The Control Group

By Jack Kenny | April 7, 2008

A New Jersey converter has found a profitable niche

The people who work at The Control Group are looking forward to a big change. Right now the company occupies two buildings that it owns in Norwood, NJ, USA. One has 12,000 square feet of floor space; in the building next door The Control Group occupies 15,000 square feet, but the entire building has 60,000. The tenant next door is moving out, and by later this year The Control Group will have renovated the place entirely and moved its operations into that big space, more than doubling its current working area.

The company is enjoying success. The owners, Bill Cheringal and Jeff Levine, understand the value of investing – diligently and intelligently – in new technologies that will help their company as well as the businesses of their customers. They are in a market – pharmaceutical packaging – that is strong, and they have heeded recommendations from influential customers to move in new directions. This they have done, and thus they have grown.

The Control Group is composed of two entities, Control Pharmaceutical and Norwood Printing. The former prints labels and flexible packaging, and the latter is an offset printer. Norwood Printing goes back to 1971 as a family business run by Bill's father, Harvey Cheringal. Around 1987 the father and son formed a partnership with Jeff Levine to launch Control Pharmaceutical. Their original products were cut labels, but customers pushed them into new areas, including roll labels for pharmaceutical companies. "That's when they went to flexo," says Jim Imburgia, the director of operations. "They started with Propheteer presses, and grew the business with those. Then the work got more complicated and the registration was more difficult. The jobs dictated the next steps. They knew that they were going to have to make a move sooner or later."

In 1998, some of the company's pharmaceutical label customers asked them to produce pouches. Levine and Cheringal began investigating the market and the equipment that would be required to produce pouches. The next year they purchased a 20" eight-color Mark Andy. "They purchased it with no business," Imburgia says. "They had a lot of promises, and their customers came through."

Over on the pressure sensitive label side of the operation, The Control Group began replacing its Propheteer presses starting in the year 2000. "Just before they got the first Aquaflex Instaprep label press, they had three Propheteers printing all the label stock. The presses were getting old, and the work was getting harder. They replaced the first one, and it ran so well that six months later they replaced the second one. The idea was to replace the third one, but because of the ability to print better and faster on the new presses, they didn't need to replace it. So they went from three presses to two with the Instapreps." Today the company has four Instapreps, all 10" wide, with two, four, six, and eight print stations.

By 2004, the company had become familiar with the work that Aquaflex presses could accomplish. (At the time, the Aquaflex salesman had been Jim Imburgia.) It was time to expand the pouch business, and a 20" Aquaflex LX took its place on the shop floor. In 2006 the company took delivery of the very first Aquaflex FPC, a fully servo driven, 28" wide press dedicated to film printing for the flexible pouch business.
The AVT Apollo inspection system has enabled The Control Group to meet its pharmaceutical customers' requirements for 100 percent defect-free products.

"Bill and Jeff are very big on newer, bigger, better," says Imburgia. "Technology changes and it continues to get so much better, so if you want to be competitive the only way to do that is to be able to print it smarter and cleaner. There's never an issue here when it comes to equipment. Jeff's an accountant, and he knows how to look at the numbers in 50 different ways when it comes to making an equipment acquisition."

Much of the pouch business involves samples. The customers – global companies with highly recognizable product names – retain The Control Group to print rolls containing what will become millions of small pouches, many of them designed as samples for lotions, towelettes, patches, and pills.

"For a wide web printer, these would be short runs, but for us they are long. When we get a run for 10 million pouches, that will take us two days, but a printer with a 60" press is looking at a six hour job. For us, these are nice runs," Imburgia says.

The Control Group maintains three Edelmann offset presses for printing of pharmaceutical information sheets that are converted to expanded content booklets. Pictured is the newest of the two-color Edelmann machines.

The runs can get complex, and that's where the midweb press can show its capabilities," he adds. "One client has a project with 15 different language changes. They want 2,000 feet of one, 20,000 of another, 3,000 of the next one. Luckily none of the colors changed; it was just a type plate. We did it on the servo press, and always had one plate mounted before the change." The 28" Aquaflex makes use of plate sleeves as well as anilox sleeves, which makes changeover much more rapid than if solid tooling were employed.

One of the benefits of converting unsupported films for flexible packaging applications is that the waste material is largely recyclable. Because no pressure sensitive material is converted, there is no diecutting and no matrix to dispose of.

"The waste on the servo press compared with a conventional press is both less and more," observes Imburgia. "Because of the size of that FPC press, the web path is two and a half times what it is on the LX press (which has a conventional drive). The LX uses about 100' from beginning to end. On the servo press, with the butt splicer and the festoon in there, we have 270' of material in there from front to back.

"But there are jobs that I can do on the FPC that I wouldn't even attempt to do on the LX – millimeter repeats, tight registration – and the LX is a great running press," he says. "It holds beautiful registration. But it can't do some of the things that the servo press can do. Your startup waste is more because of the length of the press, but once you start running, your waste is less because the product that comes out is much more sellable."
The Aquaflex LX 20" press

Only a handful of converters produce this type of work, Imburgia says. "A lot of flexible packaging
converters are in wide web, 50" or 60", but in the middle web, say 24" up to 40", there's a handful of us. You have to have the money to get into it. The presses are not cheap. They have a $2 million entry price, and by the time you put the bells and whistles on it, it's $3 million. And you're going to wait a year for the machine. It's not something that anybody can say, 'Let's get into it.' It's not like buying a 10" press and in eight weeks you have it. It takes a lot to get into that, and that's why you don't see too many out there. There are probably a half dozen of us. But nobody can do the 28" work. There are 26" presses out there, but you'd be surprised what that extra two inches can give you."

Imburgia says that the company has investigated rotary screen printing for the big press, but that the investment is high, "and it's slow." On the pharmaceutical label side of the company, the bulk of the labels are not prime. "The pharmaceutical customers want it inexpensive, they want it yesterday, and every label has to be perfect," he says. "Eventually we will get into prime label; I don't think we'll have a choice, because our customers will push us into that. We are producing their prime pouches now, and there is always a label of some sort that they need printed." Traditionally, pharmaceutical companies utilize spot colors on their labels and other packaging, "but some are turning to four color process," notes Imburgia. "A lot of the pharmaceuticals are now putting a four color picture of the pill on the label."

The changes – beyond the physical expansion scheduled for this year – keep coming at The Control Group. The company recently acquired an AVT inspection system to meet the requirements of its pharmaceutical customers for 100 percent defect-free labels and pouches.
Rewind and inspection of pharmaceutical label and packaging products means isolation and secure tracking of all materials.

This spring the company will step away from solvent plate manufacture and move entirely to a new computer-to-plate system. That's part of the greening of the company, Imburgia adds. They have backed off on use of UV curable inks, returning more to water based products. All chemistries are taken away by Safety Kleen. Plastic film waste goes to a recycler. Matrix from the labels is shredded and collected by a recycler. As Imburgia says, "We are very conscious of making our facility as green as possible."
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