In the past eight years, Green Bay Packaging's folding carton plant in Green Bay, Wis., has experienced a remarkable customer base transformation. In 1994, most of its clients made ice cream. Today, less than 5 percent of the plant's customers make frozen treats. How did this occur?
Laurie Malecki, quality/ safety coordinator, discusses color correction with Tim Bockin, pressman, at the plant's 40-inch, six-color KBA-Planeta printing press.
One of its customers was Häagen Dazs. However, when Pillsbury Co. bought this premium ice cream producer, that business disappeared. Gold Bond was another ice cream maker that Green Bay served. Good Humor bought that company. Breyers closed its plants in Wisconsin and Sealright, which bought printed sidewalls from Green Bay, was sold to a private labeler.
"We've evolved into a custom carton manufacturer," says Rich Garber, the 100,000-square-foot plant's vice president and general manager. "Our charter is to sell to as many markets as possible. This increases our market exposure." Today, many of the ISO-9001-certified plant's customers are in dry foods and confectioneries. Its 100 employees also make cartons for the beverage, hardware, paper, and publishing industries, among others.
"Everything is customer-driven," says Garber, when asked how he has been able to adapt. "Our customers want real-time information. We find ourselves doing vendor-managed inventory for almost all of them."
Asking Key Questions
"We're set up to address the individual requirements of our customers," Garber says. "We ask them, 'What do you want to buy? How can we meet your needs?' If there's a match, we partner with them to provide time and cost savings. For example, two of our customers, Master Lock and Golden Books, eliminated their structural design departments and went with us."
Last year, the plant installed a Leary glue line detector on its Post folder-gluer. If a carton doesn't have glue placed in the proper spot or amount, it's quickly jettisoned.
Although the plant has access to customer computer forecast files, it's sometimes limited to running only certain quantities, which are constantly getting smaller. So today, customers look at Green Bay as not only a provider of cartons, but also an inventory manager.
"Each customer dictates order length, which dictates the selling price," he adds. "We balance these issues every day and still make a dollar."
For years, Green Bay Packaging, which also makes corrugated containers, linerboard and pressure sensitive label stock, provided its folding carton division with customer service support. But five years ago, it went through a restructuring and decided to give its carton division, among others, more autonomy in how it ran its information systems department. For three years, while still under the corporate customer service umbrella, the folding carton plant shopped around for computer software that could meet its specific needs.
At a Paperboard Packaging Council fall meeting, Cosmo DeNicola, president, Amtech, made a presentation on Imaginera software that attracted Garber's interest. E-Motion, a module of Imaginera, provides order, expediting and inventory information and in a nutshell, allows plants to manage customer relationships through the computer. In January 2000, the plant decided to purchase Imaginera and establish its "Customer First System."
In November 2000, the plant made the switch. The transition from the corporate information system umbrella to providing these services through Imaginera was a challenge, says Laurie Malecki, quality/service coordinator. Training included teleconferences and viewing videotapes. It also involved training the production people, who Malecki admits at times were asking questions she couldn't answer without first checking the tapes or manuals Amtech provided her.
Dan Albers, divisional IS coordinator, says using Amtech's e-Motion software lets customers track inventories and allows the plant's customer service department to cut down on faxing and paperwork.
Struggles Were Overcome
"Imaginera is a huge thing," she says. "We're still bringing customers on board. Getting our people to buy into it was tough. In the beginning, we had a few shipping area struggles. The software came with a lot of manuals and some of them should have been more detailed. For example, they didn't always answer how inputting certain data would affect another area. More documentation of this nature is needed. But the system does so much; the more you use it, the better. You have to sort through it all. We're still finding out new things about it today.
"We have two-way communication with our customers. Today, I find there are a lot less phone calls and a lot more e-mails."
The plant's e-ZBUSINESS System Web site uses Amtech's e-Motion software to closely track production, inventories and shipments. It lets customers put in their releases and place new orders without having to contact their sales or customer service representative.
"We're getting more customers to buy into it every day," says Dan Albers, divisional IS coordinator. "Once a customer tells us he wants the system, we'll bring our technical people in for on-site training and give him a pre-assigned password and user identification so only he can see his information."
He adds that using the computer to track inventories saves customer service a lot of legwork and cuts down on faxing and paperwork. Customers are allowed to change their orders by e-mail (but can't enter the plant's database). They get e-mail confirmations on everything. Today, the plant has 12 of its customers on its e-ZBUSINESS Web site. Albers predicts that by the end of the year, a maximum of 25 of the plant's 175 customers will eventually be using this software.
Bill True, production operations manager, regularly monitors charts that document press running speeds.
"Our straightforward goal is to get inventory out to customers 24/7 and to keep them in the loop," he states. "Customers don't have to be computer-educated to know how to do this."
As the plant's sales coordinator, Judy Fifield's daily goal is to make certain that the production department is able to deliver on what the sales department tells the customer. For years, the folding carton division would write up its purchase orders on a typewriter. So Amtech's e-Motion software had a huge impact on her job.
"We're still working through bugs in different areas, but we've come a long way," she says. "Now our department can easily track inventory movement and give quick answers to customers. Entering orders and specs is relatively easy. We can print inventories any time. Also, our production department personnel can view our special instructions and comments right at their stations."
The plant receives customer order changes quite often. Making these changes using e-Motion software can be very involved, she adds. In addition, the software doesn't make it easy to print quotes with multiple items so they all come out on one quote page.
"It can take forever to get the quote printed correctly," she says. "You have to try and trick the system."
Nevertheless, advantages outweigh disadvantages. "With e-ZBUSINESS, our customers can use the Internet to look up inventories, place orders and make cost requests," Garber says. "The hard part is gaining customers' confidence in using the system. The problem for customers is not so much determining whether inventories are correct as it is in having confidence in making releases and placing orders, even if they are getting back an e-mail confirming the transaction."
Easing Them In
Machinery operators on the floor, especially some of the older ones, received implementation of Amtech's software with some apprehension. But Steve Lewins, production manager, says that by conducting tests and meetings and performing some advance selling, these employees adjusted without too much difficulty.
"As people in the printing department got used to it, they served as a good voice for the rest of the plant," he says.
"To some degree, Amtech's e-Motion software is customizable because customers can get reports from us any way they want them," states Tom Carpenter, division accountant. "We're being pressed to shorten lead times. It used to be two weeks; now, it's much shorter. Customer service can now put data into the computer and everybody can view it instantly."
Carpenter also has overseen the plant's radio frequency inventory system, which was started in June 1998 and developed with in-house software. Each of the plant's forklift trucks has a personal computer with a radio transmitter. In the plant's ceiling are antennas that send signals through phone lines. When the warehouse department receives a release for cartons, it informs the computer where that order is on the plant floor. The forklift driver then scans the barcode on the bin. If he scans the wrong bin, the computer will let him know right away.
Scan this plant's customer list from 1994 and the customer list today and you won't find many matches. In an increasingly fragmented industry, many carton plants might have folded if faced with the daunting task of replacing a large chunk of customers. But this carton converter diversified and invested in the technology needed to be on top of the next wave, not in the undertow.