Upon reaching its silver anniversary, Techni-Flex made a major technological investment to eliminate waste and enter a new market.
Despite dated equipment, the press operators at Techni-Flex worked their magic on multiple flexo presses to produce high-quality labels. Until late last year, this was the norm before the company decided it was time to take a technological leap with its printing equipment. Now, with a brand new Nilpeter FA-4* on board, the Appleton, Wisconsin-based company has kept up with quality standards, branched out into new markets and now requires a little less magic from its operators.
“The story is the reinvention of this company into the future and it’s only the beginning”, Greta Nylund, Techni-Flex’s General Manager, says, “That’s what’s exciting for me. It’s only going to roll from here.”
The needed know-how
It’s often said that two heads are better than one, and in the case of Techni-Flex, it was its two founders, who combined their knowledge of label printing that got the company off the ground.
Rick Schneider had cut his teeth in the industry as a packaging buyer, working in the cheese industry before becoming a sales representative in the label field. In 1990, he made the decision to branch out on his own and start a label printing company. To get the ball rolling, Schneider reached out to an acquaintance, Lloyd Hoeffner, who he knew through the Flexographic Technical Association.
At the time, Hoeffner was an instructor at nearby Fox Valley Technical College and Schneider had come in on occasion to talk to his classes. So with his knowledge of the business side of the industry, Schneider reached out to Hoeffner to see if he was interested in adding his technical knowledge of printing to the mix.
In the early days, Techni-Flex ran just a single press, producing labels primarily for the cheese industry. Though the company has grown exponentially in size and scope in 25 years and both Hoeffner and Schneider have since retired, the company still maintains many of the ideals they started the company with.
Cindy Schneider, Rick’s wife and co-owner and president of the company, explains that one of the differentiators that makes Techni-Flex stand out is its dedication to customer service. She says that has been a priority from day one and remains a focal point. “We’ve always been strong on lead time and customer service right from the get-go”, Cindy Schneider says. “That’s always been something that’s been instilled in the company.”
Though Techni-Flex began with one press as part of an innovation center at Fox Valley Technical College, it quickly outgrew the small space it started in. Its first expansion came when the company moved into a former welding shop and started running two 7? Comco flexo presses.
In 1998, the company decided it had again outgrown its location and decided to build its own facility, a 15,500-square-foot building that it moved into in March 1999. In 2009, the company increased its production space by adding 12,000 sq. ft. to the building, which now measures 27,500 sq. ft. After the expansion, Techni-Flex added a few wider presses, bringing 10? and 16? printing capabilities on board. While the company expected, it would improve its production flow with the expansion, there were some unexpected benefits.
The 2009 expansion added two loading docks, which after some investigating, Techni-Flex realized could be used as part of a greener recycling effort for its waste management. Schneider discussed the situation with the company’s suppliers, and they explained that most of Techni-Flex’s production waste could be turned into pellets to be burned in pellet stoves.
Now, in addition to having a greener footprint, Schneider explains that the company no longer has to have a large trash receptacle picked up three times a week. Instead, production waste is loaded onto a trailer to be recycled, and trash is stored in a small container and picked up just once a month.
“I’m kind of a green person, so I just love the fact that it’s not going to sit in a landfill somewhere when it can be made into a product that can be burned and provides heat”, Nylund says. “I think it’s fantastic.”
Trading in a ‘Pinto for a Lamborghini’
About a year ago, Nylund explains, she gathered an extensive amount of data about Techni-Flex’s operations and made an alarming discovery. She says, that as soon as she started analyzing the data, she realized that the company’s biggest issue was in the amount of waste, it was creating by using older model flexo presses.
“Some people have said we went from the Pinto to the Lamborghini”, Nylund says. “The equipment we had was older and the capabilities were limited. The press operators here would work magic producing high quality labels, but our waste was tremendous in making that happen.”
After consulting with her colleagues, Nylund soon realized that this was not a problem that could be solved with Techni-Flex’s current equipment – a new press was needed, and it was needed quickly. At first, Nylund explains, Techni-Flex began the process by investigating opportunities in hybrid presses. She says, the company does have a lot of short run business and the ability to combine flexo with digital made sense. However, with hybrid printing still in its infancy, Nylund says Techni-Flex decided it would be best to go with something a little more tried and true.
She says the next step was comparing digital options and state-of-the-art flexo equipment. But with Techni-Flex being a flexo house from the beginning and digital’s limitations in substrates, the right decision for the company was to stick with flexo.
“Digital could have been a solution for some of our needs, but the limited substrates and other issues just didn’t make it a viable solution”, she says. “When we started looking in depth at state-of-the-art flexo, we got really excited.”
Nylund says that Techni-Flex had narrowed its decision down to four flexo manufacturers, but decided that Nilpeter’s FA-4* was the option that provided the company with everything it needed. She says, that during the purchasing process, Nilpeter demonstrated how the press could be sped up all the way, then have its speed reduced without sacrificing registration or printing quality. “With the equipment that we had previously, it’s a constant struggle to keep things in registration”, Nylund says.
“It was important for us to see that you would have to try hard to make this press go out of registration. I don’t even know that you could. It keeps it in and holds it tight.” With the new press, Nylund says material waste has been reduced substantially. She says there is minimal, if any, run waste, and setup waste has been cut to maybe 100 feet per job, as opposed to several hundred feet with the old equipment. But wasted time can be just as costly as material waste, and features of the FA-4* have also helped speed up each job.
“When we saw the quick die change and that you can do a complete job changeover in a matter of a few minutes versus it potentially taking a couple hours, that was amazing”, she says.
Not just labels anymore
While the new Nilpeter press will be a game changer in the way Techni-Flex produces its labels, adding the state-of-the-art flexo press has opened a new door for the company.
Nylund explains, that as a label printer, flexible packaging has always been on the radar because of how many potential customers don’t use labels, sticking solely with preprinted packaging. She says that in the past it was always disheartening for both Techni-Flex and its customers, when a possible flexible packaging job had to be turned down. However, with the FA-4*, the company can now tackle some of these flexible packaging jobs in-house, providing its customers with a one-stop shop for both labels and flexible packaging.
Since the press was just installed in December 2015, Techni-Flex is still very much in the learning process when it comes to flexible packaging. But Nylund says that by working with the company’s suppliers, it has been able to learn a great deal about entering this new market. “We used to depress ourselves by looking at the statistics that said flexible packaging growth was much higher than label growth from a sales standpoint”, she says. “Now we’re in that race. It is extremely exciting. Nylund says that Techni-Flex had narrowed its decision down to four flexo manufacturers, but decided that Nilpeter’s FA-4* was the option that provided the company with everything it needed. She says that during the purchasing process, Nilpeter demonstrated how the press could be sped up all the way, then have its speed reduced without sacrificing registration or print quality.
“With the equipment that we had previously, it’s a constant struggle to keep things in registration,” Nylund says. The Nilpeter FA-4* has reduced Techni-Flex’s waste and opened the door to flexible packaging.
This article is reprinted with the permission from PackagePRINTING, February 2016.