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Yerecic Label keeps it lean and fresh

Kristin Yerecic Scott, Brian Hurst and Josh Yerecic accepted the company’s first World Label Award

On a recent Friday morning – promptly at 10am – Yerecic Label’s leadership team gathered for the second of three daily walks through the label manufacturing facility in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh.

It was just before Labor Day in the US, and for label suppliers specializing in the fresh food industries, it’s a busy time of year.

These tours through the facility, called Gemba walks, cover three shifts at Yerecic Label and are an integral part of the company’s ‘lean journey’. Labels & Labeling was invited to join to get an inside look at the company’s organized, thought-out and efficient operation.

‘Speed of fresh’
At Yerecic Label, they don’t just talk about lean manufacturing; they walk the walk – quite literally. The company has been practicing lean manufacturing principles since 1993, and adopted daily Gemba walks five years ago. It’s all part of a strategy the company calls the ‘speed of fresh.’

The walk included senior personnel from production, marketing, purchasing, human resources, sales, IT, maintenance and a shift manager. President and CEO Art Yerecic was there, as was VP of production Brian Hurst and VP of purchasing and administration Linda Ciuca.

Gemba walks, derived from the Japanese root word meaning ‘the real place’ or ‘the place where value is created’, were pioneered by a Toyota executive. They are fundamental to the lean manufacturing philosophy, and at Yerecic Label it allows leaders to engage with employees, to observe work processes and look for opportunities for improvement. At Yerecic Label, they believe improvement is a moving target.

‘Improvement initiatives are coming from our associates,’ Hurst explains. ‘Our associates decide where the barriers are and whether we need more training, better tools, or whatever we need to remove those roadblocks that are preventing them from doing their job.

‘We believe in continuous improvement. We’re never done improving, because we’ve always got room to get better.’

The walk that Friday morning started at a quality board, moved to sales, color separation, and finally the production floor where each press operator recapped press performance during their shift. Gemba walks allow management to deal effectively with problems as they arise, while giving managers a chance to champion the success of their employees. As Art Yerecic says, Gemba walks ‘provide complete transparency into all facets of our operations’.

The company’s lean philosophies extend throughout the building: it operates on a cellular concept, in both the front office and on the manufacturing floor. In the office area, the cellular model means each ‘cell’ has a consistent team including a key account manager, graphic artist and sales coordinators that can all consult clients from beginning to end.

‘The cellular model is a critical competitive advantage for Yerecic Label,’ says Ciuca. ‘Our customers love working with our cellular teams.’

On the production floor, the cellular model means each press ‘cell’ includes a team of three, with helpers grabbing tools, changing rolls or moving boxes to the skid, so the press operator can focus solely on turning raw material into finished product.

‘Our goal is to keep the presses running, and the way to keep the presses running is to keep the operator in the cell,’ says Hurst. ‘We created ways for our press teams not to cross paths and we’ve reduced redundancies to make our production floor the most efficient possible.’

The press cells also track exactly how the press operated on each shift. They track how much down time there was, how much waste was generated, how fast the presses were running, how long changeovers took, and any other barrier the team may encounter.

It’s a remarkable amount of detail. This information not only tells the story of that press on a single shift, but it can point to larger press or operator performance issues that can be dealt with more effectively and armed with data, without pointing fingers.

Yerecic Label’s production manager Josh Yerecic explains: ‘We’re not asking who caused this press to underperform, but rather, what’s broken in the system that caused it to underperform? What processes and procedures need to be changed? What tools are needed to change it?’

This lean journey and ‘speed of fresh’ mentality allows Yerecic Label to be nimble in ways that, for the industries it serves, is crucial.

Josh Yerecic continues: ‘In the fresh industry, we understand that, for example, the grapes our customers harvested yielded more than what they expected, so we may have to move around jobs to accommodate rush orders. We have to be nimble and flexible. Our team is very capable of it, but for us, it can be like a chess match.’

‘Catching excellence’
Yerecic Label’s approach to lean manufacturing has led the company to invest in the latest digital UV inkjet equipment from Domino. In 2018, Yerecic Label installed a Domino N610i, running in-line with an AB Graphic Digicon Series 3 finishing unit.

This press and finishing unit gives Yerecic Label greater flexibility in constructions and capabilities on-press.

‘We went after markets were never able to before,’ says Kristin Yerecic Scott, marketing director.

Hurst and the Yerecic Label team spent nearly three years exploring and researching before investing in a digital press.

‘We are able to satisfy even the most color-sensitive customers with the high density dual white ink and 6-color expanded gamut (CMYK+OV) that accurately reproduces over 92 percent of Pantone colors,’ Hurst says of the Domino press. ‘The press/finisher speed of over 150ft/min was just as important in convincing the Yerecic Label team that it was time to invest in digital capability.’

Yerecic Label is beta-testing a Swiss and Nestl. compliant ink system that Domino launched at Labelexpo Europe 2019. Domino’s UV95 ink will open more opportunities for Yerecic Label’s fresh food customers.

A suite of Mark Andy flexo presses capable of printing 12 colors, each with a slitter and turret rewinders, round out Yerecic Label’s press fleet.

‘We are learning every day about being lean with our digital press,’ said Elizabeth Yerecic, key account manager. ‘After 50 years of flexographic printing, perfection won’t come overnight but like one of our favorite quotes says, “We’ll chase perfection relentlessly, and along the way we shall catch excellence.” ’

A family business
Yerecic Label turned 50 this year. Art Yerecic Sr, Art’s father, started the company in 1969 out of the garage of the Yerecic family home.

By 1995 Art Sr stepped down, and made way for his son, Art Yerecic to become president of the label company. The father and son team shared an office for 20 years, until Art Sr passed away in 2001.

Art Sr’s desk remains in the corner office the two men once shared, but now it is covered in the awards that Yerecic Label has earned since his passing, including an environmental leadership award from TLMI, and the Freedom Award from the US Department of Defense for the support Yerecic Label gives to employees serving in the military. Most recently, the company won its first World Label Award for an extended content label printed on a Mark Andy P7 press.

Of the seven Yerecic children born to Art and Sue Yerecic, three of them are active in the family business: Kristin in marketing, Josh in production, and Elizabeth in sales.

The three of them are poised to take Yerecic Label into its third generation and the company has started down a strategic path to pass the torch to its future leaders.

Kristin, Josh and Elizabeth each lead ‘cross-functional teams’, meaning they work across traditional boundaries to explore areas for company improvement. They have a mentor or coach, who is part of senior leadership, along with coordinator and other up-and-coming leaders that make up each cross-functional team. Much like the Gemba walks, these crossfunctional teams are taking a data-driven approach to improvement.

‘The idea for our cross-functional teams came from Paul Brauss’ recent book Dare to Improve Your Legacy and Paul helped us launch them,’ Art Yerecic explains. ‘The teams look for barriers to order flow and come up with solutions for improvement. Typically, that might be led by senior leadership but we wanted the next generation to be the team leaders and the senior management (Brian Hurst, Linda Ciuca and Jon Boyer) to work with them as mentors. We want the next generation at Yerecic Label to sharpen their leadership skills.’

He continues: ‘Improvement is coming from every level of the organization. In 50 years, we never had this much improvement at Yerecic Label.’

Elizabeth Yerecic adds: ‘The crossfunctional teams have been as much of a growing experience for Yerecic Label as they have been for us, personally. It’s a chance to be hands on and work not only with our colleagues, but with the ideas that seemed unreachable before we had a team around us dedicated to improvement.’

The third generation Yerecics understand the weight of responsibility of leading the company to the next milestone, and no doubt will build on the successful groundwork laid by their father and grandfather.

‘When you’re driving a car, the windshield and the rearview mirror are both important,’ Yerecic Scott says. ‘You have to look through both, but we always want to focus on the larger outlook, the windshield, to see what’s coming.’

She continues: ‘On our 50th anniversary we’re asking ourselves, “What is it going to like here in the next 50 years?” And we’re doing a lot to ensure the next 50 years will be just as successful. We’re keeping it fresh for our customers and for our associates who work with us in to the future.’

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chelsea McDougall is North America editor for Labels & Labeling.

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