Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Company

If I was a box maker and I wanted to find a bad box that was moving at more than 20 MPH and pull it out of my production line, how would I do it? It turns out that it's a very difficult and unique problem. That question, and others related to carton gluing and detection, are worth about $50 million annually to our tiny niche of the packaging market.

But our niche solves an important problem. (Every business exists because it solves some problem. And businesses thrive when they solve the right problems for the right people.) We solve a problem that is unique, we solve it very well, and there are big companies that are willing to pay us a lot of money to provide them with our solution.

In the world of boxes there are two major types: corrugated (the kind of boxes we used to move into our house last summer ) and cartons (the kind of box that my Cinnamon Life comes in). The corrugated market is a down-and-dirty market. Boxes are cheap, and so is the equipment that runs them. But the folding carton market is a gold vein. Anything that comes in a box--from a tiny tube of Blistex to a big box of Cheerios to a smaller tissue box to a complicated bottle carrier--is produced in the folding carton market. Consumer-oriented companies have one way to get you to buy their product when you're at the store: the look of the packaging that it comes in. So it's in their best interests to produce the best looking cartons that will catch you or your kids' eyes first.

It's a huge business. The next time you finish your last can of Coke, rip open that Coca-Cola Fridge Pack™ (Pepsi countered with its Fridge Mate™--how original) and you'll notice three or four patent numbers printed on one of the flaps. Most people, myself included, would never think that someone would patent something as simple as a box. But if you look at them closer, they're not so simple. A lot of engineering goes into the designs and several Fortune 500 companies are willing to spend a lot of research dollars to preserve their competitive edge.

Cartons are usually printed on 4- or 6-color presses, then run through a cutter, then loaded onto a folder-gluer. The folder-gluer is a bit of a misnomer: it folds, but it doesn't usually glue. That part is left up to systems like ours, which glue the boxes, and do quality control on them. Any spoilage on the gluer costs the most. The most expensive part of the life cycle of a carton is on the gluer. Even worse, a single misfed or skewed carton can jam up the entire line and ruin hundreds of other cartons. The Georgia pine used in the substrate of some cartons, like soft drink 24-packs for example, is so strong that when it jams up it can bend the steel of the machine.

But it's not just the strength of the cartons that bends the machine, it's the speed that they move at. Some gluers can run upwards of 200,000 cartons per hour (CPH). That's really, really fast. Even 60,000 CPH is so fast that when I look at it it looks like a solid sheet of board moving past.

Even at those speeds, we produce a system that can lay up to 16 lines of glue on a single carton, monitor that glue (or any other pattern), and pull out a single bad carton from the jet stream of good ones. It's not cheap; a complete system can cost around $80,000. But if you're the guy who just bought a $500,000 folder-gluer, we're in business to make sure that you pay a little more to get a great gluing/detection system to go along with it.

It's taken us a few tries to get it right. Our current system is the fifth generation of controllers that we make. This generation is as perfect as it can get, but it's also a maxed out system, and our customers are always clamoring for more features. So our next generation of controllers will be expandable to 24 patterns, big enough to run even those tricky beverage carriers. And it will be cheaper. It'll also run faster. It will be easier to use, too, thanks to a completely reinvented GUI. Oh, it'll also solve world hunger. Enter the Oswald Project.

3 Comments:

At 3/07/2005 4:21 PM, Blogger Stacey said...

Who knew that boxes could be so technical???? Just think all that work so my kids can have a really fun toy they can wear on their heads and feet...keep that glue a stickin'!

 
At 3/15/2007 4:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where did you find it? Interesting read »

 
At 4/25/2007 7:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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