Outside the Box
U.S. Corrugated is a packaging giant that is taking cardboard packaging and corrugated sheeting from frumpy and expensive into the next generation. The company’s attention to detail, customer service and brand new, high-end digital printers have set the packaging market alight with great quality imaging and even better savings.
Headquartered in Washington, Pennsylvania, U.S. Corrugated manufactures point-of-purchase displays, industrial cardboard boxes used in the food and beverage industries, and specialized packaging inserts. The company’s international footprint stretches all the way to Mexico with two affiliates here representing a sheet and foam plant respectively, and another fresh acquisition that is waiting to be added to its well-established facilities portfolio. Then there is its super plant in Santa Fe Springs, California, as well as a sheet plant in Cerritos, California, that does small to medium runs and houses one of its digital printing operations. In addition, the East Coast is home to yet another of the company’s super plants based in Covington, Georgia, while a display affiliate operates from Tullahoma, Tennessee, and still another corrugated sheet plant is situated in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Unlike a lot of other operators in the field that are often mainly focused on systems and machinery, U.S. Corrugated prides itself on being decidedly customer-centric. “We care about our customers. We want to help them to do as well as they can in their businesses by providing them with top quality corrugated packaging at the best price possible,” says David Ortiz, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
Although good relationships are the mainstay of this business, the company is very proud of its next-generation technology. “We could print 20,000 boxes and not a single person will touch even one of those – from the beginning of the fabrication process all the way to where it is loaded onto the truck. Everything is automated and we use a lot of robotics,” says David.
Apart from the classic brown, corrugated cardboard boxes that we all know, U.S. Corrugated has invested heavily in digital technology, and owns multiple sheet bed digital presses. These presses are printers that allow the company to extend to its clients two large benefits: speed and quality printing. That is because firstly, it is fast. These machines can print a limitless number of images straight onto cardboard within a fraction of traditional lead times. Secondly, these machines print high definition images as they appear on the computer screen without distortion or pixelation.
“These machines turn lead times from months into days and the quality is on par with offset lithographic printing, only at a much-reduced cost as there is much less waste and no setup costs,” explains David. With lithographic printing, images are transferred from metal plates onto rubber rollers and onto a substrate, whereas the printers allow images to be printed straight from the computer file onto cardboard surfaces.
This new digital printing method also allows for quick design changes as there is no setup process. This means that packaging can now be highly customized – no matter the size of the printing run. For instance, instead of having to pay additional setup and tooling costs to print the same box in three different languages, getting another design or new copy onto the printing line is as easy as selecting a new image and clicking ‘print.’
One of these high-tech presses can be found at the company’s facility in Tennessee, another in California, and its Mexican facility will soon be the third facility to be outfitted with this equipment. Additional presses may be added to possible Dallas and Indiana facilities in the near future. “No one else in the U.S. has these presses,” shares David. “Our goal is to have five digital printers supporting the high graphics market. This is something that is new to the industry and as such, we consider ourselves early adopters of new technology. So far, it has been a splendid success and our customers absolutely love it.”
One of the greatest aspects of working with U.S. Corrugated is that customers have only one point of contact thanks to a dedicated account executive who takes care of all printing runs on their behalf, no matter how many facilities a client may have. Even companies who have deliveries in multiple U.S. states and in Mexico only have to deal with one account executive at U.S. Corrugated.
“Customers absolutely love to consolidate their supply base; they don’t like to have to deal with different suppliers from the West Coast to the East Coast and beyond. And we offer them that with our operations in both the northeast and southeast, the midwest, the west coast, and Mexico,” says David. That is because customers know that they can trust the consistent quality from all U.S. Corrugated locations. Needless to say, it also means that the bigger the orders become, the more the price improves.
Working with single points of contact eliminates the frustration of having to speak with multiple people, simplifying the entire process for the client. For this reason, the company’s packaging specialists form a solid team with whom each client’s account executive liaises in order to get the job done fast and efficiently. This team takes care of everything from structural support engineering to design. Manufacturing specialists prepare prototypes and perform all other processes involved in getting the best quality corrugated packaging manufactured, printed and delivered on time and within budget, while project managers and customer care agents are always ready to assist. The company even has its own delivery team. In the words of its founder Dennis Mehiel himself, there is no quality in the product if there is no quality in the person producing it.
U.S. Corrugated is a carefully curated firm that Dennis Mehiel has spent many decades perfecting. As such, the company was preceded by a manufacturing facility, Four M Manufacturing, established in 1963. This plant created cardboard bottle partitions for the beverages industry. Dennis then sold this original business and acquired a number of struggling box and sheet plants. By investing in these operations and running them well, Dennis Mehiel created a network of manufacturing plants and paper mills that was transformed into the country’s biggest privately held corrugated manufacturer in 1995. The company was renamed around this time, becoming known as Box U.S.A., which grew to include 20 plants across the country. The visionary entrepreneur then sold the company to a competitor.
After his two-year trade restriction had expired, Dennis Mehiel got back into the trade, establishing U.S. Corrugated as we know it today. This time he decided that he was done with building up struggling enterprises and opted for the brand new super plant route instead. He decided that modernity was the best ally in his new endeavor, which he established in Santa Fe Springs, California. This time, all the equipment was brand new – state-of-the-art machines with fully automated robotic features.
“We have the newest equipment in the industry. This means that our competitors need more fiber in their paper to make it stronger because their older machines crush the flute as it goes through the press and that degrades the strength of the box. Our brand new machines don’t crush the cardboard, and so don’t take performance away from the box,” says David. Thanks to innovative design and its brand new, razor-sharp corrugating machines, die cutters and more, U.S. Corrugated can use less fiber and therefore fewer trees in the manufacture of its cardboard. In addition, this approach prevents more fiber from entering the waste stream. The company also does its utmost to use as much recycled material in its cardboard packaging as possible, benefiting the environment.
Thanks to running a lean, well-organized operation, the company’s growth has been outstanding. In fact, it is in the process of establishing another plant in the Midwest as well as another around New Jersey. Considering that its most recent Mexican super plant is also equipped with the latest high-speed equipment and a digital printer, this industry leader will no doubt soon have itself an ever wider playing field from which to serve its vast market.
“We’re all about taking care of our customers and really go out of our way to give them the quality packaging they need on time at a very competitive price,” says David. One thing is certain; if its founder’s energy and vigor and its hands-on senior leadership are any indications of the company’s entrepreneurial prowess, U.S. Corrugated will continue to supply Americans with top quality corrugated cardboard products for generations to come.