Narrow Web Profile: Hub Labels

By Jack Kenny | August 28, 2006

High end production and Lean Manufacturing drive change at a family owned company.

Thomas Dahbura sits at the counter of the Waffle House, a fast breakfast eatery in Hagerstown, MD, USA, and gestures to the grill and the cook preparing meals. "This is Lean Manufacturing in operation," he says. "This place is ahead of its time." Preparation of orders involves no paper and few words, if any. All ingredients — eggs, potatoes, meats, batter — are within arm's reach. The person who takes the order places a plate next to the grill, and the placement of the small jelly container on that plate — left, right, up, down, upside down, and so forth — tells the cook what to prepare. She merely glances at it and the customer's order emerges on the grill before her.

"I took 25 of my people to Waffle House, and they got us in and out in 30 minutes. That's how I taught them about Lean Manufacturing," Thomas Dahbura says, with a characteristic impish smile. "I even told the owner of the store that he has an advanced Lean Manufacturing system. He asked me what I was talking about."

Around the corner from the Waffle House is Hub Labels, where Thomas Dahbura is vice president of operations. Lean Manufacturing has a history at Hub, and is being revived today with a strong push from the employees, he says. The company

Thomas Dahbura
tried it in 1995, after Dahbura saw Lean in action at a label house in England. "I created a mini work cell," he says.

"I had the right people in place to make that process work, with two presses, one converting machine, their own scheduling. It worked well for a while, but the problem was that I wasn't able to branch it out, because I didn't anticipate some things. My premise was that everybody wanted to be his own boss, and I created the work cells so they could do that. But I didn't do two things: I didn't train them properly, and my assumption that everybody wants to be his own boss was wrong. So that failed."

Much has happened at Hub Labels since the mid-1990s. The company, founded in 1978 by Bud Dahbura, president and father of Thomas and Tony (VP of sales), had always been a water based flexo shop. The company today operates about 30 presses, most of them Aquaflex water based flexo machines. "We started to change four years ago. Right before Labelexpo Americas 2002 I told my father that we can't continue to bring people in, teach them to run the Aquaflex presses, and take a year or two or three to get them to become efficient; it's just too long. First you have to find mechanical skill, then find someone who excels at it. We couldn't continue to do this and grow the business with presses that are this difficult to run.  I had been reading about servo presses and those that had some automation to them, so I went to Labelexpo and looked at them. The criteria was ease of operation. One press I saw had six or seven knobs, the Gallus RCS had three. It just seemed a lot easier to run. And I have an employee who was kicking butt in eight months."

The Gallus RCS 330 uses UV curable inks. Since that acquisition, the company has brought in a second RCS, plus three other Gallus machines: two 510s and a 410. That ushered in a new era of UV printing that continues to change the complexion, and the fortunes, of Hub Labels.

"At first I don't think we were able, from a sales and marketing standpoint, to sell that RCS press for what it was. But we saw it as an opportunity to take our existing business and produce some really awesome labels at higher margins with the
One of Hub Labels' five Gallus UV presses
efficiencies that we got out of the technology," Thomas says. "And there was another advantage: WhenI was developing the UV production room, we looked at everything we did wrong in the water based room that was hard to undo, and applied the lessons we learned to the UV process: aniloxes, inks, everything. We reduced waste and raised margins, absolutely."

Hub Labels today has 143 employees. The company works out of one plant, a 120,000 square foot facility that has grown steadily in size since the business began. Not long ago the company was operating with 183 employees, says Thomas. Today that number is 143. But it is going to go back up.

"Today we have two shifts, eight hours each, and we are producing the same volume or more than when we had 183 people," Thomas says. "Now we are going to expand the production staff. The plan is to dissolve the second shift in the water based room, and transition the business to the UV presses because of the efficiencies we are getting out of them. As we improve our operation there we create more capacity. When we had 183 people we were running 24 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week. Today our sales at two shifts is more than that.

"And we are not even ramped up with Lean Manufacturing yet. We have only one 410 press running Lean today. By January the plan is to have all of them Lean, and to make the shift to increase UV production."

The change, he adds, will require the addition of quite a few trained operators and production assistants, in a region of the US that has an extremely tight labor pool today.

The UV press teams have been running kaizen events, which are a key element of the Lean transition. Kaizen gathers operators, managers and owners in one place for an event, in which they map the existing process, improve on it, and solicit buy-in from all parties involved in the process.

"We have three teams: setup, metrics and a run speed team (total production maintenance) team. There are even people from accounting on the teams. The first thing we did was videotape the setup, one person doing a spaghetti diagram, timers for each step. We went back and looked at each step and asked how we can minimize the wasted motion of walking back and forth. We established a base line, measured the waste. Our goal is to beat the baseline by 30 percent, and I think that in 60 days we will be able to hit a little over 30 percent. It's easily done."

Ed Vitale
Aquaflex presses dominate the water based ink label production room at Hub Labels.
, who has worked with the Hub Labels team for several years as a production consultant, pointed out one critical lesson that was learned in the kaizen events: "The operators were trying to do too many things during the setup. If you could get the right inks to him on a rolling cart, get the paper to him before it's needed, get the dies and anilox rolls ready — the simple stuff — then he's halfway there."

"What's important is this," adds Thomas: "The teams are being supervised from within, not from the top. There are no books; it's all common sense."

Such transitions are not for everyone. "We had our first casualty. One operator left because he anticipated this and didn't want to change. He just wanted to be left alone, 'just let me run the press'. That's not the way it is any more."

Change comes slowly but surely, they found. "The operators," says Thomas, "had it in their heads that they had to mount the plates. The idea had come from one guy who always did it himself. It's the hardest thing to beat. Instead of fighting, we asked them what is the issue here. They said the plates will be wrong and they'll have to mount them again. So we said, 'How about if we give you plates that are mounted right?' And they said, 'We won't have a problem with that.' So we set up a little department, and we changed it. Our thinking is that the guy who mounts the plates all the time will become better at it than the guy who is running the press. Eventually that went away when they realized that the guy mounting the plates was mounting them straight, and it went away quietly. It was what we needed to accomplish."

As Hub Labels changes, Thomas Dahbura has asked the company's vendors to become part of the change, to teach the printers and converters how best to run the equipment, to handle the inks, to choose and utilize the materials. He had a couple of surprises.

"Everyone in the industry says, 'We want to be your partner'. So I asked people to be my partner, and I looked around and there was almost nobody there." Two companies who were there get a lot of credit from Thomas for their efforts: Avery Dennison Fasson Roll and XSYS Print Solutions. "I asked them how they could make me more money, and at the same time they will benefit because I won't have to beat them up on price."

Fasson sent an Optimum Performance Team to Hagerstown. "They did a presentation, guaranteed X improvement in productivity in exchange for X amount of my business. It's worth it. It was amazing."

XSYS, the ink company, sent a team to the plant and identified several sources of waste. Their efforts are saving Hub Labels $100,000 a year, Thomas says, and XSYS is now the exclusive ink supplier.

Hub Labels Inc.

18223 Shawley Drive
Hagerstown MD 21740 USA
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