Mitigating Risk, Investing in Our Future

One common challenge among employers is the continued loss of skilled labor. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, an aging workforce, and limited interest from candidates have created a gap that will be challenging to cover. Industrial modernization and automation are helping to mitigate some of these issues, but it isn’t enough.

The need to recruit, train, and retain is ever more critical for success. Although we need to recruit, we are losing those who can train and onboard new staff. “If you are looking to hire experienced and dedicated employees of past generations, you will be hard-pressed to find them—they simply aren’t around anymore,” shared one prominent CEO during a recent Fibre Box Association conference. As baby boomers near retirement, we stand to lose 25% of our workforce.

In addition, younger generations have different demands and experiences. Most candidates look for benefits around flexible work hours, work-from-home policies, and child care options, to name a few. The challenge is that these make onboarding and collaboration among staff even more difficult. With that said, I personally embraced the CEO’s comments and agree that while we need to be flexible, we also need to consider how these demands affect productivity.

To align company needs with employee demands, many box plants are shifting strategies. Another CEO shared how their company simplified its online application process to be more inclusive and user-friendly for prospective employees with language barriers or limited computer skills. Others are holding in-house job fairs to allow recruits to fully experience the roles and opportunities within the company before they commit.

Once new recruits are employed, a common retention strategy is to match them with a mentor. Typically, a senior manager will be assigned to check in regularly with a new hire to help manage employee satisfaction and provide consistent support and training. Another executive mentioned how they don’t set overtime hours for the first 90 days so that they don’t scare new hires.

We are fortunate that associations such as AICC have invested in the cause and are providing tools we can all leverage. AICC has done a tremendous job providing online education and on-site seminars for career development. As of March, AICC members completed more than 10,600 online courses—reinforcing the hunger for knowledge and training. The pandemic did help to drive those numbers, as many people were searching for online resources and tailored education as a result. If your company has not already committed, I would certainly encourage you to consider becoming an AICC Education Investor or make a commitment to the Foundation for Packaging Education—or both! Sometimes the best gift we can give is the gift of learning. The Foundation for Packaging Education is instrumental in offering premier educational programming, products, and services to help sustain the industry overall.


Greg Jones is the Executive Vice President of SUN Automation Group. With a pulse on corrugated market demands, Jones is Vice Chairman of AICC’s executive board. Prior to joining SUN in 2012, he spent over 15 years in the manufacturing and packaging sector focused on delivering equipment and material load containment solutions to clients across various sectors.

Originally published in AICC Box Score,  July 2022

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2022 Equipment & Service Catalog Now Available

SUN Automation Group ® (SUN), the global leader in providing innovative solutions to the corrugated industry, is announcing the publication of their 2022 Equipment & Service Catalog featuring a new design and expanded product list.

The Equipment & Service Catalog includes more than 30 corrugated industry equipment and machinery, parts, and service available for ordering through SUN. Featuring an extensive range of products, such as rotary die cutters, flexo folder gluers, and IIoT solutions, and other corrugated industry items, the SUN portfolio of solutions is crafted to help box plants improve their versatility and flexibility to meet challenging supply chain trends.

Equipment & Service Catalog Chapters Include: 

For customers that would like to request a copy of the new 2022 Equipment & Service Catalog Now Available, copies will be available at SUN Automation Group® Global Headquarters in Baltimore, USA, SUN Automation Group, EMEA in Bristol UK, and Sun Automation Co., Ltd Asia Guangzhou, China – as well as available at all tradeshows SUN will be attending in 2022.

Download Your Copy Today

Upgrade your current workhorse or purchase a brand new one for delivery in 2023. Browse through SUN’s full line of corrugated converting, feeding, and printing equipment. With our unmatched service offerings and equipment spanning RDC and FFG options, SUN has got you covered.

 

Recruit, Retain, Reward Employees

With the ever-increasing competition for talent, what can companies do to attract the right individuals? It will require creative methods and incentives. We will need to reward in ways that will encourage, motivate and ultimately serve to help retain prospective employees. This is a challenge most companies are currently facing and it is critical to ensuring business stability and success as we move toward reaching our goals.

When I was recruited to come to SUN Automation Group I was not sold on the corrugated industry. However, at that time SUN was establishing itself as an OEM and investing in its future. From being an ESOP to strategic business restructuring and ultimately investing in land and additional resources, I knew regardless of industry that this was an organization I was willing to devote my time to.

Having now entered my tenth year, I can humbly say that I recognize and appreciate the industry itself. It’s something I can’t quite express – like describing the taste of an apple to someone who has never eaten one. The corrugated industry was my first bite into that apple. I thought I knew what to expect. I had spent my first 25 years in other related B2B spaces, from food and beverage to hardware and insurance. I can assure you the greatest of these is corrugated. It’s easy to take for granted something as simple as a box. Recently we learned just how valuable our industry is to the entire world. However, what makes it even more special is the relationships and comradery that is felt throughout. One that expands our individual jobs and continents. Having the privilege to be part of AICC, and engaged with other associations throughout the world, I have even more respect for our industry and the folks in it.

We know we have a lot to offer prospective employees and the industry has invested greatly in talent recruitment and advertising to generate general public awareness. Many of our fellow associates and general members created diverse work incentives and in-house programs to entice new recruits interested in R & D or rising green initiatives. We’ve partnered with colleges and engaged in new social media channels to attract younger talent. There is a renewed commitment to employee recruiting overall.

However, recruiting someone is only half the battle. How do you reward and retain talent once they’re through the door? Everyone has a different love language, and for many the initial thought goes to compensation; however I have come to realize it’s more the opportunity to impact a business. They want to feel valued. We have been fortunate at SUN to hire individuals over the last five years that I never thought we would be able to recruit to our company. Early into conversations with new recruits it was made clear that they wanted to be somewhere that their voices were heard, and they could make an impact. We just needed to create the opportunity. All companies are structured differently, and having a strong servant leader culture backed by 150 employees headquartered in the United States has its advantages to achieving that. Regardless, I believe allowing your team to be empowered is critical to success.

Beyond creating a value-driven business model, another great reward / retention tool that many of you should consider – which is tied to finances – is an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). This was an incentive that was pitched to me when I was being recruited for SUN in 2012. An ESOP allows for employees to be rewarded for company growth and establishes accountability throughout the organization. Employees gain shares in the company every year so everyone has an interest in how we are performing financially because it impacts their individual bottom line. Having worked for a Fortune 500 company and now an ESOP, I can honestly say it is an entirely different mindset. It’s much easier for the individual to see and respect the value in every job, and to have the desire to work together as a collective, when the results are shared.

No matter how you recruit, retain and reward your employees, stay vigilant in your efforts and look for unique ways to separate from your competition. Whether it’s through an ESOP or value-driven initiatives that fuel employee growth and training, it’s important to understand employees want more than paycheck. It’s our job as leaders to help them feel valued and create an atmosphere where they see the potential in giving their time and talent to organizations like ours.


Greg Jones is the Executive Vice President of SUN Automation Group. With a pulse on corrugated market demands, Jones is Vice Chairman of AICC’s executive board. Prior to joining SUN in 2012, he spent over 15 years in the manufacturing and packaging sector focused on delivering equipment and material load containment solutions to clients across various sectors.

Originally published in AICC Box Score,  March 2022

Supply Chain, Labor Challenges Continue to Consume Attention

Global manufacturers, including most all AICC Associate and General Member companies, are feeling unprecedented pressure as we crawl out of a post-pandemic world. Components shortages, compounded by surging raw material prices, has created a feeding frenzy as we battle global supply chain lockdowns. Furthermore, supply shortages are tempting to cut off economic recovery in many regions of the world and when coupled with labor and logistics shortages, the challenges appear to be piling up with no end in sight. Just this morning I heard from a box maker who stated his normal lead times for customers was 4 days, but supply and demand issues have forced him to quote four weeks out.

Fortunately demand for corrugated remains strong and global recovery was beginning to exceed pre-pandemic status. Good news is on the horizon too as borders reopen. Manufacturing operations and retailers in the western economies have emerged from lockdowns and are ready to resume imports from many international countries. In early October there were almost 500 large container ships waiting to dock outside ports in Asia, Europe and North America. However, OEMs that have successfully shipped containers to North America are being blocked at sea and delayed by weeks waiting to be allowed entry. In some instances, these delays are made worse by the fact some ports don’t have enough labor to unload the waiting ships and move products to the hauler or rail yard for the next leg of their journey. As a result, ocean freight rates have increased two to five times from 18 months ago, depending on what lanes you are shipping – creating an actual bidding war to secure shipping container spots.

OEMs in Asia are certainly feeling the brunt of the downturn more than those in Europe and North America due to COVID restrictions. Seeking goods from regions still in lockdown is virtually impossible. Additionally, while some are able to export machinery, they are unable to send technicians to perform installs. As a result, several OEMs have had to rely on video conferencing or other solutions to remotely walk box plant customers through the install process. Others are relying on domestic partners to install equipment on their behalf.

With labor shortages likely to continue, mitigating these issues is ever more challenging. According to the Labor Department, just last August over 4.3 million workers voluntarily walked off their jobs. And at the time of writing this report, there were strikes ongoing at both Kellogg’s and John Deere by employees feeling the upper hand in negotiations and demanding more of their employers.

Many employers have also expressed great difficulty finding qualified and willing applicants to fill the growing void caused by the upended labor market. State officials have also been unsuccessful in attempting to limit additional U.S. federal benefits over the summer and the current White House administration has done little to mitigate these growing challenges. A lackluster performance illustrates this further as only 194,000 jobs were added in September.

Given all this, we must leverage the hand we have been dealt. It will require renewed effort and a steadfast approach but the opportunities for success are there. If you have not done so already, I strongly recommend: building up inventory and creating emergency plans, identifying potential new suppliers, conducting a supply chain vulnerability audit, and partnering with companies who have logistics expertise. Any of these strategies will help you have a successful, healthy, and prosperous 2022!

 


Greg Jones is the Executive Vice President of SUN Automation Group. With a pulse on corrugated market demands, Jones is Vice Chairman of AICC’s executive board. Prior to joining SUN in 2012, he spent over 15 years in the manufacturing and packaging sector focused on delivering equipment and material load containment solutions to clients across various sectors.

Originally published in AICC Box Score January 24, 2022 

Labor Shortages Enhance the Need for Greater Automation

Eighteen months ago our industry and employees were identified as “essential” and many suppliers and box plants are experiencing great success and growth as a result. However, as demand continues to rise the labor required to meet it has unfortunately decreased dramatically. This has been a movement for years now and the complexities around acquiring and retaining talent has only compounded the need for most all companies to look for greater automation solutions. The shortage of available labor to build machinery and operate corrugators and converting equipment is something I have not witnessed in my thirty-plus year career. This sentiment has been confirmed in conversations with fellow AICC general and associate members who’ve also said there seems to be no end in sight.        

In discussion with those managing box plants, one member organization shared they had 300 job openings in their plants across the country.  Another individual in the Pacific Northwest shared with me last week that they are experiencing an average of 26 call-outs a day at their plant — not to mention the shortage of 20-plus needed personnel to meet their current production needs.  It’s already difficult to schedule production with a shortage of people, additional call-outs make it almost impossible to plan for and causes greater disruption.  

Most suppliers and box plant owners were already experiencing challenges pre-Covid to find individuals willing to work in the physical demands of a box plant. When coupled with the fears of the pandemic and additional government incentives, the difficulties have only enhanced. It’s no longer a matter of having an already small talent pool, it’s an industry-wide shortage of interest from the available labor force.  Many states have tried to incentivize workers by cutting additional federal funding but this strategy has run into its own legal challenges.  In Maryland recently, a Baltimore judged blocked Governor Hogan’s initiative to end the enhanced federal benefit of $300 per week.  

Pressures on congress to mandate higher Minimal Wage is also forcing manufacturers’ to look at automation to reduce additional labor costs.  Other industry leaders have also shared with me the first quarter of 2021 was extremely difficult to manage production requirements due to state benefits like the CA 2021 Covid-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave benefits which provided two weeks of pay for those caring for a family member who had Covid.  The management of that process was cumbersome and further caused an abundance of unexpected call-outs.

That said, there are still many box plants and supplier operations that maintain dedicated and skilled employees throughout box plants and supplier operations worldwide. Those willing to stay though have demanded greater work-life balance. In many instances they would prefer to keep their forty hours a week and not take on overtime work at enhanced pay.  The work/life balance is much more important to them than the additional money.  I am not saying they do not “have it right”, but it is something we all have to manage as we are already short staffed.  Similarly, a customer visiting our operation this past week said employees have no problem walking off the job if they have a personal obligation that is conflicting with work because they know they can go down the street and get a new job with a signing bonus.  

This has ultimately led for many in our industry to relax everything from work-from-home policies to pre-employment drug screening and modified background checks to get enough bodies in to operate equipment to meet demand. One AICC associate member out of Los Angeles, CA said his company had greater success bringing in talent after posting their open positions in Spanish to attract skilled workers who might have otherwise not applied due to language barriers. This strategy worked well for them due to their geographic location but it was also made possible because they had internal programs to support ESL (English as a Second Language) training and management tools. 

However, while the human talent pool shrinks, automation has taken rise. Operating 24/7/365, automation has allowed for the literal industry engines to continue — not only meeting demand but exceeding the scales of human-based production.  The future of our industry looks to be reliant on the few with the power of many….robots.


Greg Jones is the Executive Vice President of SUN Automation Group. With a pulse on corrugated market demands, Jones is Vice Chairman of AICC’s associate board. Prior to joining SUN in 2012, he spent over 15 years in the manufacturing and packaging sector focused on delivering equipment and material load containment solutions to clients across various sectors.

As seen in AICC BoxScore, September/October Issue 2021

SUN Automation Group Proves Strong Partners Create Strong Solutions

SUN Automation Group® continues to provide robust solutions to the global corrugated industry. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented levels of pressure on the corrugated industry, SUN reached significant milestones over the last year, including creating new partnerships with Para srl and Highcon. SUN’s extensive offerings and resources are positioning the corrugated industry for continued success into the future, no matter what challenges it may bring.

In February of 2021, SUN announced its exclusive strategic partnership agreement with the Italian material handling company, Para srl. With this partnership, SUN is the exclusive representative of all PARA equipment for the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland. In addition, SUN provides service for all PARA equipment and the distributor of PARA parts in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

PARA offers a variety of material handling and machinery solutions for the corrugated industry and has installed over 15,000 products world-wide. PARA’s extensive product range includes; pre-feeders, palletizers, RDC stackers, bundle breakers, pallet inserters, vertical storage solutions, paper mill roll transports and unit conveyors systems from corrugator to converting equipment using smart carts.

“PARA’s extensive product portfolio is an excellent addition to our customer offerings. PARA’s commitment to innovation and customer service are perfectly in-line with SUN’s own ethos and our customer’s needs,” said Greg Jones, Executive Vice President of SUN, at the time of the partnership announcement.

Last May, SUN also signed a partnership agreement with Highcon, to promote and sell Highcon digital converting solutions for corrugated in North America. With the exponential growth of e-commerce and the ensuing requirement for packaging that can handle the hazards of direct-to-consumer shipping, Highcon’s digital finishing for corrugated provides solutions to these growing challenges.

“We are excited to be adding the Highcon digital converting systems to our extensive range of innovative equipment for corrugated box plants with the aim of increasing production, efficiency, and profitability,” Paul Aliprando, Vice President of Digital Technologies at SUN Automation Group said at the time of the announcement.

These recent partnerships are just the latest example of SUN’s revolutionary ‘culture of listening and responding to customers needs’ at work– which enables SUN to invest in innovation and devise customized customer solutions.

In just over two years since forging a strategic partnership as the exclusive North and Central American representative for all Latitude Machinery Corporation (LMC) Machinery, SUN continues to place LMC machines in corrugated box facilities in North and Central America. LMC is a rapidly growing and world-class Tawainese manufacturer of Flexo Folder Gluers, Rotary Die Cutters and other solutions to the corrugated industry.

With the largest inventory of parts in the United States, with many ready to ship same-day and overnight, SUN Automation Group is committed to the sustained success of its customers. This commitment goes beyond simply supplying the necessary parts–it also centers around providing customers with all the necessary support needed to keep their machines running optimally, without interruption or the need of a service plan. As box-making plants are pushed to their capacity limits and supply chains face ongoing challenges, this universal support enables customers to proceed confidently, knowing that they can count on their equipment to run efficiently around the clock. And with a growing staff of service and support technicians around the world, SUN is ready and uniquely equipped to handle any customer need, regardless of location.

In looking ahead, SUN seeks to continue to meet customer demands by working tirelessly to be a trusted partner and employ a “culture of listening.” Whether that means servicing equipment and supplying parts, fulfilling new orders, establishing new partnerships or innovating new solutions, SUN plans to answer the demands of today as well as tomorrow.

With so many happenings going on, SUN encourages visits to its state-of-the-art facility in Glen Arm, Maryland. To contact directly call: 410-472-2900 or visit: www.sunautomation.com.


Greg Jones is the Executive Vice President of SUN Automation Group. With a pulse on corrugated market demands, Jones is Vice Chairman of AICC’s executive board. Prior to joining SUN in 2012, he spent over 15 years in the manufacturing and packaging sector focused on delivering equipment and material load containment solutions to clients across various sectors.

Originally published in AICC Box Score