CAN ANY BOX plant apply graphics to a corrugated sheet? That depends on the definition of graphics, says Buckeye Container Division President Terry Shea. "Graphics," says Shea, "is a direct printed container that the average box plant might have difficulty printing. It could be kraft with a screen print, and anything that has a litho label on it."
Intricate designs and high-end graphics set Buckeye Container apart from the average sheet plant. Examples are a rocket display (left) for Colgate and a corner kiosk for Hickory Farms.
Currently, the higher-end graphics market represents about 25 percent of the Wooster, Ohio, sheet plant's business. The company recognizes tremendous room for growth here and is targeting graphics as its next expansion opportunity.
Buckeye Container is well-acquainted with growth and expansion. The 42-year-old company has experienced a steady increase in business since the 1970s. By 1980 the business had more than doubled its sales. The original facility was expanded about six times to accommodate the surge in capacity. Selling more high-end graphics products will help the company continue this upward trend.
Three years ago, Buckeye Container moved to a new 253,000-square-foot building on 75 acres. The original plant was 70,000 square feet. About 125 people work at the new facility.
The plant has about 460 active accounts in markets such as automotive, food and beverage, pharmaceutical and recreation. It is one of six sheet plants operated by Buckeye Corrugated, Inc., which also owns a packaging supplies operation. All divisions are locally managed and serve a regional market.
Eric Foutty (right) and Shane Grier feed sheets on the 66- by 110-inch McKinley.
Even before the relocation of the Wooster facility was complete, company managers began focusing on the pursuit of new markets, all of which fit under the heading of high-end graphics.
The journey so far has been a long and winding one, but there is no rush, says Roy Allen, chairman and chief executive officer. Buckeye has taken, and continues to take, a very calculated and measured approach toward market growth that has included an extraordinary investment in time, training and new equipment.
First and foremost, the plant needed a state of the art press. Last year, Buckeye Container installed a seven-color Flex America flexographic printing press from Applied Printing Technology, which is a partnership between McKinley Machinery, Inc. and Procolor Inc.
"We felt that if we were going to continue to be considered one of the better providers of multi-colored graphics packaging, we were going to have to do this," Allen says. "We have been doing graphics display work for 40 years. We really needed to have the capability to step up this quality level of direct print in order to be a dominant player in the market."
The Quest for A Press
The decision to expand into graphics was made more than a decade ago when the plant unsuccessfully tried to produce a promotional job on a three-color Staley press purchased in 1990.
Buckeye Container's new seven-color Flex America press is designed to overcome the limitations created by close coupled machines.
"We had great printing capabilities, with the anilox rolls and the doctor blades, but because (the press) was a pull collar machine, it was always a struggle to deliver a quality job," Shea says. "We decided back then that we were either committed or not committed to higher end print."
Allen and Carl Smeller, Buckeye Corrugated president and chief operating officer, spent a week looking at presses at a Drupa show several years ago in Paris. Nothing impressed them enough to make a purchase.
That's when they contacted Scott McKinley of McKinley Machine in Avon, Ohio. At the time, McKinley was working with Jean Paul Karcz, owner of Procolor Inc., to develop a high-end graphics press. Karcz is a graphics consultant who previously worked for Cuir.
"When we made the phone call, they were just getting ready to come forward with this vision," Shea says. "They hadn't even built the first machine yet."
Buckeye was the second installation of the Flex America press. Currently, there are three installations at U.S. corrugated container plants.
Rebuilding A Department
"The Flex America design is a way to overcome the limitations created by close coupled machines, and that is No. 1 space and time for drying between units," McKinley says. "On a regular McKinley, it's 26 inches between colors, and there's very little space to put dryers. There's also very little time. On a Flex America there's 6 feet between colors."
The Flex America press is a fixed and separated design. The machine does not open and close for setup. "In our thought process, as soon as you start moving those sections back and forth, from the day you put it in, it's as good as it's ever going to get," Shea says. "The ability to get close registration is going to deteriorate."
Other unique characteristics are its format size - 66 by 110 inches - and a fixed 80-inch board line that allows operators to pre-set up colors on stations that are not printing. The machine also is available in 66 by 130 inches.
Selling High Graphics
While Buckeye Container graphic designers and press operators were getting acquainted with the capabilities of the new press, the sales staff had to learn how to sell the final product.
The philosophy was to install the machine and then sell the business by showing the customer what the plant was capable of producing.
"We didn't have a customer. We had a vision," Shea says. "We either had to get in high graphics or get out of it because we couldn't really compete by not having vacuum transfer and dryers on a press."
One of the first projects on the press was to duplicate a litho-label job. "This is what we'll give to the salespeople to show the customer what we can do," Shea says.
"This press allows us to become more a printer than just a box maker," says Prepress Manager Mike Schaefer. "It's important that we focus on making our printing perfect."
Buckeye recently hired Graphics Director Mark Pitts to streamline selling efforts among the six plants and the more than 50 salespeople. His primary focus is to help the sales people sell high graphics products off the Flex America press.
"We have gone on the road to the other plants and made presentations to the other salespeople," Shea says. "This is a cultural change. A lot of training is required for all of our sales personnel.
"There are opportunities out there we believe that having this graphics machine will allow them to get into accounts they can't get into," he continues.
Selling high-end graphics to new customers is expected to open the door for more brown box business. This will be an incentive for the salespeople to sell graphics work for Buckeye and brown box for their own plants.
The product mix at Buckeye Container varies from industrial packaging to high-end graphics specialty products and point of purchase displays. No customer makes up more than 10 percent of the company's shipments.
The plant converts almost every flute profile, except mini flute. Finished goods are stored on-site in an 80,000-square-foot warehouse.
Equipment at the ISO 9001 certified facility includes a 60- by 88-inch Automat���litho-label laminator; two-color and four-color Staley diecutters; two 42- by 60-inch Bobst flatbed diecutters; a 48- by 111-inch Emba folder-gluer; two Post specialty gluers; a 50- by 111-inch Ward flexo folder-gluer; a Hooper-Swift printer slotter; and an S&S slitter and partition slotter. In addition, there are two Bay Machinery stackers, one of which is on the Flex America press, and a C&M conveyor system throughout the plant. All of the Buckeye plants have Harry Rohde Management Systems.
"We've got more diecut capacity than the average sheet plant. With two shifts being crewed, we're running one rotary diecutter in excess of 20 hours and the other two right at the two shifts," Shea says.
A Fringe Benefit
One of the more unique characteristics of the Buckeye plant is the fact that it is 100 percent employee owned.
A company ESOP plan was established in 1995. The ESOP owns about 34 percent of Buckeye Corrugated's stock.
"We have always thought that it would be nice if we could share the ownership of the company with our employees," Allen says. "It's a fringe benefit that in today's business world not very many employees have."
Each quarter, employees receive 10 percent of the profits.
"Our plant profitability dumps about 90 cents to a dollar an hour into the employees' pockets, and that's an average. So every quarter that's almost another dollar that they made," Shea says. "They can see a return for their investment. That's how we get employees to take ownership."
The ESOP plan is a major factor in motivating employees and maintaining a stable work force, Allen says.
"It is a key reason for the success of our company because the better we can do as a company, the better off our employees are going to be and they all know that," he says.
Allen recognizes that a company is only as good as the people who work for it, and he credits the employees for Buckeye Container's many successes. In fact, before a new site was chosen for the new plant, the company completed a demographic study of its employee base to determine how far away a new structure could be built without inconveniencing employees.
In 1999, the Wooster Area Chamber of Commerce named Buckeye Container Business of the Year.
"There's no question that that award and the efforts of all the employees at Buckeye container over the last 42 years has developed a reputation not only in Wooster but in Northeastern Ohio as one of the premier providers of corrugated packaging," Allen says.