- August 31, 2004, Nsenga Byrd Thompson, Associate Editor
With its unique supply-chain system and a commitment to taking care of customers, Raflatac delivers service that's ... A Touch Above...
After several years of operating slitting and distribution facilities in North America, Finland-based Raflatac realized it would have to begin manufacturing its pressure-sensitive label constructions in the US to penetrate the marketplace fully. So in 2001, Raflatac, a laminator of paper- and film-based p-s materials for VIP (variable information printing) and prime labels, opened a 235,000-sq-ft manufacturing facility in Fletcher, NC, USA.
According to Jouko Lahepelto, senior VP, Americas, “We already had a manufacturing presence in all other main marketplaces. We wanted to establish ourselves in North America to leverage our global know-how to serve customers in the biggest single marketplace in the world.” Despite unfavorable post-911 market conditions, Lahepelto maintains, “We have been clearly meeting — if not even exceeding — our original expectations.”
Exceeding expectations translates into almost tripling its US customer base in just three years. Marketing director Malcolm Collins attributes the success to the company's fresh face on the North American playing field. “I think we offer a new choice to customers,” says Collins. “We're like the new supermarket on the corner or the new pharmacy. It's something different.”
Starting from Scratch
Even though it had a successful business model to follow, when Raflatac Inc. opened its US converting operation, it had the challenge — and opportunity — to start everything from scratch.
“It was a challenge since we didn't have any supporting infrastructure when it came to the supply chain,” Lahepelto explains. “But on the other hand, it was an opportunity, because we didn't have old habits. We created everything from zero, and we developed fully automated material flow inside the factory.”
The US manufacturing operation features an 80-in. coater, custom built by Raflatac, and numerous state-of-the-art automatic slitters, featuring high-speed automated blade settings. The company coats a variety of substrates and offers a comprehensive range of biaxially oriented polypropylene label stock using a transfer coating process. Film suppliers include ExxonMobil and UCB.
At the core of Raflatac's operation is a unique supply chain system the company credits for its ability to offer “quality, reliable, and consistent products” in an extremely efficient manner. The entire process revolves around ground floor transportation and conveyors, not trucks, moving material, so the operation is very clean, and there are lower waste levels. “Other companies use forklift trucks, etc., that do a lot of damage to the material,” says Collins.
Raflatac also operates a packing line that Collins proclaims “is as automated as automated can be.” It automatically delivers pallets, wraps the rolls, stacks them on the pallets, and finally moves them to the dispatch area to be shipped.
In addition to automated material flow management, Raflatac built a tailor-made supply chain information technology system. The company uses a fourth-party logistics (4PL) concept in which the supply network is organized, administered, and managed by a 4PL provider. This organization provides integrated services for the operation of supply chains and manages the information and material flow between all parties involved.
“By combining fully automated material and information flows, we have been able to take speed, accuracy, and reliability of the order fulfillment cycle to a totally new level. Together with our progressive 4PL concept, we can consistently guarantee required service levels to our customers,” says Collins.
Adding a Personal Touch
Offering quality products within a unique supply chain is a critical component of Raflatac's goal of differentiation. As president of Raflatac Inc., Dan O'Connell explains confidently, “Everything about Raflatac and its products is built on quality, consistency, and reliability in end-use applications. We really feel we offer an extremely high quality, consistent product that works in end-use applications, is reliable, and is without a lot of variability.”
Raflatac is able to deliver “quality, consistency, and reliability” through what it defines as a consistent supply of raw materials of exceptional quality, working with the best suppliers, and trying to exceed customer expectations with the attitude that “almost is not good enough.”
Along with that promise comes the personal flavor Raflatac strives to initiate in all facets of its business, a concept called “Raflatouch,” which O'Connell describes as the company's openness and willingness to share information with its customers.
“Raflatouch is unique to what we do. We like to make the business relationship enjoyable — something that's not so easy to quantify in your Harvard Business Review. It's the approachability of our people and the way we try to work to solve the customer's challenges in a friendly manner.” O'Connell adds, “We want our customers to leave us feeling they had a good business experience.”
More than 30 years ago, Raflatac opened its doors in Finland and has since enjoyed global recognition and annual sales of $850 million for 2003. With an eye on the US market and its North America headquarters in North Carolina, O'Connell is confident Raflatac's North American presence will be strong. “We are committed to the US marketplace, and it's very clear to us that [our customers] have embraced our business model by working with us and by giving us more orders and future projects that are going to affect their customers and end-use applications.”
400 Broadpointe Dr.,
Fletcher, NC, USA 28732
ExxonMobil Chemical Co. Films Business —oppfilms.com
UCB Films —films.ucb-group.com