SUN625 66 x 125 Fixed Framed, Vertically Opening RDC - Corrugated Today Sept/Oct 2013 - Robert Mann Packaging Article
By Jackie Schultz
“I don’t think it would be very easy to run a defensive company,” says Robert Mann as he watches a constant stream of truckloads of product leave his namesake company in Salinas, Calif., on their way to customers. That strategy has been his philosophy from the very beginning when he founded Robert Mann Packaging, Inc. (RMP) more than 40 years ago. Mann and his management team are intensely proactive, always looking for new markets and expansion opportunities.
This past year will no doubt be recounted as a major milestone in the company’s history. RMP grew 44% in the first quarter of 2013 (the fiscal year is May to June) as a result of two major initiatives — the acquisition of a local distributor, Cypress Packaging & Supply, and the startup of a strawberry tray program that RMP previously outsourced to integrated companies. Both undertakings were no small feat considering that they occurred at virtually the same time.
RMP serves a tight niche market, providing shipping containers for fresh produce, flowers, seafood and general food processing. In addition to the Salinas headquarters, there are about a dozen or so sales, distribution and assembly facilities. The fresh produce industry is fast-paced and ramps up quickly when the crops are in season. The packaging has to be immediately on hand for packing, hydro-cooling, and shipping. “With perishables, there’s not much forgiveness,” Mann says. “We have to be close to where the customer action is.”
RMP’s recent growth was part of a five-year strategy to bring in more business. “Over the past number of years we’ve been making a great effort to get the right locations where the customers are. We were investing in a lot of infrastructure and the infrastructure was not paying back the way it should,” Mann says. “We were top heavy in infrastructure and overhead costs.” In the last 12 months alone the company spent $4.2 million in capital expenditures.
HIGH SPEED VOLUME
The additional business from the Cypress Packaging acquisition was easily rolled into the 350,000-sq-ft Salinas plant. RMP was able to retain 100% of Cypress’s customers. “They didn’t manufacture anything and we didn’t take over any of their physical facilities. We bought the customer list and three salesmen,” Mann says.
The second part of that growth strategy was bringing the strawberry tray business in-house. In order to do that, RMP needed to not only manufacture the diecut trays but also supply the tray assembly machines that were being used in the fields. The companies that were supplying the corrugated trays for RMP also owned the assembly machines. “We were captive and we couldn’t grow. So we built our own tray setup machines,” Mann says. RMP currently has 34 machines and plans to build more.
To produce the corrugated trays, the company purchased a SUN625 five-color rotary diecutter from SUN Automation. RMP was the first commercial installation of the SUN625. There are currently three in the U.S. market and two additional machines are under construction.
The fixed-frame, vertically opening machine has several features that are advantageous for RMP’s produce tray business and helped the company ramp up very quickly to meet its customer’s order requirements during the peak growing season, which began in March. “The nice thing about the diecutter is the open design, which really helps on the setups,” says Carlos Velez-Conty, Vice President of Manufacturing Operations. “It allows the crews to communicate and it’s a lot easier for cleaning and maintenance. We can change anilox rolls, printing plates and cutting dies a lot easier because you have that open machine where a person can be helping on the other side.”
Another feature perfectly suited to RMP’s business is high speed volume. The diecutter was converting 35 million sq. ft. a month on two shifts during berry season. The average order size was 20,000 running four out, and the average orders per shift were four to five. Order changeover time is about 10-15 minutes. “This machine runs 280,000 to 300,000 sq. ft. per hour,” Velez-Conty says.
SUN Automation’s MicroGrind® was specified for the diecut section. “It elevates cutting and creasing quality as well as dimensional consistency at 200 kicks per minute,” says Dan Phillips, Sun Automation Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “Our ink metering system ColorMaster was also requested because of its flexibility, accurate metering of the anilox and its ease of use.
“The SUN625’s ability to produce multi-out, multi-up precision cut corrugated containers, with eye-catching graphics, at extraordinary production rates gives Robert Mann’s team a competitive advantage,” Phillips says. “The uniqueness of our vertical opening design allows for quick setup and easy machine care. The machine’s flexibility allows RMP to build their diecut business around a single production line where other converters need to utilize several production lines for the same volume.”
An LBX:Scrubber Stacker from Geo. M. Martin allows the diecutter to run four out without a bundle breaker. “The stacker is unique because it has a diverter. That’s how we can run the four outs without bundle breaking them,” Velez-Conty explains. “You will not see that anywhere else. We would not be able to do this without the LBX. The other thing you will see with machines similar to this one is split lines. We’re going straight out. We don’t have split lines.”
When it comes to installing new technology, RMP likes to be at the forefront. The purchase of the SUN625 is a perfect example. “We had Sun do a number of projects for us through the years and we were always impressed by their engineering and their service,” Mann says. “I’m a gambler for new technology and I looked at what was out there and I thought, ‘This diecutter is an advance in new technology.’”
RMP was also one of the first installations of a Lachenmeier stretch hood packaging machine. Other machinery in the plant includes a new Alliance FeedMax Pre-feeder on the SUN625; a 37-inch four-color Ward flexo folder-gluer with an Alliance ALF MAX automatic robotic palletizer; two 50-inch three-color Ward flexo folder-gluers; a McKinley 66 x 190-inch two-color rotary diecutter; a 45 x 90-inch wax cascader, and an American Baler baling system. The company uses Amtech software modules for scheduling and other production-related tasks and Nagios to network all of the facilities.
The new diecutter was pivotal in helping RMP accomplish its goal of diversifying and adding volume. “For a lot of years we were a distributor,” says John Mann who heads up the strawberry packaging program. “This is the first step going into the diecutting of the KD (knocked down) boxes. It took the shackles off so we can go direct to the whole market.”
“Once John’s hands were untied he had some really good success,” Robert Mann adds. “There are not a lot of strawberry companies and they will only seriously deal with you if you have control of your destiny. You have to have the raw material, your own production, setup machines, etc. Once we had that it really unleashed him to go after some real volume and it came big time.”
The strawberry tray program represents about 25% of RMP’s total volume. Fresh cut flowers and potted plants represent an additional 15%. The remaining volume is shipping containers for fresh produce and processed food and packaging supplies like wooden pallets, strapping, plastic bags and plastic clamshells.
RMP is currently expanding into the citrus, dairy and in-house food processing markets, primarily to offset the slower growing seasons of December to March. The company recently received BRC (British Retail Consortium) certification. BRC is regarded as the benchmark for best practice in the food industry. RMP was the first corrugated company in the US to receive this certification.
The certification offers a marketing advantage. “We just got a very large meat account (for frozen pizza boxes). We wouldn’t have gotten through the door if we weren’t BRC,” Mann says.
The additional business this past year has put full use of the plant’s added capacity and infrastructure. At its peak, RMP ran 112 million sq. ft. in May and is now averaging 90 million sq. ft. a month.
“We’re not your typical sheet plant. We just don’t happen to have a corrugator in the building,” Robert Mann says. “We own a third of a corrugator, but we farm out sheet orders because we don’t really know how to run them. We’ll run the same thing that IP, GP, RockTenn is running. Those are our competitors.” RMP is part owner of Cal Sheets, an independent sheet feeder in Stockton, Calif.
Robert Mann founded RMP in 1971 after working for International Paper. Looking back, he says he never had a goal for how big the company would become. “My only goal was to do better. I’m a depression era kid so I’m always looking over my shoulder. I want the company to be successful and take care of all of its employees.”
RMP is an ESOP company. There are 175 employees. Annual sales are $140 million. A year ago annual sales were $100 million. “It’s just extraordinary that we grew that much so fast. We knew we were going to grow but we didn’t anticipate that much,” Mann says. Mann attributes the company’s success to skilled employees and high service. “We’re selling service. The products are a given,” he says. “We’re not after an order, we’re after a customer.”
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