Overcoming Obstacles in Flexible Packaging Print

The flexible packaging industry is highly desirable business for many industries because the material is affordable, easier and lighter to ship, and highly customizable. It’s already a very large, diverse, and growing market. In 2021 alone, the value of the flexible packaging market was $68.5 billion, and that’s expected to increase to $102.8 billion by 2031

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the flexible packaging industry was thrown into chaos. Like everyone else, the supply chain disruptions made it difficult to keep sufficient materials in stock. At the same time, the demand for flexible single-use packaging skyrocketed. Not only were companies requiring more single-use flexible packaging to ensure sanitary safety, but many food and beverage establishments immediately paused their “bring your own” container initiatives, and there was a significant increase in carry-out or delivery food orders.

Challenges and Opportunities for Flexible Packaging Producers

Before 2020 some of the most common pain points experiences by flexible packaging manufacturers and printers were related to production bottlenecks and delays, insufficient technology to handle demand, and too many manual processes. The excess demand coupled with supply chain limitations during the pandemic have emphasized these challenges but created new opportunities in the process.  

Here are 3 of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing flexible packagers today:

1. Razor Thin Profit Margins + Client Cost Pressure

The print industry generally operates on razor-thin profit margins, and flexible packaging producers are no different. Besides the pandemic-related challenges, the sectors that require flexible packaging have increasingly diverse demands and ever-lower price expectations.  

Customization and short print runs have become the norm for printing and flexible packaging production; however, companies now demand more material options than traditional plastic. The requirement for disposable single-use packaging shot up in 2020, but companies didn’t forget their sustainability mandates for very long.  

Now they want more sustainable packaging options, whether biodegradable, recyclable, plant-based, or low-carbon footprint. In the past few years, the public has become increasingly educated about sustainability. When you combine that with the increases in e-commerce, companies that use flexible packaging have a lot of consumer pressure to meet stringent requirements to avoid the dreaded green-washing label.

New materials mean potentially higher production costs, not to mention supply challenges, product testing, and pricing. While companies want more sustainable options for packaging, they also expect affordable prices. All of this cuts into your profit margins. You need to be able to crunch the numbers quickly when you’re navigating new materials and customer demands.  

If you’re still running several disparate systems, one to manage customers, QuickBooks for accounting, and another to handle inventory, it’s a headache to get the numbers you need to determine if a new material is profitable. Not to mention you’re paying licensing fees for all of those different systems.  

With a centralized print ERP (MIS) system, all your data is in one place to track inventory and supply chain, estimating and quoting, through to production and logistics, in a single system. By simplifying your everyday practices and automating core processes, you’re able to eliminate redundances, reduce costs, and improve your response to profitable and unprofitable projects and materials.  

On top of that, the financial and operational insight you gain from using an integrated print ERP (MIS) solution can be transformative for your entire operations. You can identify trends and costs in real-time, adjust your resource allocation on the fly, and manage everything from estimates to inventory to accounting within the same system. Without this important data at your fingertips, you’re putting your printing business at risk and losing out on opportunities.

2. Bottlenecks Cost You Time, Money, and Production Quality

Bottlenecks are common in production businesses like flexible package printing, and sometimes it can be hard to identify them. Often they’re the result of a past critical mistake. One trusted person is then assigned the extra task of checking and approving every piece at a specific point in the production process to prevent the error from happening again. This usually causes backups when that person has other high-priority tasks, and it can have a significant ripple effect, slowing down the entire production process.

It’s a good idea to have multiple approval levels to ensure the flexible packaging products you create are top quality for your clients. But, having bottlenecks that pause production or affect your schedule inconsistently can really affect your business profits in various sneaky ways.

  • Having inconsistent delivery timing, due to the limitations of one person completing a crucial step in the process, can degrade your clients’ trust that you’ll get the job done on time.
  • Having only one person capable of completing or approving a task is a risk if that person gets sick, takes a vacation, or is otherwise unable to complete the job.
  • Overtime may be required for that person to complete QA/QC approvals in addition to their other responsibilities.
  • Being the only person responsible for a specific approval process is additional stress; when employees are stressed, frustrated, or tired, they’re more likely to make mistakes.

But bottlenecks don’t just happen with people; they also happen with machines. Most flexible packaging printers have various machines on the shop floor. Often, people develop preferences for specific machines, whether it’s because they print the fastest, they’re closest to inventory or the cutting table, or they’re the newest. This means your machines, many of which have a wide range of capabilities, are not being used optimally.

Taking full advantage of all your machines means you can produce flexible packaging faster and avoid downtime from machine breakdowns. To ensure balanced scheduling that uses all your machines, you need to be able to compare production schedules for all the resources side-by-side. A single, centralized print ERP (MIS) system allows you to do that.    

Print shops have embraced new technology and digital printing, but many still operate with manual processes or old software. Often this means different software systems for each department, which usually don’t work very well together.  

Print ERP (MIS) software can help you manage processes, identify bottlenecks, and eliminate them. In addition, these enterprise solutions will make many of your processes more efficient and reduce redundant data entry work. You’ll be able to schedule more efficiently, using all of your machines for a more consistent production schedule, manage inventory to reduce delays and wastage, and plan preventative maintenance for machines. And you can still have workflows and approval processes that go to certain individuals or a group of people to ensure QA/QC standards are maintained.

3. It’s Hard to Hit Every Deadline if You Don’t Have Production Data Insights

Customer retention is critical. Long-term client relationships are more lucrative than constantly starting new client relationships for one-off jobs. Unfortunately, the print and flexible packaging industries have shifted to fewer long-term clients, shorter production deadlines, and smaller print jobs. Some of these things are beyond your, but there are things you can do, and data insights you can use, to positively influence customer retention and improve the likelihood that clients will come back to you over and over.  

Missing client deadlines is never good and can have a lasting impact on client relationships. You need to be able to schedule both human and machine resources as efficiently as possible and ensure you have all the required stock on hand to complete a job.  

Managing all these things separately means a lot of reconciliation between different departments and databases to determine if a project can be completed on time. Managing all your resources at a glance, from supplies and inventory to people and machines, will give you an edge over your competitors.

With everything in a print ERP (MIS), you can quickly check in on the status of a project to identify any holdups or issues and adapt plans to ensure you make that promised delivery date. Your team can also quickly check project status whenever a client inquires. You can also set up warning notifications to alert your team when a project is nearing the due date or is past due.  

Running out of a specific type of flexible packaging material can cause all sorts of knock-on delays for multiple projects. Or you might have a stash of a specific material that’s not getting used. If you have all of your operational data in one system, from estimating to inventory to sales and shipping, it updates supply levels automatically when a new order is entered. You can also check inventory levels whenever you want to ensure you have enough product to complete your jobs. And if you have an excess of a particular product, you can deal with it quickly, whether that’s running a marketing promotion for it, selling it to another producer, or discarding it, to free up inventory space. 

With all your scheduling and resources in one place, you can ensure the most efficient production schedule to ensure your jobs get done on time. You can also adapt on the fly if there are any interruptions, like a machine breakdown, that could throw off your whole process. You can shift from Plan A to Plan B in minutes, reducing or eliminating downtime.  

Data insights about inventory, scheduling, and machine use will help you make smarter business decisions in the future, to reduce costs, gain back valuable staff time, grow your business, and build strong relationships with repeat customers.

Optimize Your Flexible Packaging Print Production with Microsoft Print Software

As demands for flexible packaging printing increase, new materials are developed, and the industry grows, it’s time to think about how technology can help you scale your business, better manage resources, and access meaningful data insights.  

Implementing print ERP (MIS) software like Microsoft’s print solution (i.e. PrintVis) will help you eliminate wasted manual efforts in estimating, scheduling, financial data reconciliation, material ordering, and more. Instead of time-consuming administrative tasks, you’ll be able to focus on improving the customer experience, optimizing print production, reducing staff stress, and keeping up with new developments and innovations in the flexible packaging industry.  

To learn more about how PrintVis can help you operate more efficiently and improve your profit margins, read The Ultimate PrintVis Guide here. We’ve included information on how it works, what’s included, and how much it costs to implement, deploy, and support.  

To talk to a print technology expert, get in touch with us today! We’re here to help you assess your existing technology stack, answer any questions you have, and provide a personalized demo of PrintVis.