At Sonderen Packaging, we are always working to refine our processes in order to better serve our customers. We’ve grown a lot over the years and there’s much that goes on behind the scenes in planning and management to constantly improve productivity. Much of that planning is done by our plant manager, Steve Willemsen, who has been a part of the Sonderen Packaging company family since 2000.

“It’s an ongoing thing for us. We’re constantly improving the process,” Steve says. In fact, the list of current improvements is quite lengthy.

He is currently working on reorganizing a few strategic areas of the plant floor in order to increase efficiency, including some major restructuring of the gluing and maintenance departments.

“We moved the gluers out to the other room. We needed more processing space; we had no flow, it was just jammed up. When moving jobs around, we were double- and triple-handling things. It’s been about two months since we moved the second gluer out there, and I think everyone is over the shock now,” said Steve. “Now we’re getting the staging area organized a little more. It’s all part of refining our lean manufacturing processes.”

The maintenance department has been spread over the plant for a variety of reasons and is now being consolidated to a single location. Steve has a weekly meeting with our maintenance manager to review work orders, and they have begun to schedule out the work orders just as we schedule out our jobs. “That’s been really beneficial for keeping the machines up to speed.”

Everyone is currently being trained on our brand new ERP system, which will give us more in-depth analytics on each department’s productivity in order to hone in on more improvement opportunities. While we used to rely on appearances as to whether each department area was running smoothly, now we will be able to easily quantify it.

“Right now, we may think we’ve improved, but it was difficult to document it. Now we will have the proof of where we’re at. It is going to give us better data off the production floor. It’s going to be great for scheduling,” says Steve.

We recently acquired a new CAD machine for prototyping, as the one it replaced was outdated and no longer supported by the manufacturer. However, our old machine is still going to be put to use and has found a new home in our die room, cutting coating blankets for our printing presses.

“It’s going to be a one-stop-shop for making CAD-cut coating blankets for the printing department and dies and tooling for the cutting department, all overseen by the same person,” Steve said about the consolidation and addition to the die room. “That’s another big project for this year which consists of building a wall, installing a window and door, running electrical and moving equipment, pretty run-of-the-mill around here. Our maintenance department handles these types of projects on a regular basis.”

A large part of maximizing our plant’s efficiency lies in scheduling our workforce and machine time. Our busiest department is our printing department, which has grown so much in the last few years that it now runs 24 hours a day, Monday through Friday.

“It takes a lot to start a press up, and to wash a press, which can waste a lot of time and material if you’re stopping the job or shift in the middle of the night. One way to mitigate this waste is to run the printing presses around the clock,” says Steve. “Over the weekend, we also have some cutting and gluing production which helps to get things ready for the next week. The production schedule is constantly evolving. My scheduler and I work closely together and we have gotten really good at problem solving. The most predictable thing in our day is the unpredictable.”

“The biggest change we made to impact our plant efficiency is to add a swing shift plant manager who oversees all the production and quality issues. He ensures everyone is on point with what they’re processing in their various departments,” explained Steve. “Another challenge this past year was getting our new KBA printing press up to speed. After a yearlong plus learning curve with new technology we have gained experience in running jobs with UV coating and UV printing. Now we’re pretty adept and more confident. We are starting to see the efficiencies we expected from the machine, which now has brought to light throughput needs down the line in the cutting and gluing departments.

“Currently cutting is keeping up, so finishing is our focus. We’ve found some good operators with great mechanical skills, and our senior operators are training them. That’s another reason why our new swing shift plant manager is so valuable, because he can help oversee the training process and progress at night.”

As part of our commitment to our customers, we are dedicated to constantly improving and refining our processes, and our team is innovating and growing all the time.

“We’re continually working to be more efficient and meet our customers’ needs. It’s mostly behind the curtain, but what customers are going to see is on-time deliveries with a goal of shorter lead times,” says Steve. “I’ve been with Sonderen since 2000. We have put several systems in place since I first began. We have grown steadily over the years. More sales volume came in, more people have joined our team, and more customers with critical specification needs have been acquired. This means we’ve simply had to communicate better. I look forward to our new ERP system; all of the new data will really help take us to the next level. That’s going to make a big difference in our future.”

We may be a small company but it doesn’t mean we can’t be just as efficient and sophisticated as the big guys. In fact we can be better!