Partnerships and productivity are the drivers for this multi-talented Tennessee converter.
Brian Rhoades (left), Morell Icuss and Kirk Icuss
Partnerships and productivity are the drivers for this multi-talented Tennessee converter.
The mission statement of Consolidated Products Inc. contains a phrase rarely encountered in the business world: peace of mind. The company says it is dedicated to delivering peace of mind to our customers, associates and business partners by offering diverse product lines, customized solutions, and continuous support. It also employs a word that has taken a beating in the world of trade over the past decade or so: loyal, as in We are loyal to all we serve.
High-flown? Idealistic? Not in the least. The folks at Consolidated Products Inc. (CPI) make it a point of pride to deliver exactly what they say they will deliver, and that includes profitability for customers. CPI demands that it be held accountable measurably accountable for its performance at all times.
Here is a label converting company, based in Knoxville, TN, USA, that differentiates between customers and partners. CPI today has about 15 partners, companies that share their brain trusts with the label companys people toward a common goal of continuous improvement and ongoing productivity.
Beyond the level of partner is an elevated status called the OPS Center Operational Print Services Center a trademarked concept that puts CPI into its partners facility to manage inventory allocation, supply variable information printing, and work with the label application teams toward a complete finished package. This, says Kirk Icuss, president of Consolidated Products, requires a full commitment and significant investment.
In a partnership status with a trade customer or an end user, our job is to drive productivity into that facility, Icuss says. We like to use the 5 percent a year productivity target. We bring opportunities for cost savings at a minimum of 5 percent a year to that facility. We are engineering new products, we are engineering new materials, we are on the line looking at the process of something as simple as somebody hand dispensing labels versus putting an inexpensive auto dispenser out there, and what that does for line speed and their productivity. Thats where we have really earned it, year after year.
Launched by Icuss and partner Tony Patton in 1988, CPI welcomed David McAllister as a third partner about 15 years ago, and in the early days enjoyed heady growth of 15 to 20 percent a year. In the mid-1990s the company employed about 15 people; today, with annual revenue approaching $20 million, the labor force is at 54.
From the start, Consolidated Products focused on compliance labels, those industrial products that might not be pretty but certainly must be manufactured to exacting standards. One example is a label that is applied to an airbag cannister that holds the gas that explodes into the airbag. This requires a very high level of compliance, says Icuss. All of the writing on it has to remain legible after the bag explodes, so it is made using a very high temperature polyester. The serial number is printed on demand at the production line, using equipment we placed on the production line to do that serialization.
Today the company manufactures flexo labels, digital labels and domed labels. It encodes data on RFID labels, prints variable information, markets thermal transfer printers and ribbons as well as some automation equipment, and markets MasterLink, its proprietary workflow management software.
The EFI Jetrion 4830 digital UV inkjet press
About 10 percent of the business is devoted to encoding RFID labels. We learned six years ago that RFID was coming to the industry, and our partners came to us and asked if we could help them with that process, says VP David McAllister. We invested in equipment to do the encoding for that customer; it allows the customer to have a compliant label. We do the coding, the verification, and provide them a report of everything we encoded. Early on, people were trying to sell us the equipment to create the full RFID label with the embedded chip and antenna, but the more we looked at it, the more we didnt see the value in the actual creation of the chip. So we take the finished product and encode it. We have other trade partners we buy that label from and we do the programming and the encoding, and ship a serialized product directly to the production line.
CPI operates eight Mark Andy presses, ranging from the 830 models to eight-color inline presses equipped with UV curing. A year ago, the company fulfilled its digital dream and acquired an EFI Jetrion digital UV inkjet label press, along with a Spartanics laser diecutter.
The company had purchased a doming machine from Demak, an Italian manufacturer, several years ago. They filled up capacity on that machine sooner than they thought they would, so they decided to shoot the sun and last year acquired Demaks top-of-the-line continuous vacuum doming unit. That machine sits in a separate building in a room nearly free of dust, and produces high quality domed labels at a high volume.
Still, it has quite a bit of available capacity, and CPI is now marketing its doming capability to the rest of the trade. Its also spreading the word that it has digital print capability with the Jetrion press, as well as laser cutting with the Spartanics unit.
We knew we needed to go to digital technology, Icuss says. We knew we needed short run, high quality work, limiting our scrap, all the things that bring us productivity. We spent enough time with Jetrion to know that thats the machine we wanted. We bought it initially because we have a whole array of customer partners who we needed to provide this technology for. We had a lot of existing business there to convert over to digital. As they learned about what the Jetrion can do and the competitive advantages it brought, they let it be known among TLMI converter members that they were available to work within the trade on digital label manufacturing as well as doming.
Spreading the word among the trade and among various industries is one of the latest pursuits at Consolidated Products. To that end, the company hired a marketing manager last year. Morell Icuss, Kirks daughter, is educated in marketing and has been out and about exploring trade shows and other potential avenues for the company to travel.
Weve been to a lot of trade shows, says Morell, looking for opportunities to explore the creativity that we can achieve with the Jetrion and our doming technology. We have even gotten a couple of new customers from visiting trade shows.
The digital technology, adds Kirk, might take the company into prime labels, which has not been a distinct focus for CPI over the years.
Some years back, one of CPIs customer partners which had an OPS Center on site brought in an operations manager who turned production on its head and introduced Lean Manufacturing. That manager was Brian Rhoades, whose job for the past four years has been vice president of operations at Consolidated Products Inc.
The high-end Demak doming machine is a lucrative niche for CPI.
We had been a supplier to that facility for 15 years, so we had a relationship. When Brian came in he raised the bar across the board for everyone, not just for suppliers but for the facility, says Icuss. We thought, This guys going to be different. Right away we knew that he was going to understand the partnership productivity side of what we do because that was his life. But the level that he drove us to as far as lead times, as far as quality, as far as scrap and waste, forced us to do things differently, and that knowledge we applied to other customers. It took us to a new level on MasterLink. He didnt want one label wasted on the floor; he wanted us to account for every label that came back to us. He took us to a different level of accountability.
The production areas at CPI are a model of cleanliness and organization. Roll materials to be printed do not litter the floor (in fact, no litter is to be found); presses are not stained with ink; equipment is organized to minimize movement of people and products, in true Lean fashion; and brooms are wielded by all at the end of the shift to maintain the showcase appearance of the plant.
This partnership mentality is really who we are, says Kirk Icuss. We are looking to our suppliers to be those kind of folks, and we are looking to be those folks to our customers.
To have a long-term relationship there has to be give and take. A company has to understand what productivity is. We can save a company a lot of money without having to reduce prices. We have all this pressure, materials going up, so we need to be looking for ways internally to not allow our costs to impact our prices. From a customer side we need to get inside their business, to do more than sit in front of a purchasing person negotiating costs. We need to be with the engineering group, the IT group; we need to get into the depths of the business to really understand where they are wasting money related to labeling.
For example, we have many partners now that were customers before. When we started to call on them they had 15 suppliers. They had purchasing people dealing with multiple lead times, multiple telephone calls, multiple receipts. It happens every day. They might have had five buyers over the past 10 years. Materials havent changed; their specifications havent changed. I cant tell you how many times we have taken five labels and combined them into one. They all go on the same model. In some cases theyre buying those five labels from two different suppliers. Materials might not match; colors might not match. So to really partner with us, they need to really open up and let us do the work. We offer this on the front end.
One of the key elements for partnership for us is that there is a very specific and agreed upon way to measure what we do, Icuss says. We want to make sure that we are measured on a regular basis. Its important that we all agree on what the deliverables are, and how they are going to measure us against that. We have had two or three opportunities where we really werent comfortable that we could be measured. We didnt want to proceed there. We make a substantial investment in a relationship ourselves, and we have to be there a long time for it to pay off for us.
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