From its humble beginnings in 3,500 square feet of rented space, Labels, Inc./Flexprint now occupies a 40,000 sq. ft. facility, where it specializes in flexible packaging and pressure sensitive label converting – predominantly for the medical industry, and for industrial, food, beverage and retail companies.
Established in 1975, Labels, Inc. got started by primarily targeting specialty food companies. However since the mid-90s, the business was expanded with flexible packaging when John Cardellicchio, now executive vice president, and Chris Snow, vice-president of sales and marketing, steered the company into building “a world-class converter for the medical device industry,“ according to Snow. The idea, says Snow, was to “change the culture; beef up the quality staff and bring in different materials to meet different customer requirements.”
Taking on the cause of offering extreme service to its customers, something that Snow believes is often missing from the flexible packaging industry, the company started from the ground up. “We created our own documentation system, designed around what people do every day, and how that applies to end user customer satisfaction and quality,” says Snow.
Software Upgrades for More Production
Labels, Inc.’s quality management system (QMS) became the basis for an ongoing continuous improvement program still in play at the company, helping it grow from two machines in 1996 to eight pouch-making lines, and a second shift beginning in 2014, to support packaging and label requirements.
“Our QMS differentiates us from our competitors” says Snow. “When we looked at the ISO9001:2000 standards, we found that the certification didn’t give our medical device customers what they needed – and what is required of their vendor base to meet their elevated standards. Our service and documentation programs bridge that gap from ISO9001:2008 to ISO13485 standards typically followed for device manufacturers.”
Snow continues, “Our goals far exceed our ISO standards in terms of what our customers receive and what is required for certification.”
“Our infastructure also assists customers with time management, what it costs in time to procure products. A lot of companies have three to five people responsible for procuring. With our program, only one person is required,” says Snow. “We manage customer programs directly, which results in reduced vendor costs.”
Updating Press Standards and Equipment
Technology has also transformed the company. With flexo quality levels on the rise over the last 15 years, Labels, Inc. responded by updating anilox technology and setting up press standards.
“We fingerprinted presses, ran trials and looked for ways to ensure our anilox systems worked best,” says Snow. “We pulled new units in for every press, which let us produce cleaner labels and more attractive flexible packaging. Medical pouches, which used to be one or two colors, are now printed with process colors and more complex screens.”
The company also developed its own solutions to meet customer requirements. Frangible burstable seals were introduced, allowing a package design that uses burstable internal seals and destructible containment seals. The result, says Snow, is a very repeatable, reliable and user-friendly package that provides product separation during storage and internal mixing just prior to use. The packages also offer fitments for just about any type of dispensing application.
Digital Printing and Finishing
More transformations were on the way, as the company needed to react to small volume and customer-designed work. “Creative designs using die-cutting and laminating were becoming part of the medical industry,” says Snow. “Also, many customers were looking to make prototypes for their ideas – but we couldn’t do that effectively with $1,000 tooling costs and the costs to start up a press. That drew us to digital printing, but what the larger digital presses offered did not fit our mold.”
Enter Mike Labrecque, director of operations, a former prepress manager at Labels Inc./FlexPrint, well versed in digital printing as well as prepress. Tasked with bringing in vendors and seeing what they had to offer, Labrecque found the iTech CENTRA HS Digital Label System, which is a complete digital label production solution.
“None of the others had the flexibility that we have with the iTech CENTRA HS Digital Label System,” says Snow.
Key is the iTech CENTRA HS Digital Label System’s ability to offer both digital printing and digital finishing with dieless cutting. The new label finisher lets Labels, Inc. cut any custom shape on demand right from Adobe Illustrator, using the same vector file that would normally be sent out for die manufacture.
“Part of our service package now is that we can run R&D trials, so the final runs are not a guess,” says Snow. “We can give our customers real world samples, then talk about adjustments and run a validation trial. Then we can go ahead with the tooling, investing in the project with confidence that it will work.”
With the new system running, Labels, Inc. is also reaching out again to its old specialty food customers. “The specialty food market has also changed, and with our digital technology we are in line with what they need, which can be a run of 10 or 5,000 labels with different images and ornate cuts, and minimal upfront cost,” says Snow.
“The per-piece cost to run is similar to flexo, but we save thousands in plates and tooling,” he adds. “It was great to be able to reach out to the industry that had served us well and help them work more effectively.”
Color proofing is also part of the program. “If the customer has a specific color to hit, we can run one or two pieces on the system and show them,” says Snow.
“We adopted the iTech CENTRA HS Digital Label Printer right into our manufacturing infastructure, so when the job ultimately goes to the flexo press, we are essentially running the same color standard both digitally and on flexo. We purchased a spectrophotometer to characterize the digital printing and flexo printing color gamuts. That color consistency between our flexo presses and the digital label printer for proofing is critical.”
Customers are responding. “There was a medical service client, a piece of business we were working on for more than five years,” says Snow. “It was an opportunity for a substantial piece of business. We had to run the product, though, to prove our capabilities. It required a significant upfront capital investment for dies and press time, on our part. Should we spend a lot of money to get it, without solid commitments?”
Within two weeks of getting the system, samples were made and the business secured; within five months the validation trials began. “We even made a minor tweak that improved the product for them,” says Snow.