The dictionary is brimming with colorful adjectives that can describe many flexible packaging companies today. Dedicated. Ingenious. Versatile. These words succinctly describe LMI Packaging Solutions of Pleasant Prairie, Wis. But if you ask chief executive officer Jean Moran to explain her $15 million company, she’s got a better word you may never have heard: chaordic.
“It’s my favorite word and it comes from Dee Hock, who founded Visa,” explains Moran. “Chaordic, the way he [puts] it, is chaos with an underlying theme of order. The way that we work at LMI is we embrace the chaos, but the moment that there is any ability to put process to it, we do it.”
In 1967, Moran’s father, Chester Sykes, founded LMI-which first stood for Label Makers Inc.-and produced high-end labels for a limited set of clients. More than four decades later, the company is still privately owned, but has outgrown its original name. LMI’s history is a flexible packaging success story that isn’t driven by a particular technology or process, but is fueled by dedication to long-term partnerships and creating positive impact for LMI’s community.
WORKING ABOVE THE LIDIn 10 words or less, LMI Packaging Solutions prints and die cuts heat-seal and foil lidding. But Moran suggests that while that’s concise, it’s not entirely correct: LMI provides total cost solutions by working with its customers to improve their portion control packaging processes.
“A lot of people will want to say we sell lidding and I would always say that’s maybe how we get paid,” explains Moran. “But what we do is much greater than that. We can add a lot more value than having a lid that might be a little less expensive than someone else’s.”
Bearing this in mind, the company renamed itself in 2007 to LMI Packaging Solutions, highlighting the company’s emerging focus on packaging solutions.
“We changed the name to LMI Packaging Solutions when we started realizing that, really, we do more than just supply the lid. We provide a measurable benefit to our customers,” says Joe Kumpfer, controller. Kumpfer explains that his company works with companies in a consulting role to identify improvements in their operations and not necessarily just on the lid. “Allow us into your plant, let us look at your operations, let us benchmark opportunities. We’re looking-from the time they start the process to the time they pack and ship it-for areas where we can impact their bottom line.”
The converter also rolled out a new tagline alongside its new name. “Working Together, Growing Together to Create Lifelong Measureable Impact” describes LMI’s commitment to work above and past the lid. LMI works closely with a customer to improve its bottom line with the idea that bottom line impact and subsequent growth there will have an equal effect on the same at LMI.
“As we work with customers, we’re not focusing solely on the lid,” explains Kumpfer. “We’re actually there looking to improve their bottom line, resulting in a positive impact to them. One of the big keys is that it has to be measureable. We can talk value-add all you want, but it’s kind of a cliché unless you can put a number to it. We’ll go out to a customer, we’ll see an area of improvement and we’ll work with them through it. Our goal will be to measure the improvements over time.”
ENTER THE ECO LIDWith the company’s updated mission in clear focus, all that was left was to add a flagship to lead LMI Packaging Solutions’ new charge. Flagship, a term going back to the age of sailing ships, connotes something that’s top of the line, secure and above all, first-rate-everything LMI’s emerging Eco Lid embodied.
Eco Lid, a plastic polyester-based substrate, offers improved printability and graphics, metal detection (that would otherwise be hindered by a foil lid) and, naturally, sustainability benefits gained through lightweighting, a completely recyclable material and a seal temperature, in some cases, up to 25% lower than foil.
The development work on Eco Lid, says Randy Troutman, vice president of engineering at the company, actually started about four years ago-before the name change-and it wasn’t all smooth sailing at first.
“In the early development phases, a lot of material iterations wouldn’t lay flat like this,” says Troutman, pointing to an Eco Lid sample on the conference room table before him. “The material had a tendency to curl. When you applied heat and pressure to the material, it would want to act differently than traditional lidding material options. With a plastic structure lidding, you have to understand the material and the sealing applications in much more depth to ensure that the package processes and performs to expectations.”
After investing nearly two years in developing the product, Eco Lid was launched into the market at a time when customers and consumers alike were looking for just such a sustainable option, especially in the face of rising fuel costs. But just as importantly, the new product came onto the market when LMI enhanced its focus on providing full-service packaging solutions.
“What we noticed in the market is that there was a need for technical expertise” to support portion control packaging operations, explains Troutman. While a plant’s managers may have realized the benefits of running a film lid, the plant’s operating staff often times needed some coaching through the learning curve associated with implementing the new technology.
Eco Lid’s benefits attracted business from both new and existing customers who agreed that the lightweight lid’s reduced shipping costs, superior printability and environmental benefits were in fact better for themselves, their own customers and, on a larger scale, the world. What’s more, LMI, who seeks win-win in all its relationships, also reaped rewards, including the ability to access different levels of partner companies including marketing, engineering and production departments.
LOOKING INSIDE, OUTSIDE AND AHEADJust as LMI has a penchant for efficiency and making improvements when working with a client, the company holds the same attitude internally. But as Vince Incandela, vice president of operations explains, the converter doesn’t accomplish this with record-setting presses or massive machines.
“We know there are machines out there now that are running faster,” says Incandela. To meet its production challenges, including making lines run faster and more cost effectively, Incandela explains that LMI focuses on driving employees to work smarter rather than harder while driving process innovations through technology improvements.
“We have internal cross functional teams formed to investigate, ‘What’s out in the world right now? What ancillaries and enhancements can we bring in that we can take to current machinery and make those changes by way of technology?’” says Incandela. “The people are included in the decision making and accountability is shared throughout the organization. They’re included in the root cause analysis and the change of processes.”
LMI’s mission doesn’t imply that making a product is the end all to a company’s value, but it does make clear that it’s in business to provide positive impact to the people it affects, a group that extends beyond customers to encompass entire communities like its employees, their families and neighbors in southeastern Wisconsin.
“The very reason my dad started this company was because the company he was at did not have the community that supported him or the customer,” explains Moran. “One of the core principals here is...full expression, so we have ‘Back to Basics’ meetings with 45 employees and I will tell you that everyone, all 45, will speak at least once.”
Moran also explains that LMI’s community enhancement mission affects more than everything inside its four walls and the 77,000 square feet of production space.
“Three years ago, we started what we call our annual ‘Day of Caring,’” says Moran. “The first year we did this, we went to a nursing home and then we made baskets for the local food pantry for Thanksgiving. Last year, we had ‘Stuff the Bus’ where we rented a school bus and a park in the community and we collected food for the food pantry.”
In the near future, LMI anticipates future success and community impact by focusing on four key areas: developing relationships, value add solutions, execution and providing measurable results.
“We recently aligned ourselves with a company who has similar goals in Latin America around providing full service,” explains Moran. “We’ve got some ability to communicate and really provide more value to the dairies down there.”
As Troutman explains, though, there will be a chaordic element about LMI’s continued growth.
“We’ll continue to advance our organization, and in five years, it’s tough to say what additionally we’ll be doing,” says Troutman. “But our initial charge is to put processes in place that allow us to develop and implement solutions that add value in meeting our customer’s needs, wants and goals.”
On the production floor with LMILMI Packaging Solutions’ Pleasant Prairie, Wis., plant currently uses 55,000 of the 77,000 square feet available to its printing and die cutting operation. The converter operates two Mark Andy narrow-web presses equipped with inspection systems responsible for detecting defects based on eight degrees of sensitivity; a third press stands ready to service wider web specialty print job applications. LMI almost exclusively uses environmentally conscious solventless inks.
The printing presses work two shifts daily, five days a week and require only one operator per press; a press helper, actively learning how to operate the press, assists both printing press operators.
Portion control packaging lids as small as a U.S. quarter or as large as a small dinner plate are die cut on mechanical die cutters. Each die cutting press is operated by one employee and runs 24 hours, five days a week.
A fully staffed on-site lab tests several criticalities of measurement including burst force, seal profiles, color accuracy and consistency, pull force, break point of pull and, consistent with LMI’s understanding of a solution’s application, any additional test factors that a customer requires.