Judging a Box by Its Cover

Oct. 1, 2006
Providing custom box making services means being ready for anything.

While the primary function of transport packaging has always been to protect the product, another important function is advertising on the side of the box. Adapting logos and other information to boxes, however, is an expensive proposition for small-and medium-run box makers as well as box users. Here's how one box maker found a niche while taking on custom work for boxes ranging in size from two inches square to one big enough for a Harley hog.

No matter how long the client list, some companies seem to demand more attention than others. Pro-Pac is a primary packager for Harley Davidson Parts division and a Tier 1 supplier to the motorcycle manufacturer.

"With Harley Davidson products, we can predict boxing needs only a week or two out," says Dave Sarna, CFO and part owner of Pro-Pac (East Troy, Wis., www.pro-pacinc.com) "Each order is typically between 50-100 boxes and can range in size from a small part to a very large, chopper-size box, so it's important that we have the ability to make small and medium batches in various sizes."

Storage boxes fall into two main categories; empty boxes customers pack themselves, and shipping boxes custom made to meet a particular client need. As a custom packager, one of the more important value-adds that the company provides is to customize storage and shipping boxes for its clients. Its build-to-order corrugated box manufacturing service is part of Pro-Pac's warehouse and inventory management division.

Custom machinery
Pro-Pac took control of its corrugated inventory and printing challenges by creating a box-making and printing department. Previously it had to order minimum quantities of pre-made cartons. This was cost prohibitive and the stock took up much needed warehouse space. By moving the making and printing in house, the company could produce as many SKU's as needed, and eliminate the need for warehousing preprinted box inventory.

To create boxes, Pro-Pak opted for an Autobox Boxmaker (AutoBox, Azle, Texas). It now makes 90% of its boxes in-house. The Autobox Boxmaker model 1070 is designed for manufacturing short runs or small orders. The machine is capable of a wide range of sizes, from a two-inch cube to an eight-foot box. It can run almost any variation of box, including slotted cases, trays, lids, partial or full overlap, five-panel folders. The machine has unlimited job memory, and each job's exact specifications are automatically saved. This eliminates the chance for any data entry measurement errors. Jobs are selected via a number on the touch screen. Set up takes less a minute.

Sarna says when he looked for a digital case printer, research led him to Iconotech (Clinton, Conn.) because its machinery is also designed to run in small to medium size batches. "We also had a concern about printing bar codes along with the marketing information on shipping containers since more of our customers were demanding it."

As more managers recognize the marketing benefits of transport packaging—often the first thing a customer sees—using the full length of the box becomes a natural. "We often need to print customer logos and other information," says Sarna, "some of it 12-feet-long." Iconotech created a machine for Pro-Pak that can print anywhere on a box surface, up to 12 feet in width and 32 feet in length.

Custom is as custom does
The digital case printing machine uses a moveable print cylinder that can be positioned anywhere on the box to print customized information. The ink cylinder moves from left to right and is customized to adjust—on the fly—up and down and side-to-side.

Matching the customer's requirements is a real benefit, says Sarna. "Many [customers] change artwork two and three times a year. The printer uses computer generated artwork, so we are realizing significant savings on print plate charges."

He adds that he can adjust a print run with virtually no added expense. "We can give the customer the same price for 250 boxes that most places charge for 1,000 [minimum ] since we are no longer forced to buy preprinted materials," says Sarna.

The software that comes with the Iconotech system allows an operator to design the print message, including text, graphics, logo and bar code, on a PC. The print message is transmitted to a thermal imager that burns the image onto a disposable stencil film, 12 inches by 32 inches, made of Mylar laminated to a non-woven fiber backing. The print message is burned through the film at 200 dpi exposing the fiber backing, allowing ink to pass through the backing and not the remaining Mylar. The imaged film is then placed onto the printer's rotating print cylinder. Use of the unique stencil film allows for exact placement of a high-resolution print.

Flat cases are manually fed to the print cylinder and the image is transferred onto two adjacent sides of the case. At the machine exit, printed cases are manually stacked, squared and moved to the packaging area.

The quick-changeover feature of the machine for new print messages is particularly important to Pro-Pac. "One of the things customers ask us to do is to repack inventory if [the packaging material] came in damaged," says Sarna. "With computer generated artwork, we can create and print new boxes just like those that came from the main supplier."

He adds that the printer software is compatible with Adobe Illustrator, the program most of his customers use. And while learning to use the machine is relatively easy, some computer skills are beneficial.

"We have to have the flexibility to add custom artwork and barcodes," says Sarna. "With this equipment we just have the client send us the artwork and tell us where they want it placed."

Pro-Pac has found a profitable niche in the custom packaging business, adding value to its customers' transport packaging material.

Latest from Transportation & Distribution

176927300 © Welcomia | Dreamstime.com
96378710 © Nattapong Boonchuenchom | Dreamstime.com