There may not be a more overlooked part of a food product than the packaging on the outside. When one eats, they usually peel away the package, throw it away and instantly forget about it as they dine on the treat that lies inside. But for Packaging Progressions Inc., the package is an important area of focus.
Based in Collegeville, Pa., the company designs and manufactures stainless steel processing and packaging equipment for the food industry, Director of Sales and Marketing Drew Ward says. This equipment includes paper interleavers, paper underleavers and counter stackers, as well as product alignment devices and groupers that can interface with slicers, cutters, sheeters, presses and formers.
Ward’s father, Lawrence Ward Sr., founded the company in 1989 with the invention of the Arc’Tronic Hole Perforator, which uses an electric arc to cut holes in plastic film without leaving any debris. “That was used a lot by the food industry in final packaging,” Drew Ward says.
By 1992, Packaging Progressions had grown to six employees and began designing and manufacturing high-speed paper interleavers and auto stackers for the meat industry. “In 1995, Packaging Progressions obtained the patent for interleaving with an ‘Inline Foldover’ and began selling internationally through Canadian and European representatives,” the company says.
Today, Packaging Progressions employs a staff of 40 and it will have its best sales year to date in 2010. Ward notes that the company’s clients now include both medium to large food processors. “That spans the meat industry, the baked good industry, snack foods [and] some co-packaging applications,” he says.
A Trusted Partner
Additionally, Packaging Progressions says that it has earned a reputation as a trusted partner among market leaders in the food and packaging industries. “Our ability to provide well-designed solutions tailored to customer needs – and follow that solution with 24/7 support and a full range of interleaving materials – has set us apart,” Packaging Progressions explains. “We find innovative ways to reduce labor costs, increase production and add value to [our clients’] products.”
The company also has branched out internationally with Pacproinc Europe, which also sells the company’s interleavers, underleavers and stackers. “The formation of Pacproinc Europe has allowed us to focus our efforts internationally and begin to develop solutions tailored to our customers needs abroad,” Packaging Progressions says.
Keys of Growth
Ward joined Packaging Progressions in 2005. He notes that one of the keys to the family owned company’s success is its ability to expand within its niches through innovation.
For instance, while the company initially developed its paper interleaving and stacking machines for meat, it did not stop there. “[We expanded] it outside the meat industry into other food products,” he recalls.
Additionally, Ward credits the company’s success to its service department, which helps Packaging Progressions stay in touch with both its customers and their needs.
“They’re the road warriors of the organization,” Ward says, noting that these staff members are in continuous contact with clients.
“They’re probably the key to our continuous improvement process, bringing back the customer feedback that we need,” Ward says.
Recently, Packaging Progressions reduced the size of its standard paper interleaver. While the machine provides the same production rate, it takes up less space in the customers’ production facilities, Ward explains.
“In many cases, we can implement this solution, in as few as 12 inches of line length,” he says. “Reducing the footprint of this equipment while maintaining throughput is a big innovation. We are constantly developing and patenting items with respect to interleaving and stacking.”
Reducing or Reusing
As a manufacturer of paper interleavers, Packaging Progressions has strived to move with its customers towards green initiatives. “We’re adding a consumable, as any packaging does,” Ward says. “Our customers are trying to find ways to reduce or reuse their packaging materials and find better alternative materials.”
To help its clients with this goal, the company works with customers to create custom material specifications that increase run time, reduce paper roll changeover time, and reduce waste. In many cases, Packaging Progressions’ consultative approach to developing an interleave material specification has allowed customers to double their runtime on a single roll of interleaving material. This would give them the benefits of taking up less storage space at clients’ locations, decrease fuel consumption when materials are being shipped, and reduce waste volume upon final use Ward says.
The company also has adjusted to a recent shift among its customers and their needs in foodservice bacon products, Ward says. While in previous years its customers were more focused on the precooked segment of the foodservice bacon market, they have recently seen a shift towards selling fresh bacon.
“Four years ago, it was the exact opposite,” he says, noting that the company now offers its customers automation solutions for interleaving and stacking precooked and raw bacon.
Making Customers Happy
Packaging Progressions is now working on implementing lean practices within the company’s operations. However, Ward says, this is not the company’s very first continuous improvement effort.
Instead, Packaging Progressions works hard to exercise its continuous improvement strategy in the product design and fabrication stage by incorporating changes suggested by customers. The company also makes an effort to follow up all installations to determine if or how it fell short of customer expectations, and how it can remedy the situation immediately and in future designs.
“One of our strengths is in completing that customer cycle and ensuring that we’re not just shipping a product, but providing solutions the customer is happy with at the end of the day,” Ward says.
Making Customers Happy
Looking ahead, Ward predicts that Packaging Progressions will grow within the realms of its interleaving and autostacking segments. “I see a lot of growth occurring in final packaging, where we build stand alone counters and stackers that will feed a packaging machine,” Ward says.
“I [also] see a lot of growth in the science and development of interleaving materials,” Ward continues. “I see us being less of a paper-feeding machine and rather a dispenser of value added substrates like water-soluble flavorings or ingredient-bonded films used for flavor transfer.
“These methods allow for the more precise addition of flavors or ingredients without the need for large batch marination,” Ward explains. “The flavor is bonded to the substrate (paper, film, etc.). The substrate is cut to length and applied to a product using our unique feeding systems and moisture from the product initiates the transfer of the flavor or ingredient to the product, upon contact.”