Flexible Packaging's Five Keys to Efficiency
Several factors play a role in virtually every successful package production run and finished package. And it all begins with the result in mind. Therefore, the first key focuses on the package itself.
No. 1: Design a Good Package
User expectations and associated influences are the drivers of strategy, planning, processing, profitability and needs for efficiency. All the answers must be known regarding access to contents, protection of contents, shelf life and storage, opening after repeated use, age and mistake tolerance.
“In our business, making flexible flat packs of wet wipes, the wipes need to stay moist and fresh through the life of the package,” says Brad McKay of Top Brass Inc. “So we often recommend considering some of the newer label technologies rather than the traditional peel-back mechanisms.”
Other elements for determination include enhanced ergonomics. Simpler to handle packages not only appeal to consumers, they make it easier to improve package-to-product ratios, cutting back on the amount of packaging per unit. It’s efficiency that has benefits for marketers, producers and users. In addition, the best approach to environmental advancement is to reduce materials up front, rather than deal with waste at end of product lifecycles.
Aesthetics turn heads of buyers and any efficiency gained during printing and designed features has its part to play. Designers today have challenges and have to consider a whole range of branding issues from what’s trendy, experiential, demographically targeted and more.
No. 2: Plan Up Front
Avoiding downstream changes by taking time on the front end really does pay off. When the best choices of materials, production options and informed steps are in place, a smooth path is ahead. Sometimes, paying a little more to start means less waste and better efficiencies. PET film suppliers see it all the time.
“Our customers realize that our precision converting of PET film, FDA approved materials and timely service raise expectations,” says John Felinski, Filmquest president. In the case of imported materials, in-country control cuts lead times and improves communications, he says “even in the instances where low cost commodity materials are required.”
No. 3: Save Time to Improve Results
A major aspect of efficiency is measured by time saved in production. Jim Livermore, president of Product Handling Concepts, a Wisconsin-based process engineering firm, realized early in his career that some very basic factory changes save time, improve quality and move packages out the door on time. Just the analysis of materials and product flow, with associated restaging makes measurable impact. “We design, build and integrate all aspects of automated processes to achieve a very favorable compounded outcome,” says Livermore.
No. 4: Track Consumption and Waste
Products that use fewer materials are ideal, and when coupled with reducing consumption during processing, they are powerful approaches. Following those endeavors are recovery, recycling and other late-stage efforts. Studying steps such as quick, accurate startup, fast changeover and other aspects of production show impressive gains. Teams that do these things in the best way often train those on other shifts and machines. Tangibles include smaller startup rolls, less trim, fewer spices, reduced ink, coatings and more.
No. 5: Collaborate and Communicate
Dennis Curtin, president of Press Color Inc., a supplier of flexographic inks and coatings, considers himself a consultant. He has saved customers hundreds of thousands of dollars by recommending not just inks, but also techniques. Some of the areas of his focus include correlation of the proof to the press, making sure the first “pull” at press is on target, properly cleaning anilox rolls, sitting with the printer and also other suppliers to discuss objectives, learning press capabilities for speed and other elements.
Not so long ago, when workers in trade show booths were asked how their company was improving its environmental impact, there were some big silences. However, when asked about improved efficiency and less waste, there were many stories – and efficiency is always “environmentally friendly.” Energy consumption is seen on many levels, from more efficient lighting, all the way to geothermal heating. In addition, as many of us learned in lean manufacturing and quality improvement, the involvement extends to all departments.
There are, of course, other factors that could be cited. One of them is breaking down barriers. Being open to new approaches leads to major shifts. Those specializing in automation often provide a new look at what you thought was a standard way to make products and packages. Maybe just a move to seamless manufacturing is a start.