In an ever-evolving label converting scenario, the need to produce more efficiently, reduce waste, decrease downtime, reduce financial stress due to big inventories, and achieve more revenue per asset are necessities that will improve a company’s financial health. In order to achieve these goals, many label converters are turning to digital technologies, automation and artificial intelligence. This not only helps organizations in becoming system-driven rather than human-driven, but also empowers them to improve their bottom lines with peace of mind.
Chris Ellison, who moonlights as the 20th president of the Europe-based label association FINAT, has transformed his Leeds, UK-based company OPM Group to be one that is utilizing Lean Manufacturing along with the increasing use of automation and digital MIS systems to put in place a workflow that performs efficiently while delivering the desired results. These activities leave management in a comfortable position, make customers happy, and result in better relations with all stakeholders, suppliers and customers alike.
A walk through the OPM Group’s label manufacturing facility is a delight. There is a perfect workflow with no bottlenecks or stagnation of materials. It’s a very neat and clean pressroom where every process leads to the next with the aid of an automated, IT-enabled workflow.
OPM Group’s MIS system was created through collaboration with the company’s internal team, all of its suppliers, prepress developers, logistics partners and customers, as well.
Generally, printers do not share information with their vendors. However, the vision of the Ellison family was to create a system that makes the unit work with perfect harmony, and the appreciation they get helps in better relationships with customers.
In some printing companies the sales force is nowhere in sight and the general perception on the shop floor is that salespeople have all the fun traveling and partying with customers. Chris Ellison’s vision is to inculcate a sense of togetherness and teamwork in the entire workforce. Each shift, when workers enter the factory, in the first room they get to see behind a glass wall, is the salesforce working hard at their desks preparing for yet another grueling day with customers, creating a continuous flow of order. This also instills a sense of bonding as Ellison feels that the entire workforce needs to feel committed in order to create success under the motto, “Together we will!”
Each order that is entered into OPM Group’s MIS system goes through a digital workflow that is available on screens throughout the company and every department can see the progress without any hindrance. From costing, quotation, order approval, prepress, inventory management, delivering raw materials to presses, finishing, packaging, dispatch and invoicing – it all goes on with clockwork precision. All staff, vendors, transporters and customers are hooked on to the system for the information that they are required to access and react to. It is an information highway created for smooth travel of all orders from initiation to delivery. One cannot see any congregation or unnecessary movement of workers in the factory or overloaded warehouse.
OPM Group – with 20 million pounds in annual turnover – has just 73 employees. Ellison says, “Implementation of these systems has helped us achieve a high turnover of four million pounds per asset, or per label press.”
Ellison emphasizes that trained and efficient people are scarce to find, so the company invests in an IT department and in training people, which is expensive, but it is justified for them to be more efficient. Subscribing to principals of Total Quality Management, all products at OPM are produced to ISO 9001:2015, BRC/IoP Global Standard Food Packaging standards Grade AA and PS9000:2016. Labels are printed using low migration/food grade inks.
As an industry leader, Chris Ellison is setting examples for his peers to follow. The company’s history dates back to Jack Ellison, his father, who along with three partners ran a small engineering firm that specialized in building overprinting machines. Jack’s 20 year old son Chris wished to have his own business, so he started importing Dot Matrix printers from Germany and sold them in the UK. When he received an excellent offer, he sold his Dot Matrix business. Meanwhile, in 1986, one of the partners in his father’s company passed away, resulting in discontent among the partners.
Chris first took over his father’s share and later, since he had the cash from the sale of his Dot Matrix business, he bought out the rest of the partners. The company had at that time just installed a small Tackiboy label press. Since 95% of the business was coming from the label press, machine manufacturing was terminated, thus making the business primarily a label manufacturing company and was renamed OPM Labels & Packaging group. Chris wished to produce labels and flexible packaging, which to date remains OPM’s core business.
In 1989, OPM invested in its first flexo press, a Propheteer, which was the first of its kind sold in the UK.
By 1999 OPM Flexibles was in place to produce printed films, filmic laminates and sachets. By then, the company had acquired six Nilpeter label presses. As time went on, OPM has upgraded its fleet of presses, replacing the old ones with new technology. This was done in order to achieve better efficiency, low waste and faster production.
Today, the number of presses at OPM remains six Nilpeter presses. A seventh Nilpeter press is expected to be installed during the last quarter of 2018.
Sustainability is a key driver for Ellison, he says, “We take our environmental responsibility very seriously. We are proud to assure our customers that their label products are being produced with as little impact on the environment as possible.” OPM has recently been awarded Zero Labels 2 Landfill Certification.
OPM is jointly-owned by Chris and his wife, Susan Ellison. Susan is active in the business, heading the human resources department. She also manages and organizes the implementation of OPM’s aforementioned MIS and automation systems, as well as project managing, and R&D alongside with Chris.
With a background in design and graphic arts, Susan takes initiatives for new developments, as well as marketing and strategic planning. OPM is a true family business. The Ellison’s daughter, Charlotte, and son, Arnold, are also now working at the company.
Chris Ellison feels it is challenging to keep pace with your business as it evolves. He says, “One must rely on people, while motivating them to grow with your business. Leadership must have the desire, passion and will to take it further and pass it on to the team.”
Ellison’s elevation in FINAT in becoming president has helped him obtain a broader perspective of the international label business. He stresses how working within the association has helped him expand his knowledge through the many global networking opportunities FINAT offers. In his position, he’ll continue to work hard to connect with the large spread-out membership base and create value for the diverse FINAT membership.