability of its employees, it’s not immune to the recession affecting Michigan and the rest of the country.

“One of the things we’ve been able to do to offset rising resin costs is reduce gauges and bring in more efficiencies. It’s not just material costs that are going up. Shipping costs are going through the roof. Utilities are going through the roof,” says Dan. These kinds of costs can hurt its customers’ bottom line, but so far PPI doesn’t see them as a major problem looking ahead. “Some of our markets have been a little slower, but some of our markets have been picking up.”

One of the biggest keys to success is having the confidence and belief that anything is possible, and that, it seems, PPI has in spades.

“We have a passion to flexible packaging, customers, products, employees that drives many of our actions,” says Joe. “PPI is lean and efficient in operating expenses, overhead and material costs without losing focus on vendor and customer relationships.”  

Earth friendly initiatives

For a mid-sized company Packaging Personified Inc. has completed a comprehensive set of green initiatives to help its customers answer sustainability concerns and reaffirm its own commitment to sustainability. The company’s five-year strategic plan is called PPI-TLC (True Life Cycle) Program.

1.Corporate partner responsibility:
Recycling:Plastic waste associated with the manufacture of PPI’s products is separated and compacted to reduce energy required in transportation and then recycled for use in other plastic products.

Energy conservation:
  • PPI captures and re-directs the heat generated from the manufacturing process that can be used in other production areas, as well as facility climate control.

  • PPI recently spent $100,000 to retrofit its Carol Stream facility with efficient, environmentally friendly lighting.

  • A significant part of the PPI-TLC project is evaluating how to use alternative energy, such as wind or solar.

2. Community partner responsibility:
Emissions reduction:
  • PPI practices the use of ink management and ink volume control during the production process. This process measures the thickness of ink applied to each package, helping reduce ink consumption.

  • Only low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) cleaners are used in manufacturing.

  • PPI’s secondary operations re-use potentially volatile materials internally, or capture and destroy remaining unused materials before entering the atmosphere.

  • PPI chooses solventless adhesive systems that eliminate the introduction of ozone-depleting emissions into the atmosphere.

Recycle waste:Through distillation, PPI recycles and reuses internally generated waste ink from its printing process. What can’t be reused internally is isolated and sold for use as a source of energy generation.

TLC Education:PPI also plans to educate its own employees about the virtues of going green so that sustainability can be practiced at work and at home.