Mid Atlantic Label

By Steve Katz | July 21, 2008

It's an exciting time for this award winning Maryland converter.

Above: From left, Controller Cheryll Ziemblicki, Production Manager Dave Jollay, and VP and General Manager Herb Schwartje
Things are happening at Mid Atlantic Label, and the excitement is palpable. The company, based out of a 30,000 square foot facility in Forest Hill, MD, USA, is on the verge of embarking on a new chapter. The acquisition trend that has permeated the label industry has reached Mid Atlantic. The company recently signed an agreement to be acquired by Bizerba, a global leader in weighing, labeling and food processing equipment. Based in Germany, Bizerba's US headquarters are located in Piscataway, NJ.

The pending acquisition has Mid Atlantic's management team and all of its employees excited by the new opportunity. Bizerba is a US$500 million global enterprise with over 3,000 employees worldwide. The company exports to 128 countries across the globe.

"It's really going to give us a much greater market presence, which is really exciting," says Herb Schwartje, Mid Atlantic's vice president and general manager. "Bizerba is a well known and respected company in the US as well as internationally."

Schwartje says that while Jack Donohue, Mid Atlantic's founder and owner, wasn't necessarily looking to sell his company, Bizerba made him an offer that made a lot of sense as it was important to Jack that the buyer be able to provide a strong future for the employees that have served Mid Atlantic for many years.

In the early 1980s, Jack Donohue was vice president of a printing company that had just started getting into labels. With a buyout of that business imminent, Donohue felt he would be better off on his own, starting a company whose sole focus was labels. Thus, in 1983, Mid Atlantic Label was born, equipped with two Mark Andy 4120 label presses, a 10" six color and a 16" four color, as well as one 7" Mark Andy 820 three color press.

Mid Atlantic's pressroom
Mid Atlantic's customers in the early years consisted mostly of poultry producers on the eastern shores of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. Success arrived and growth quickly followed. By the late '80s the company acquired nonfood related business such as chemicals and auto lubricants. Continuing to grow and expand its customer base, Mid Atlantic invested in additional equipment. By the mid '90s, the company had seven Mark Andy machines, including upgrades to a 4150 nine color press and a 10 color 2200.

Today, while the company still has some poultry customers, it has certainly broadened its base. Mid Atlantic manufactures labels for nutraceuticals, cleaning products, and wine, to name a few. Still, Schwartje estimates that about 50 percent of the labels produced are for food products. Mid Atlantic also also reports success in its manufacture of coupons and inline folding products.

Success can be measured in a number of ways, from annual sales figures to industry awards. Mid Atlantic reports its annual sales at $7.5 million. Adorning the facility's office walls are a multitude of plaques and certificates. Most recently, Mid Atlantic Label received two 2007 first place awards from the World Label Association, one in the coupon division, and one for process color.

In its eighteenth year, the winners of the World Label Association Awards Competition are chosen from a group composed of first place winners from label competitions around the globe including those by the Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute (TLMI), the Japanese Label Foundation (JFLP), FINAT, and the Australian Label Association (LATMA). Label samples from companies are judged against each other in a variety of categories to determine the "World's Best Labels." Mid Atlantic won for its "Neiman Marcus Butterfly Water Bottle" label and its "Snyder's Hoops Frenzy" label. The entries, up against the world's best, came out on top.

Family and quality

Donohue started Mid Atlantic and ran it as a family business. The company reports that most of its press operators have all been with the company for at least 10 years, and one operator for over 20. Mid Atlantic's production manager, Dave Jollay, left the company and returned, and Controller Cheryll Ziemblicki has now been there for six years. Schwartje himself has been with the company for more than 12 years, also now enjoying his second tour with Mid Atlantic. Employees leaving in order to pursue other endeavors and then returning to Mid Atlantic speaks volumes of the culture and working environment at the plant.

Schwartje points out that it was Bizerba's commitment to family values which, in the end, proved crucial in Donohue's agreeing to sell Mid Atlantic.

"Jack actually wasn't looking to sell the company. It was Bizerba that approached him with an offer. It turns out that Bizerba was looking to acquire a label company in the United States, and after looking at several companies, they approached Jack about his interest in selling," says Schwartje, adding that "Jack sold the company with the knowledge that the buyer was a close-knit family business, and appreciated those values. Jack has always been proud of Mid Atlantic's functioning as a family run business, and the notion that Bizerba will maintain these ideals was instrumental in his agreeing to make the deal."

While on the verge of a change in ownership, Mid Atlantic is busy undergoing changes of its own in other ways.

"We've recently embraced 5S and Lean Manufacturing concepts," says Dave Jollay, production manager, referring to the Japanese inspired method of organizing, cleaning, developing, and sustaining a productive work environment.

"We kind of kicked it off about a month ago, and we're taking it one step at a time. We're cleaning out the pressroom, taking things out that aren't being used," says Jollay, adding that "it was a bit difficult trying to get our press operators to not be pack rats. Everybody cringed a little bit at first, but that was brief, and its actually gone real well."

A tour of the 30,000 square foot facility reveals that it has. Mid Atlantic has its own maintenance department and workshop where employees craft devices for the storage of equipment and supplies.
Storage of inventory is an area where Mid Atlantic is capable. Adjacent to the press room is an 8,000 square foot space for warehousing. "We're happy to hold on to inventory for our high volume customers," says Ziemblicki. "It's way more cost effective for them to have us produce it and hold onto it, and we're glad to do it."

"Some customers expect us to print on demand, rather than hold onto inventory," Jollay adds, "and we accommodate them as well."

Warehousing is just one department within Mid Atlantic's infrastructure. The company also has personnel working in customer service, graphics, accounting, purchasing and estimating, prepress, and quality control.

Quality Control Administrator Ann Sullivan
In fact, Ann Sullivan, Mid Atlantic's quality administrator is a graduate of Clemson University's prestigious four year graphic communications program. She actually interned at Mid Atlantic before coming on board as a full-time employee. Sullivan is in charge of making sure what comes off press meets the company's high standards for quality.

"We're a very quality minded company and we make sure we meet our customer's expectations. Our press operators, in conjunction with the art department, enjoy working with different types of construction and figuring out how to make things work. The departments have an excellent working relationship. We have a very good team here," Sullivan says. In addition to her role as quality administrator, Sullivan is also Mid Atlantic's warehouse manager and helps in selecting which labels the company chooses to be entered into the awards competitions.

Mid Atlantic also cites its prepress department as an area critical to the company's success. Two years ago, the company began making its own plates using the DuPont Cyrel FAST system and an Esko imager, which Schwartje says is "working out very well," once issues with curves and matching with the previous plate system were ironed out. "We were set to have the old plate system available as a back up, but once we flipped the switch on the new system, not one plate has been made on the old system," he says.

Michael Gardiner, electronic prepress manager, talks about Mid Atlantic's prepress success through the use of the technologies they've adopted, as well as the department's adapting to the these additions.

Electronic Prepress Manager Michael Gardiner alongside Mid Atlantic's DuPont Cyrel FAST platemaker
"When we converted to an all digital platemaking workflow, all of our art department employees were trained in every stage of the process. This has allowed for maximum productivity in an environment that has seen increasingly tight deadlines. The fast production times and dead-on repeatability of the process have been tremendous assets to our department. The production time-savings, stable calibration, and use of screening and color management technologies have been a key part of our success as our workload has changed over the years," says Gardiner.

Gardiner explains the department's versatility as being particularly significant. "We feel we do a very good job of converting non-flexo artwork assets into flexo-suitable graphics without compromising the integrity of the original design. Our clients range from designers who are quite comfortable with flexo print requirements, to those who have limited graphic resources and may need a lot of assistance in bringing their line of product to the market. I often travel with our sales reps to visit clients' art departments where I conduct flexo graphics workshops, which usually pays off immediately in work that comes in ready-to-print."

When it comes to proofing, Gardiner says that most of it is done electronically with PDFs sent to customers for approval. When a physical proof is required, Mid Atlantic uses a DuPont Cromapro RIP which drives an Epson 4800 8-color inkjet printer. "The system provides ICC profiles which are used to convert images for optimal flexo print reproduction, while also providing a good color match to our actual press performance," he says.

Jollay says, "We have a Heaford platemounter, and personnel who perform the platemounting for the presses. We also have press helpers who stage materials at the press so operators have everything they need such as inks, dies, materials, and plates."

"Plate cleaning is done by our press helpers as well," adds Schwartje. "And we have horns at each press that our press operators use to sound an electronic tone when they are in need of additional supplies or assistance from a press helper. When this happens, different colored lights are also illuminated. This reduces downtime on press and helps in maintaining efficiency and productivity."

The system is also an example of the company's Lean endeavors. Schwartje elaborates: "If a press operator wants a supervisor, he turns on the red light and sounds a tone. If he wants a press helper, he sounds a tone and turns on the orange light." The system ensures that operators do not have to wander around the plant looking for particular people or supplies.

As far as inspection and rewinding systems go, Mid Atlantic utilizes four Arpeco machines and three tapletop rewinders equipped with strobe lights.

Growing forward

Growth seems a near certainty for Mid Atlantic Label. As future expansion becomes necessary, adjacent to the facility is additional property, providing Bizerba with the options to expand on the 30,000 square foot facility.

For now, Schwartje says, "We have plenty of capacity, so in the short term, our plans would be to add employees." Currently, Mid Atlantic operates in two shifts, with the second shift described as more of a "skeleton" crew.

The Mid Atlantic Label team will be at Labelexpo in Chicago, perhaps looking at presses. "We might be looking to add a press or replace one of our older 4120s," Schwartje says. "We'll also be looking at additional, peripheral equipment, anything to make things faster and better, or to give us a little more capability."

In today's tenuous economic situation in the US, a label company such as Mid Atlantic has numerous issues to contend with. Ziemblicki explains: "We keep a close watch on cash flow issues. We're seeing price pressures as everybody's freight costs are skyrocketing, and we probably get a letter everyday or so about raising our fuel surcharge. It creates an environment for us where we have to make constant decisions regarding costs. But it hasn't stunted growth, and we're continuing to hire new employees."

According to Ziemblicki, Bizerba's acquisition of Mid Atlantic will bring additional employees, particularly in the sales department, an area where it currently employs two salespeople. Ziemblicki predicts that Bizerba will bring in additional people to join the Mid Atlantic sales team. "In the not too distant future, Bizerba is going to flip the switch and we're going to have an additional 10 salepeople. We're gearing up for that. This is a really big time for us."

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