Created With Experience

President & CEO Stacy Warneke uses new technology to improve efficiency at family-owned carton manufacturing company

Company Week Article by Angela Rose

Warneke Paper Box was a green company long before ‘green’ became a buzzword for environmental consciousness. Founded by brothers Maynard and Bill Warneke as Inland Paper Box in 1907, and now run by the family’s fourth generation, the custom manufacturer of folding cartons, set-up boxes, point-of-purchase displays, and pocket folders is FSC- and SFI-certified, powered by wind energy and a zero waste facility.

“About seven years ago we put in a big bailing and vacuum system,” Warneke says. “Everything from our make ready sheets and paper cores to scrap gets shredded, baled and sent back to the mills for recycling. And the hot air generated in the baling room is pumped through the factory to heat the building in the winter.”

The 110,000-square-foot facility cranked out about 75 million cartons in 2015, with virtually everything done in house. “From structural and graphic design to production, we have complete control over the product,” Warneke says. She estimates folding cartons make up 90 percent of their business, with setup boxes accounting for the remaining 10 percent.

Warneke Paper Box’s customers range from pharmaceutical and medical device companies to food and cosmetics producers. Recently, cannabis packaging has become a huge growth area.

“We’ve done a lot of packaging for the edibles and accessories markets but we’ve recently been producing boxes for the actual growers as well,” Warneke explains. “They want to identify their specific grow houses so are starting to put their containers into branded boxes. This makes their product more personalized and recognizable, so people know where it came from.”

As a result of this increasing demand, Warneke has focused on improving her factory’s efficiency. “We really like to invest in the latest industry technology because it enables us to run faster and better than our competitors,” she says. “That makes it possible for us to compete nationwide.”

As a beta test site for Heidelberg and Bobst, the number one manufacturers of printing presses and die-cutting equipment in the world, respectively, Warneke Paper Box often has access to new machinery before anyone else. “We were the first company to have Bobst’s Sprintera die cutter,” Warneke says. “It’s capable of running 12,000 sheets an hour. When it came out, that was double what any other die cutter could produce.”

She estimates a 17 percent increase in efficiency over the last couple of years — with much more to come. “It has allowed us to get more business without adding extra shifts,” Warneke says. “We’re a one shift operation here, which is kind of rare for a folding carton plant. But that’s really important to us because you’re going to get the best quality out of the first shift.”

“We’ve recently put in a new ERP system that will handle everything from estimating and quoting to our scheduling,” she continues. “It will also give us real-time data off of all the machines. This will give us a better idea of exactly what is happening on our manufacturing floor. Then we can drill down to tighten up even more. I think we’re going to see huge efficiency gains again this year.”

Challenges: “Right now, I think our biggest challenge is staffing,” Warneke says. “Our team has an average tenure of 22 years with the company, so we’re reaching a time where people are starting to want to retire. We need to find young people who want to be involved in the manufacturing process.”

In the past, a career in the manufacturing of folding cartons has been a tough sell for the younger generation. However, Warneke says the companies that provide their machinery are developing new technologies that should appeal to Generations Y and Z.

“The new generation is so tech savvy,” she says. “they want to engage with computers, so our partners are really working hard to create that sort of environment in the manufacturing process. For example, they’re developing interfaces that allow you to use Google Glass to do certain things on the machine. I think that’s going to help younger people get more excited about manufacturing.”

Opportunities: Warneke Paper Box will soon become the first company in the U.S. to use Heidelberg’s newly developed 40-inch digital press. “This means every single box that we print can have a different picture on it,” Warneke says. “That’s going to be a huge opportunity for us in a couple of different ways. First, we work with a lot of startup companies who need lower quantities. The new digital press will help with this short run business. And second, we work with a lot of medical companies that want to have variable track-and-trace barcodes printed on their boxes. The variable data options on the new press will allow us to change up barcodes and print micro text.”

Needs: “With the digital press coming our way, we’re probably going to be looking for some great salespeople,” Warneke concludes. “It will open up a whole new world for us, and we need people who understand digital printing and the different avenues we can take within that market.”

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