Established in Norwich in 1991, Castle Colour Ltd has built a strong reputation for delivering high quality carton and blister packaging solutions to the food, personal and household care markets. Today, turning over circa £8 million with over 70 people, the business is focusing on delivering exceptional customer service from a platform of operational excellence. Led by Managing Director, Mark Ferguson, Castle Colour has established a cultural ethos for addressing the needs of people and process development before investing in new technologies. The recent investment in a bobst Expertfold 80 folder-gluer is a showcase for this approach to delivering exceptional operational performance improvement.
“You’ve got to work smart. We have to compete with the rest of Europe. We’re clever, capable and utilising the latest operations techniques at Castle to deliver the best solutions for our customers, at maximum efficiency,” says Paul Densley, Operations and Technical Director at Castle Colour.
Delivered in January 2017, the Expertfold 80 is Castle’s second Bobst folder-gluer and sits alongside two Bobst die-cutters. A flexible machine, it lets converters fold and glue up to 3,000 box styles, handles both corrugated and synthetic materials and delivers the consistent accuracy and quality today’s packaging industry demands.
“The investment in the machine was a no brainer for us but it was critical that we further addressed the skills and capability of our staff, and created new processes, in order that we could secure the benefits of the capability of the machine. We’re seeing a 50.7% improvement in our folder-gluer running speed compared with our old line and we’re not even close to the potential of the machine. In the last 12 hours, we’ve run over 500,000 cartons on the line,” comments Densley.
L to R: Paul Densley and Craig McGowan
The philosophy that began the operations strategy uplift at Castle started with the education and training of employees in lean management techniques at Norwich University. “Our basic ethos at Castle Colour is that you have to build your people first – the right people, in the right jobs, with the right skills. You can then address and optimise your processes. The last stage of the strategy is to invest in the technology to support your improved people and processes. It has to happen in that order otherwise you simply don’t secure the benefits of a machine investment,” says Densley.
Castle began by taking team members from across the business, from operators to management, to be trained in the principles of continuous improvement; making small incremental steps to business improvement, eradicating any defects, waste and optimising processes. Densley continues, “This wasn’t easy. We were asking our people to think differently about the way they worked and to think of the business in a more challenging way – a cultural shift in our approach to doing business and running the site. We now have two very successful teams, which work really well, delivering incremental changes on a daily basis.”
The lean management approach identified the critical nature of upstream quality and consistency management. For example, minimising defects in feeding, printing and packing was key to reducing downstream impacts in production, as well as capacity management. “Castle Colour is accredited to a range of national quality systems including ISO 9001:2008, ISO14001, ISO 12647-2, complies to BRC AA standard and is SEDEX approved. However, even with all that work, training our team in lean management has ensured we are continually playing to our strengths, challenging the norm and taking the extra step to autonomously run our facility with a quality performance and efficiency not seen at the site before,” says Densley.
Castle Colour needed the support of suppliers to drive training and education in the facility. Bobst stepped up at an early stage to deliver operator training. Densley comments, “We had good operators, young and old, but we needed a step change in education and training to support the new lean management approach, as well as improve our day to day running of our lines. Bobst took on the challenge delivering a comprehensive training programme at our facility, irrespective of machine type that we were working with. We appreciate this is highly unusual but the Bobst team put their arms around our team and made it happen. “We really appreciated their input and we’re now running the business with highly skilled, quality people but with more modern business and operations practices. The mindset change, as a result of the training Bobst delivered, was outstanding.”
Craig McGowan, Bobst Area Sales Manager, adds, “One of the benefits of training the Castle operators, prior to any new machine investment at the site, was that we understood their process flow, any production issues and opportunities for improvement, as well as the skill sets of the operators. It’s great to see a company really think through their investment plan and understand what they need to do from a people and process perspective, long before they get the kit on the factory floor. So many times we see companies invest without truly thinking through how they can maximise the opportunity they have with their new technology and then not achieve the full potential of the investment.
“Castle are running two-day shifts today and running up to 400m/min or 60,000 per hour on our new machine, with ease. This has created a 50% capacity uplift at least and there’s more to come with the strategy they’ve put in place. Fundamentally Castle understood the need to enhance operator training, further improve processes and optimise what it was already doing, before we even talked about installing the Bobst Expertfold 80.”
As the company realised its training and education benefits, it moved to focus more fully on process change. The core recognition of the management team was the need to improve production planning and deliver additional capacity, as well as create flexibility in sales, in order to drive up customer satisfaction.
Having mapped the overall site process flow, Castle invested in Tharstern, a fully integrated management information system (MIS) and workflow solution, specifically designed for printer converter companies. This would deliver improved information to the teams and enable minute-by-minute management of the situation. Including estimating, job management and tracking, purchasing, CRM, scheduling, fulfillment and inventory management, the Tharstern solution was implemented and managed by an employee previously working in estimating, enabling Castle to manage its business in a radically different way.
Castle Colour was ready to invest in the next generation of folder-gluer to secure its production strategy. Mark Ferguson and Paul Densley visited Drupa 2016 to see what new machine innovations were available. While the perception of many is that the major deals done at the show have all been pre-prepared and are simply signed off during the two week expo, the Castle Colour team were on a buying mission and truly on the look out for what could impress them and fit with their enhanced operations strategy.
“I think UK buyers are far more cautious than some of our European counterparts. We research, test and retest until we are satisfied the technology is the right fit for the business,” says Densley. “We attended Drupa initially with a mission to invest in end of line equipment, but without really having a full understanding of the cost of what would really make the difference to the business.
“We also like to push our suppliers to our advantage – we don’t want the norm that is offered to everyone. We want to push the boundaries of the technology available off the shelf, challenge our suppliers to come up with something new and deliver innovation that enables us to keep driving up our efficiency. Today, as a result, we can run our lines at 400m per min, whereas the industry norm is less than 300m per min.”
Castle Colour today runs 70% cartons and non-blister applications and 30% blister packs for the UK and EU marketplace, with a mix of four-corner crash lock packs and straight line work in its carton offering. The Expertfold 80, with its integrated detection system and bar code reader, is a flexible machine. With its Accufeed feeding system, every box enters the machine in perfect alignment and the system is focused on cutting make ready time and reducing waste.
Castle has developed a contemporary business and operations management mindset and ethos, backed by technology investment clearly married to its strategic objectives. The new folder-gluer has delivered more than the team anticipated in terms of sheer running speed and efficiency savings. The holistic approach the Castle team took to the investment means the company is set to further successfully grow and is able to secure a broad product sales mix due to its all encompassing people, process and technology strategy.
Castle is currently investigating options for new presses, moving up to a latest specification 7-colour solution and is taking the same approach to the investment. A number of press trials have already been completed and the process is nearing decision. “With the flexibility our investments have given us, we are able to take a mix of more commodity and premium jobs and work with a broader range of customers in both the blister and carton markets. The blister market is still growing around 7% per annum and is an £2.5 billion European market, so there’s plenty of business for us to access. On top of that, carton has grown phenomenally for us and is clearly a preferred packaging option due to its recyclability and graphic appeal so we will certainly be tapping further sales in that market space too,” concluded Densley.