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  • 01 Apr 2022

TLMI pivots conference to address ongoing industry disruption

From left to right: Philip Coates, Bruce Hanson, John Borrelli, Andrew Boyd, Catharine Heckman, Jim Sheibley

From March 20-22, TLMI held its Converter Meeting in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico, bringing its members together for the first time in two years.

The multi-day event featured speakers from across the label and packaging industries, covering topics such as sustainability, hiring talent, and the ongoing paper and materials shortages.

Leading day one of conferences, Bradley R. Scoular, partner and financial planner of Global Wealth Strategies & Associates, spoke about buy/sell planning and the ‘eight triggering factors that either lead to either buy/sell or business succession.’

These factors, according to Scoular, are death, disability, divorce, bankruptcy, voluntary and/or involuntary termination, loss of licensing, and retirement.

As a precursor to his presentation, Scoular made clear: ‘Every single one of these triggering factors can be solved. All you need is a bag of cash or an insurance policy.’

Following Scoular, Brian Van de Water, CEO of SPL Consulting, gave a presentation asking if lean manufacturing is practical in one’s business.

According to Van de Water, ‘[lean manufacturing] is a set of tools designed to get deep in your business, into certain processes, and look at how you can reduce waste and use less resources at the same time, creating more value to your customer.’

During the presentation, Van de Water looked to ensure that businesses aren’t using lean manufacturing as a ‘program of the month’ and are, in fact, making it something that’s core and integral to the business.

Claudia St. John, president of Affinity HR Group, presented an overview on the workforce and the ways businesses can attract and retain talent in the face of a tight labor market where unemployment sits about 3.8 percent in the United States.

‘It is the year of the employee,’ said St. John. ‘So, all of what I’m going to share with you are some of the trends for when you’re thinking about hiring or thinking about how to keep your employee. This is what’s going on in the background, this is the current environment in which you find yourself.’

Among the hiring trends, St. John said that while compensation is still a very important factor to potential employees – with many businesses planning on having an overall pay increase in 2022 – a toxic work environment sits at 10 times more important to employees when deciding where to work or continue to work compared to compensation.

Nearing the end of day one of the event, the association pivoted from its final presentation to address the ongoing issues with the supply chain and how it’s impacting the industry with a panel discussion featuring suppliers and converters.

Moderated by Linnea Keen, president of TLMI, and Laura Juarez, founder and partner of 10X Leadership Labs, and paneled by John Borrelli, COO and partner of Luminer Converting Group; Andrew Boyd, president of Blue Label Packaging; Bruce Hanson, CEO of AWT Labels & Packaging; Philip Coates, key account director of UPM Raflatac; Catharine Heckman, business unit director of Bostik; and Jim Sheibley, executive vice president sales and marketing of Wausau Coated Products.

‘As we said yesterday, we’re at a point in time where there is crisis going on in our industry,’ said Keen. ‘And we thought it wouldn’t be right for TLMI to not address this, to not give the opportunity to just start the dialogue instead of having small conversations taking place throughout the day.’

Coates of UPM Raflatac spoke of how the extreme demand of the past two years coupled with the ongoing Finnish Paperworker’s Union strike have caused significant shortages in Europe and have more recently extended to North America.

‘You can’t have any situation, healthy or otherwise, where you have a significant supplier not produce for what is 80-something days now and not have issues,’ said Coates talking about how the duration of the strikes have greatly affected a supply chain that has been strained and impaired in recent years. He also said that when the strikes are over and the mills are back to running at capacity, the underlying issues won’t go away.

‘Every day, it is a new situation with another raw material,’ said Heckman. ‘It can be something such as a chemical plant has a fire which prompts them to claim force majeure.’

Heckman also addressed how the issues we’re seeing right now are part of a complex web of situations that are continuing to manifest, such as the effects seen by the multiple shutdowns in China.

Like the previous suppliers, Sheibly of Wausau Coated products explained that what we’re seeing is a demand-driven issue where a supply chain that was already strained coupled with the increased consumer demand has affected the production facilities which were also strained.

As for the converters on the panel, a common thread ran through what each had to say about the state of the industry, and that was communication and forward thinking and planning.

‘The best thing that’s been working over this timeframe is communication,’ said Borrelli of Luminer Converting Group. ‘A three-way street is how I look at it. our customer service reps, our suppliers, and production.’

Borrelli emphasized that communication between these three separate silos needs to be continuous if a business wants to have continued success in this difficult arena, which was echoed by both other converters on the panel.

‘On top of communication, this is a good opportunity to retrain and give your team an understanding of the full supply chain process, and having customer service and production working together,’ said Hanson of AWT. ‘And also, communicating with the suppliers upfront to really understand what the forecasts are, what the actual demand is, and you need to extend these lines of communication and take that conversation to the customer.’

Boyd of Blue Label Packaging shared similar sentiments and adding that the utilization of a management information system (MIS) for a much quicker passing of information between departments, suppliers, and customers.

‘We’ve had to build out in our MIS a really detailed infrastructure to quickly get in touch with customers to provide them with a list of options and rapidly work with production to substitute or rebuild a job where necessary,’ said Boyd. ‘Basically, our solution has been an MIS infrastructure to accommodate rapid change in jobs.’

Boyd also made clear that while this has made the shift bearable, it has not been pleasant as it still requires a converter to dedicate time and staff to ensuring everything is running properly. However, it offers transparency to the customer, making them aware of the timeframe in which to expect its product and the reality of what is going on in the background of said converter.

As for when converters can expect things to go back to some semblance of normal, Coates of UPM said, ‘It’s really just that balance of what demand do your businesses see during the next 90 days and what can you grasp from your domestic sources to cover your demand, because, in all likelihood, it gets worse in the next 60 days.’

Day two

The second day of conferences were led by Tasha Ventimiglia, event director at Labelexpo Americas, who gave a brief overview of the trends seen in the North American label and packaging industries and an update on Labelexpo.

Among the trends, Ventimiglia spoke of personalized packaging, transparency into the development process and packaging, private labels, flexible packaging, ecommerce, and automation.

Following Ventimiglia, Kelly Murosky, manager of package development of Seventh Generation, gave a presentation about how Seventh Generation produces sustainable packaging and labels, and how converters can work to become more sustainable.

‘We really believe in these three pillars: healthy people, a sustainable environment, as well as, equitable communities,’ said Murosky. ‘And we believe that you can’t really live a healthy life on a sick planet. So, when we are designing and developing our products, it’s important to keep that mindset and work to make sure that [our products] are safe for the consumers home and that [our products] are not creating waste or putting toxic chemicals into the environment.

When speaking of the label industry, Murosky made it clear that it has a long way to go before being 100 percent recyclable

‘Where we need to do the most work is in the label space and flexible films in getting those out of virgin plastic,’ said Murosky. ‘We have actually tested and fully qualified a bio-based label that will on one of our products in the next year or so. So, we’ve seen some innovation coming out of the label industry.’

The final day of the converter meeting ended with an awards ceremony, naming Coast Labels, Clean Mark Labels, Luminer Converting Group, and Belmark the winners of this year’s Eugene Singer Award for Management Excellence.

Luis Rodriguez, North America editor of Labels & Labeling


Luis Rodriguez is North America editor of Labels & Labeling. Previously, he covered emerging automation technology in various industries including oil, gas and manufacturing.

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