Digital Magazine

Livin' 'Lean' with CTP

Just like running a packaging manufacturing operation, browsing the menu at your favorite fast-food stop is getting more complicated. Among the conventional quick-serve, fry-and-burger cuisine these days, you can find fast fare (according to its suppliers anyway) that provides a healthier choice — food types more calorie-conscious and lower in fat.

Whether it be in our daily diets or in our daily business operations, it seems we're looking for ways to get healthier, leaner — not an easy thing to do in our complex world that includes carb and calorie cutting, economic recession, relentless competition, and computer-to-platemaking.

But about two years ago, Dopaco Inc., a packaging converter for the quick-service restaurant industry, was able to “cut out the fat” of outsourcing its flexo platemaking via investment in its own Esko-Graphics and DuPont Cyrel CTP technologies.

Just a couple of miles down the road from its Exton, PA, headquarters, Dopaco's 150,000-sq-ft, three-shift Downingtown operation now images plates for the majority of its nine plants' flexo business. By eliminating external prepress costs and making job scheduling more efficient, this CTP capability, reports Dopaco's graphics systems manager Ed Bernier, has helped the quick-service food-packaging (think clamshells and nested French fry cartons) and cup manufacturer get leaner in terms of production costs.

The Fry Guys and More
A company that's experienced dramatic growth since its 1979 beginning, Dopaco, in addition to the clamshells and nested cartons, today manufactures polyethylene-coated paperboard cups, “the ones you get at McDonald's,” says Bernier.

Dopaco makes these rolled-rim cups as well as the plastic lids, he adds. “We do a lot of hot cups, coffee-cup business in the US market for mid-size to smaller chains, too, like Atlanta Bread Co., places like that. We also service Tim Horton's in Canada; we do their hot cups.”

Because of the high volumes needed by such widespread chains as McDonald's, Burger King, and Taco Bell (who are among the company's customers), Dopaco historically has utilized primarily the gravure methodology (well-known for its long-run economy) for its printing needs.

But, according to Bernier, a few years back, the converter started producing packaging for smaller-sized chains, “like Sbarros', places like that,” he explains. “They weren't printing 40, 50, 60, or 100 million cups, but more in the range of 500,000 to 5 million.”

Bernier says this shorter-run business steered the company toward flexo.

In addition to printing in-line gravure work, the Downingtown plant operates multiple flexo presses. The company buys its paperboard from a variety of suppliers, including International Paper, MeadWestvaco, Smurfit-Stone, Blue Ridge, and Cascades.

Fast Food Focus
Back in 1979, Dopaco was doing about $10 million per year and struggling to find its identity, Bernier recounts. “They had offset, flexo, and gravure printing; they were doing all kinds of multi-directional stuff. Then our owner, with a couple of partners, decided to purchase this facility from Sonoco.”

Bernier says Dopaco's management subsequently began to restructure the operation. “[They] got rid of all the printing processes except for gravure and focused 100 percent on the quick-service restaurant accounts they had at the time, which I think were McDonald's and Burger King.”

Dopaco grew along with the fast-food industry in the 1980s, “when basically stores were going up on every corner,” says Bernier. “[They] were very focused on servicing customers. So the company would expand operations and do whatever it needed to keep the customer happy and the product rolling. They went from about a $10 million company in 1979-1980 to, in the mid-1990s, over $200 million. The growth was very dramatic,” he explains.

Today, Dopaco totals its annual business turnover at more than $300 million (USD), and Bernier adds that servicing the customer is still a huge part of the company's philosophy. “That's our biggest goal — to make the customer happy,” he says.

And Speaking of Happy…
The familiar TV ad slogan, “We Love to See You Smile,” probably didn't come from Dopaco's service to McDonald's, but the company's investment in the Esko-Graphics/DuPont CDI and DuPont Cyrel's FAST plate technology likely won't create any frowns for the fast-food giant — or for any other of Dopaco's customers for that matter. According to Bernier, the ability to make plates in-house has yielded not only faster turnaround times but also job-scheduling flexibility — a common dilemma for printers and one Dopaco had confronted in the past.

“[There was a time when] the plant was struggling dramatically to stay on top of the schedule; press operators and mounters were pulling their hair out. These days, on average, we're two weeks out on lead times for the presses on jobs. In other words, we've done jobs they don't need for two weeks.”

As for measurable, monetary return on investment, Bernier says bringing CTP in-house almost two years ago gives the company (and its customers) another reason to smile; the projected savings on the ROI almost doubled by the end of the first year, he reports.

Bernier adds its CTP capacity has helped it gain ground in other prepress areas as well. “[We're] doing all the proofing in-house,” he explains. “We [used to do] color keys externally; it was like $50 a color — for the film output, color keys, and time. We do digital keys now, with the Esko-Graphics system, for something like a dollar a color.”

Dynamic Digital Department
Part of Dopaco's success in implementing its digital platemaking and workflow is the team behind its flexo prepress department. The lean but dynamic four-member team — which includes Bernier, CTP manager Rick Lugg, CTP platemaker Brian Greer, and graphics systems operator Angela Guerra — does a majority of the flexo prepress work, and even some of the gravure, for Dopaco's nine plants.

Amazingly enough, the team also produces much of the artwork, design, and front-end work (with the help of Esko's PackEdge and Plato software programs) utilized for the company's variety of quick-serve food packaging.

Bernier describes the quick-service restaurant industry's utilization of promotional graphics — with the exception of the well-established, very high volume chains — as “pretty loose. For instance,” he explains, “you have someone that may own, say 50, 100, or 200 stores, and he or she has a cousin who was good at art in high school doing the graphics.”

“Or maybe he or she wasn't even that good in art,” Lugg adds laughing.

According to Bernier, “Angela basically does all of our graphics in-house for food service. I think probably 90 percent of the jobs that come in have no digital file with them at all. She creates everything.”

Nevertheless, Dopaco seems to get the job done for its customers. “I'll tell you what,” says Bernier, “Rick, Angela, and Brian are probably the best team I've worked with. For four people to produce the work that we do… Well, let's just say you couldn't do it without the teamwork of these guys.”

A Final Health Tip
The next time you peruse your favorite fast-food menu, it might be worth considering that lower-calorie baguette or green-leaf-based entrĂ©e. And if you can't make yourself go healthy with your fast-food fare, then at least consider the “leaner side” of making digital plates for your flexo operation. As Bernier points out, investing in the Esko-Graphics and DuPont Cyrel digital platemaking technology has helped his company reduce costs, production times, and even employee headaches — and that's a type of “lean” every converter can live with.

Dopaco Inc.

100 Arrandale Blvd.
Exton, PA 19341
610/269-1776; dopaco.com

Kennesaw, GA; 770/427-5700; esko-graphics.com

DuPont Cyrel, Wilmington, DE; 800/345-9999; dupont.com/cyrel

International Paper, Purchase, NY; 914/397-1500; internationalpaper.com

MeadWestvaco, New York, NY; 212/688-5000; meadwestvaco.com

Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., Chicago, IL; 877/772-2932; smurfit-stone.com

Blue Ridge Paper, Canton, NC 877/274-3163; blueridgepaper.com

Cascades, Hebron, KY; 606/586-1100; cascades.com

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