- July 01, 2004, by Nsenga Byrd Thompson Associate Editor
After driving through the splash and pop — literally — of the Midwest's largest vacation destination, the Wisconsin Dells, you'll soon arrive in Adams — population: 1,914. This classic American small town — complete with nostalgic Mayberry-esque architecture and friendly, small-town hospitality — is home to a manufacturing complex of one of the giants of the packaging industry — Smurfit Stone Container Corp.
Smurfit Stone's Castle Rock is a driving force in this small community, hailed as the largest employer in two counties with 260 employees (including its sales and graphic design teams in Jackson, WI, and Carol Stream, IL), and a dominant financial contributor to many of the town's local businesses and organizations.
Castle Rock's origins trace back to 1968, when the company opened its doors as Lewis Container. Later, as Consolidated Paper, the company thrived as a producer of high-end corrugated displays and brown boxes (with 60% of its business being high-end point-of-purchase and corrugated display and 40% being brown box). In June 1999, the company was purchased by St. Laurent Packaging Corp., and in June 2000 was acquired by Smurfit Stone Container Corp. and added to Smurfit Stone's Display Group.
Castle Rock certainly has grown from its modest roots, but as plant manager and longtime employee Pete Murphy testifies, one thing has remained the same — the plant's unrelenting diligence toward customer service and high-end printing.
“We are quite a ways away from large industry, so we have to have a niche, and our niche is full-service converting. We offer the best service available, extremely high quality, and some of the best printing you're going to find on corrugated.”
Strong words — but Murphy has strong evidence to back up that claim. Castle Rock has won 115 printing awards since 1984, including honors from the Flexographic Technical Assn., Drupa, the International Flexographic Technical Assn., TAPPI, the Paperboard Packaging Council, and North American Publishing Co. (the Gold Ink Awards). More impressively, they have done it not through massive investments in new equipment but by well-placed upgrades to existing equipment.
Castle Rock's most extensive upgrades have come in its printing department. Purchased in 1992, its latest press is a five-color Bobst 200, a 50×80-in. flexo press with in-line varnish capacity and die-cutting capabilities. The press served the plant well over the years, but determined to keep up with the changing needs of its customers, the company knew it had to step up its print capabilities — and stepping up print quality didn't mean breaking the bank.
Instead of making the mad dash to purchase a new press, in 1998 the plant separated its die-cutting capabilities from the Bobst 200 and added five dryers.
“Now a stand-alone printer, [it previously] was combined with our die-cutter, but to take our quality up, we separated the two, [which] allowed the crew just to concentrate on printing,” says Murphy.
In the last few years, upgrades also have been made to Castle Rock's Bobst 1575 and 160 and United flexo presses. A few years ago, the Bobst 1575, a 40×60-in. two-color printer with in-line die-cutting, was equipped with UV capabilities, and the Bobst 160, a 43×63-in. four-color flexo press with in-line die-cutting, received a new vacuum transfer system. Last year the plant's United, a 66×84-in. four-color flexo press received a new vacuum transfer system, new inking system, and digital registration and was upgraded with two dryers.
“The upgrades allow tight registration, which is key in almost any print operation,” comments Murphy. “What kind of registration it will hold gives you the opportunity to determine how good your graphics are going to be for your customer.”
In addition to tight registration, Murphy also credits the upgrades for its improved drying process. “[The upgrades] also gave us the opportunity to run and to print coated stock and still dry it at higher speeds.”
Color it Beautiful
An integral component of Castle Rock's high quality printing has been its long-standing relationship with Printron Engravers, Neenah-Menasha, WI, which provides the majority of Castle Rock's plates and color management for process printing and all of its waterproofs.
“We can guarantee to our customer that we can print up to 95% of that waterproof. Once the customer walks through the door, the typical press approval on a process job is about ten minutes. It goes extremely well; there are very few issues,” says Murphy.
To replicate the high quality of Printron's waterproofs, Castle Rock formulates its inks in an in-house “ink kitchen,” using inks from INX Intl., which allows them to create more than 1,600 different colors.
“There's no waste. We reuse everything,” says Murphy. “It's incredible what we can do.”
Retrofitting its equipment to achieve optimal performance levels played a big part in positioning the plant where it needed to be — in a position to give its customers the highest quality printing available. Then the time came to focus on doing it more efficiently.
In the last two years, Castle Rock has undergone a complete re-layout in an effort to “flow” the plant more efficiently, reduce cost, and increase capacity. “Incredibly, the numbers are telling us we are right on target,” says Murphy. “We started about two years ago and completed two phases. We completed phase two in December and are working on the beginning of phase three.”
Equipment re-positioned includes: five-color Bobst 200 with in-line drying; two Automaton label laminators, a 7780 and 4000; a Ward Soft Anvil 66×110-in. three-color rotary die-cutter, a 66×84 in. two-color United printer slotter; an acetate window machine; a roll coater; and the entire shipping department. They also added additional automatic transfer conveyors.
“This plant grew, and when we grew, we just put a machine where it fit, and as we got busier, things weren't as efficient as we would have liked. Typically, in a display plant, things just don't come off the corrugator, go on one machine, and out the door,” explains Murphy. “It comes off the corrugator; it may go to a printer or die-cutter, a folder/gluer, and then to shipping…it's a big circle. So what we've done is made it flow in a straight line, rather than back and forth, circling the plant. It's given us the opportunity to flow right down the line the way it should be.”
To add to the efficiency created by the massive re-layout, Castle Rock purchased Kiwiplan's PCS and CSC software, which, Murphy says, brought everything together. “[Kiwiplan] schedules our entire plant. It gives us the opportunity to review every order. I can tell what machine is running and what machine isn't running from my office. It gives customer service, even at remote locations, the opportunity to be proactive with customers and to review the system and see a problem before it becomes a problem.”
Yet with all the hard work it put forth to keep its facilities world class, it just may be small-town heart that has been the driving force to Castle Rock's success.
Murphy sums it up best: “High quality, top-end printing, on time. Service is what our niche is, and we do that very well.”
Smurfit Stone Castle Rock
201 Grove St., Adams, WI 53910-0530; 800/447-8661; smurfit-stone.com
United Printing Equipment & Materials; 847/677-1800
Printron Engravers; 703/846-3000
INX Intl. Ink; inxinternational.com
Kiwiplan Inc.; kiwiplan.compffc-online.com