By Jack Kenny | May 7, 2010

Implementation of Lean principles has enabled this healthcare packager to reduce waste, raise capacity and lower costs, thereby retaining customers and capturing new business.

The production floor of Cortegra's plant in Indiana
For four days in early April, a team of employees from Cortegra met with a Lean Manufacturing expert to examine in detail just one of the converting company's many manufacturing operations: folding. The goal of the event – a kaizen event – was to decrease machine setup times and downtime on the Vijuk folding machines, thereby reducing the cost of production and raising overall machine capacity. The folders are complex pieces of equipment that require operator expertise and often long setup times and are generally the limiting operation from a leadtime and capacity standpoint in producing folded literature for the customer base. During the four-day kaizen event, the team videotaped the folders being set up and running, held spirited group meetings reviewing the videotapes, documented their observations in detail, and identified process improvements. The group concluded – based on implementing the identified process improvements and thereby eliminating waste (time) – that the overall setup times could be reduced by 21 percent, yielding an increased overall production capacity of 7 percent.

Improvements in the operation of Vijuk folders, such as that pictured here, was the subject of a kaizen event at Cortegra in April.
Nearly a week's worth of videotaping, group discussion and head-scratching by both management and operators over a machine that folds paper? Yes, indeed. Cortegra is in a highly competitive field – secondary healthcare packaging – populated by experienced competitors. The customers are large and small healthcare companies, a finite marketplace, but their requirements are uniform from their suppliers to deliver innovative, high quality products and services in a cost effective manner. Year over year price reduction is a driving force in the market, so the cost to produce must go down as well. Reducing setup time on a folder from five hours to four hours translates directly to cost savings and increased capacity.

Cortegra is a division of Menasha, a diversified corporation based in Neenah, WI, USA, with more than 3,200 employees based around the world. The two plants that make up Cortegra are located in Fairfield, NJ, USA, and Evansville, IN, USA, and employ 177 people.

Cortegra's New Jersey based operation was formerly known as New Jersey Packaging, which was acquired by Menasha in 1993. In 2006, Menasha acquired Creative Press, an Indiana based company, and in 2007, the two companies were brought together and branded as Cortegra. The companies share nearly redundant capabilities, providing to the healthcare market a full array of secondary packaging needs including; labels, folded literature, flexible packaging, folding cartons, and bound booklets. In addition, Cortegra provides enhanced product technologies in brand authentication, anti-counterfeiting, and new product design and development.

Cortegra's production team, above, concluding a kaizen event focused on improvement of the folding operations. In the foreground is Tom Southworth, Lean Manufacturing facilitator.
Cortegra applied to the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program in 2009 and received a training grant focused on Lean solutions for manufacturing and administrative functions, with the goal to reduce cost and increase capacity, allowing the company to meet its customers needs for reduced pricing and still meet its goal to grow the business. The folding kaizen event has been one of a series of kaizen events held at the Fairfield facility though the training grant. The company asked specifically that Tom Southworth facilitate the event, and his employer, the State of Connecticut's CONNSTEP program, cooperated. Southworth, who also writes a column about Lean in Label & Narrow Web, has an extensive background in manufacturing and quality assurance at label converting operations.

"I believe in Lean," says Struhar, who has a background in finance and manufacturing cost operations. "There is a requirement by our customers that we provide year-over-year cost reduction. For us to deliver this without sacrificing our margins, this can only be accomplished through a Lean oriented work place. Eliminating waste in our operations allows us to reduce our costs and increase our capacity, and allows us to take more volume and achieve our financial goals. During this latest kaizen event we identified that by standardizing work instructions, improving 5S applications and developing off-line setup SMED operations we could significantly improve setup times and reduce downtime."

Sharing success

Cortegra believes in open lines of communication with everyone on staff. "We have a good group, and it's important to communicate with them," Struhar notes. "We have monthly plant meetings, and everyone knows where we are from a performance standpoint. I speak frankly and openly; I don't hide our results; they all know where we stand. We have a success-sharing program, and last year, through our operating results, all employees participated in it. Our success was driven by our cost savings achieved through Lean implementation. It was communicated all along how our performance was doing, the importance of being leaner and cost efficient. They all know the score. They know that this isn't easy. There's no such thing as easy in the economic environment we are in right now. They appreciate the openness and we all share in our success."

One of Cortegra's Aquaflex flexo presses
The company prides itself on its on-boarding process: the effort expended on new customers to bring them on board comfortably and with confidence in their supplier. "We rally as a team when we get a new opportunity," says Struhar. "We set up a project team and get everyone involved. With so many customers, first impressions are so important.

"Many times a customer will come to us with a specific need. We chart them, measure them, manage them. We went to one company's facility twice to see our products run on their line. We just want to make sure that everything is right with our products."

Struhar emphasizes that one of Cortegra's main strengths is its wide range of capabilities. "We are one of the few with total redundant capabilities and a real breadth of product lines for secondary packaging. There is not much in secondary packaging that you can think of that we don't do."

The company will design packaging from top to bottom. It will produce bound booklets, catalogs, manuals, and brochures. It will incorporate anti-counterfeit technologies into the packaging, including micro-printing, holography, taggants, threads, frangible papers, and digital watermarks. Cortegra has licensed a process called biometric authentication, which will record the unique fingerprint of the substrate on every piece, at line speed, and store it in a database. "Then you can go out to your distribution chain and you determine if that product was made in your facility or not," says Struhar. "No two are the same."

A Gallus letterpress press
Because it is deeply involved in healthcare products, Cortegra is no stranger to customer audits. "We probably have 30 to 50 customer quality audits a year. Most companies require that they audit every two years. So if you have a base of 100 customers, you have pretty much a steady stream. Your quality systems are tested often by independent outside companies. They almost become your independent audit group."
Conducting business successfully in a field as demanding as healthcare means constant vigilance over cost, quality and innovation.

"The business is out there for companies like Cortegra," says Jim Struhar. "The challenge is to deliver solutions and services at price points that satisfy the customers' needs and achieve the goals of Cortegra. Not at the same price points they were three years ago – not even close. Cortegra has a very good reputation for quality and service – redundant capabilities, multiple locations, everything the customer wants. Now the focus is on our ability to take on larger volumes at lower price points, and Lean operations will be the driving force in accomplishing this."

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