Revved for Retail

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Revved for Retail

December 31, 2002 - 20:00


Chuck Hamilton, president, St. Joseph Packaging, takes great pride in how he and his ancestors have built this independent folding carton converter: one order at a time.

Chuck Hamilton (left), president, St. Joseph Packaging, and Brad Keller, vice president, discuss one of the many folding cartons the converter has made for the retail industry.
Chuck Hamilton (left), president, St. Joseph Packaging, and Brad Keller, vice president, discuss one of the many folding cartons the converter has made for the retail industry.

Getting those orders and then keeping the customers happy has allowed this 97-year-old company to weather the inevitable economic storms, stay committed to its many veteran employees, invest in new printing and converting equipment, and make a profit.

Hamilton and his vice president Brad Keller have known each other since the fifth grade. Hamilton started working part-time at the plant in 1963, pushing a broom. Last year, his son, representing the business' fifth generation, started working at the company.

"When I was 13, I knew I wanted to work here," Hamilton says. "It's in the blood." He's not alone. Take Vernon Boles, who has worked at the company for 54 years. He's currently an estimator but through the years has performed many jobs.

The plant's MAN Roland 900 six-color press has reduced sheet waste and ink rollers.
The plant's MAN Roland 900 six-color press has reduced sheet waste and ink rollers.

Over the decades, the Hamilton family, Keller, Boles, and the company's other 132 employees, have seen plenty of changes in the way folding cartons are made and sold. St. Joseph Packaging has been able to stay in business (and turn away its fair share of suitors) by serving and closely tracking changes in the retail packaging industry.

In fact, producing gift and apparel cartons for retail department stores throughout the country composes 50 percent of the plant's income. The other 50 percent comes from industrial clients, including those in hardware, candy, liquor, and pharmaceutical.



Spreading Out

In 1905, Hamilton's grandfather's uncle, Levis, started St. Joseph Paper Box Co. in St. Joseph, Mo., as a company that made cartons for bakeries and also made laundry shirt boxes using a special machine called Nolox. Most of its customers were in Kansas City or St. Louis. This niche served the converter well for decades.

In the early 1970s, the Hamiltons realized that if they wanted to keep growing, they had to expand the sales force. Between doing this and expanding its packaging line with a matching preprinted bag and box program, the company grew nationwide through distributors.

Veteran employee Vernon Boles points out where St. Joseph Packaging started in downtown St. Joseph, Mo.
Veteran employee Vernon Boles points out where St. Joseph Packaging started in downtown St. Joseph, Mo.

But by the 1980s, plastics had made serious inroads into the folding carton industry. In 1980, the plant bought its first sheet-fed offset press from Smith-Grieves and focused on printing offset folding cartons. Before that, it only printed flexo. Printing offset expanded its industrial packaging business.

Today the converter, which does $19 million in sales annually, runs two Heidelberg presses (one 56-inch and one 40-inch) and diecuts the sheets on three Bobst diecutters. In 2001, Hamilton was looking to buy another Heidelberg press when he learned about MAN Roland's latest offering, the 900 (six colors, with aqueous coating and extended drying), which the plant has been running since January 2002. He was immediately attracted to the press' 40- by 56-inch sheet format, which is making the plant more competitive on longer runs. Press training occurred both at the plant and at MAN Roland's corporate headquarters in Offenbach, Germany.

The Gyro section on one of St. Joseph Packaging' Bobst 110 Matic folder-luers lets the plant produce complicated carton styles.
The Gyro section on one of St. Joseph Packaging' Bobst 110 Matic folder-luers lets the plant produce complicated carton styles.

Today, two employees run the press while a third helps with loading and unloading sheets.

Enhances Print Production

"I can get significantly more blanks on a sheet with the MAN Roland, but setup times haven't been any lower than with my Heidelbergs," says Hamilton. He especially likes MAN Roland's Pecom press operating and networking system. It enhances print production workflows by accelerating makeready, expediting repeat jobs and tracking operational and performance details. Press setup times take an hour-and-a-half for new jobs, an hour for repeats.

"With Pecom, you load in all the pertinent information ahead of running the job, including the CIP3 files," he adds. "You set all your ink settings so you don't have to scan plates like on the Heidelberg."

CIP3 is a common computer language that press manufacturers have developed and agreed to use. It eliminates data transfer problems with computer-to-plate data and more.

"With the MAN Roland press, we've reduced our ink rollers from 21 to 15," Hamilton states. "The operator has more control of the ink as it's applied to the plate. The press holds color well. There's also a lot less setup sheet waste, five to six sheets off color, versus 25 on the older presses."

On certain jobs, St. Joe Packaging can split sheets in half and diecut them on two of its 28- by 40-inch Bobst diecutters, giving it more versatility and efficiency.

All this is not to say that the installation went perfect from the get-go. Bugs had to be worked out of some of the press' first generation auxiliary equipment, including the ASTI roll conveyor system and the dampening unit. There also was some initial trouble with the vacuum and air pressure system, again because it was brand new.

Art Lithocraft in Kansas City makes the plant's plates. The plant sends digital disks to the platemaker, which then e-mails back digital files. The plant then loads these files into the press' PECOM system, which then automatically sets all the inkers.

Other key pieces of printing and converting equipment at the 100,000-square-foot plant include a four-color (plus coating) 28- by 40-inch Heidelberg, three Bobst folder-gluers (a 110 Matic, a 130 Matic and a 110 Matic with Gyro section) and three Bobst diecutters, including its newest, a 103 ER. All three folder-gluers were purchased in the last three years and replaced the five machines the plant previously used. The plant also has windowing, foil stamping and embossing capabilities.

"Bobst has figured out ways to eliminate parts, keeping everything on the machine," says Hamilton, when asked about the folder-gluers. "With the Gyro section, we can do more complicated styles, folding and gluing on both carton sides."

As order lengths get shorter and the pressure to decrease setup times gets more intense, Hamilton knows its state of the art printing presses, diecutters and folder-gluers will allow centrally-located St. Joe Packaging to stay independent and continue to serve the retail industry nationwide.