Splash & Pop

A new W&H Astraflex is giving customers of Pliant Corp.'s Langley plant eye-popping flexible packages with the splash afforded by printing with ten colors.

A retail grocery consumer may not notice the trade-off at all. That eye-catching vignette and its ten-color design do the trick: The consumer tosses the pretty package into the cart and moves on to the next aisle.

But for a consumer-brand owner and a flexible packaging printer, that trade-off can be a sticking point. With today's increasingly intricate and colorful package designs, both parties may find themselves stuck with having to trade off color accuracy for design precision — especially if it's a ten-color job printed on an eight-color press.

“What happens with manufactured colors is you have to trade off,” explains Ralph Schnitzer, plant manager of Pliant Packaging of Canada, Langley, B.C. “If you want the vignette to look just right, then the background colors may be skewed one way or the other. So there's always a trade-off by going with manufactured colors.”

One way to solve the trade-off and give consumer-brand owners (and their package designers) what they truly envisioned is to “trade up” and print with more colors. That's exactly what Pliant's converting operation in this Vancouver suburb is doing these days.

This spring, the 110,000-sq-ft printing and bagmaking facility began printing with a Windmoeller & Hoelscher ten-color Astraflex II, equipped with an AVT defect detection system. Now, says Schnitzer, Pliant (and its customers) are enjoying the greater flexibility and control offered by the ten-color flexographic line.

Bakery Bags and Background
Pliant in Langley extrudes its own film via its in-house blown-film extrusion lines, corona treats its film with equipment from Pillar, and produces and prints bags for food packaging. “We're primarily the West Coast bakery bagmaking facility [for Pliant],” says Schnitzer.

But the plant also produces bags for fruits, vegetables, other foods, and even soil. “We do both conventional bags and zippered bags, and now we're doing slider bags,” he reports. The operation produces its bags with equipment from Amplas and Hudson-Sharp. Additional printing capability comes from Langley's other flexographic presses manufactured by Paper Converting Machine Co. and Hudson-Sharp. Inks are supplied by Sun Chemical.

Originally opened in 1991, the operation was owned by Ellehammer. In 1998 the operation in Langley was acquired by Huntsman Packaging, which now (and since the middle of 2000) is known as Pliant Corp. “In 1992 and 1993, we went through some hard times here financially,” reports Schnitzer, who's been with the plant since its inception. “We did a lot of downsizing through that period of time. When Huntsman bought us in March of 1998, we only had 65 employees due to downsizing.”

But since the Huntsman/Pliant acquisition, the plant has grown steadily. “Now we have 140 employees,” Schnitzer adds. “We've doubled in size in four years. It's been very good.”

Safety Is Fundamental
Schnitzer attributes the Langley operation's growth to the “culture” promoted by Pliant Corp. As noted in a previous PFFC case history focusing on Pliant's US converting operation in Kent, WA (An Uplifting Experience, December 2002, p32), safety is a cornerstone in the corporation's overall philosophy. “Our safety culture has had a dramatic impact on our operations,” explains Schnitzer. “I think part of the growth and success Pliant has had is a result of improving safety. The employees enjoy [it], and we're always striving to get better. Every month, [Pliant] posts the safety records of each of the plants, so it's always easy to be front and center for all the plants.”

Schnitzer says though the facility operates in Canada, because Pliant is US-based, it's measured by OSHA's “yardstick.” According to Schnitzer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's recordable rate (occupational injury and illness data) for the industry is 7.5. “From January to June 2001, we were at 4.9,” he reports.

Though Pliant's Langley plant is tracking way below the industry average, Schnitzer points out the operation still is working to lower its recordable rate to be in line with the corporation's overall safety goal. “As a company, our plan is to be at 2.8,” he states.

Having a reputable safety record not only helps the company overall — with OSHA, of course, and to attract employees and customers — but Schnitzer says it pays for the individual plants, too. “Pliant tends to be very technologically sophisticated, and the company will invest [in new capital] in plants deemed safer.”

Reaping Rewards
The recent installation of Langley's ten-color W&H Astraflex II demonstrates Pliant's commitment to efficiency and quality also. “It's helped our production; we're able to get greater press speeds. Having ten printing decks gives us added capabilities to meet customer needs — increase speeds by separating. We don't have to slow the press to mix solids with screens on the same deck,” reports Schnitzer. “And [its] capability gives us flexibility for ten-color work, but it also gives more control over existing designs, for designs that, previously, we had to manufacture colors.”

The new 52-in.-wide W&H Astraflex also is opening up job opportunities for the 24/7, four-shift Langley plant, which is part of the reason the Pliant operation opted for a ten-color machine. “We're actually doing a new job that's ten colors,” Schnitzer says. “[On another press], the design would have been limited to eight, and the customer would have had to trade off. By being able to print with ten colors, we're able to separate process from line colors so we have greater control of the vignette.”

Schnitzer says W&H supplied the press as part of a turnkey installation, which was completed early this spring. But before the press was up and running, PFFC visited the Langley plant in late September and learned of Schnitzer's training plans for the future Astraflex operators. “Because [Pliant] has W&H presses running in other facilities, we're going to send press operators to train alongside operators at our sister plants,” Schnitzer explained last fall. “This is so they will all know the basic features before the press arrives, so they will be more knowledgeable, and we can start on-site training at the next level.”

From the sound of Schnitzer's Astraflex report now that it's up and running, the training and the investment in the flexographic press itself certainly has paid off for Pliant.

“This press has lots of features that fit well with our current product line, and it gives us opportunities to enhance it,” he says.

“Enhanced” package design seems to be the name of the game these days. But if the individual consumer can't tell there's been a design trade-off at the expense of color, why spend the extra dough for just two more measly colors? Because, says Schnitzer, “customers are getting more complex with their package designs. They want more splash, more pop.”

The reality is consumer-brand companies are looking for ways to differentiate products as they vie for consumer attention on today's highly competitive retail shelves. With the new W&H Astraflex II, Pliant's Langley plant doesn't have to trade off; it's giving its customers the “pop” of their designs and the “splash” advantage afforded by printing packages with ten colors.


GOT THE GOLD
Pliant Corp. garnered a Flexible Packaging Association Gold award in the competition's printing excellence category for the Ore Ida Roasted Red Garlic and Rosemary Seasoned Potato Wedges package.

In addition to the eye-catching graphics, the package features Inno-Lok reclosable technology. Pliant produced the printed roll-stock and applied the reclosable feature in-house by combining the expertise of it Macedon, NY, and Kent, WA, facilities.


CONVERTER INFO
Pliant Packaging of Canada

20146-100 A Ave., Langley, B.C., Canada
VIM 3G2; 604/882-9326; pliantcorp.com


SUPPLIER INFO
Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp.,
Lincoln, RI; 401/333-2770; whcorp.com

Advanced Vision Technology, Hod Hasharon, Israel; +972 9 7614444; avt-inc.com

Pillar Technologies, Hartland, WI; 414/367-3060; pillartech.com

Amplas Inc., Green Bay, WI; 888/426-7527; amplas.com

Hudson-Sharp Machine Co., Green Bay, WI; 920/494-4571; hudsonsharp.com

Paper Converting Machine Co., Green Bay, WI; 920/491-6637; pcmc.com

Sun Chemical Corp., Fort Lee, NJ; 210/224-4600; sunchemical.com



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