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Minimum effort from order to production - Inland streamlines with Phoenix



Over seven decades, Inland Packaging of La Crosse, Wisconsin has expanded strategically into new products and new markets. The company first rose to prominence as a label supplier for big beer and craft brands and has since built a reputation for sophisticated flexible, in-mold and pressure sensitive solutions. Through three generations of family ownership, Inland has sustained its focus on creating value for food, beverage and consumer product packaging customers.

Key to its continued development is Inland’s customized innovation process driven by a tradition of inquiry and problem-solving. Always alert to emerging technologies, the company uncovers new opportunities through well-timed investment in capabilities such as smart packaging and advanced variable data digital printing. Key to this process is working collaboratively with top-tier supply chain partners to create best-in-class solutions. When Inland set its sights on finding a new solution to alleviate pre-production bottlenecks, investigations led to just such a top-tier provider, albeit one that was entirely new to the company: Tilia Labs.

A solution to replace experience

Before discovering the tilia Phoenix solution, pre-production had been a very manual process for the Inland team.

“Our comboing and gang-run process essentially involved our planners looking at a set of demand orders and, through tribal knowledge and years of experience, picking and choosing what they thought would be best,” says Inland’s Business Analyst and Programmer, Willie Spindler. “We had some calculators built to do the math for them and if the numbers didn’t look right, they’d try something else.”

As business flourished, Inland found they were not only gaining new customers but also more jobs per customer as run lengths reduced with the growth in SKUs and versioning.

This realization meant taking a close look at “up-front” processes: “Things that work when you’re smaller don’t work when you have double, triple, quadruple the orders. As production ramped up, the amount of manpower we would need to force jobs through was daunting,” explains Spindler. 

“My chief concern was ensuring that, from order to production, the amount of effort required is as minimal as possible,” he continues. “After getting Tilia Labs in to give us a demo, we realized right away that Phoenix was exactly the solution we’d been looking for. It would answer 80 percent or more of what we needed the software to do.”

Tilia Phoenix is a sophisticated, open-API planning and imposition application that improves production efficiencies by fully automating the creation of effective, print-ready impositions across potentially millions of possibilities. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) the system factors in parameters, such as job specifications (quantity, dimensions, colors, substrates), presses/print devices, postpress requirements, and delivery considerations, to suggest optimal layout options. When a final option has been selected, tilia Phoenix generates print-ready layouts and JDF or die instructions, for all devices in the production chain.

According to Spindler, after making the decision for Phoenix, Inland immediately started reaping the benefits of its developer’s agility. “The Tilia team was super-responsive. We had some specific solutions in mind and ways we wanted to work, and our change requests and feature additions were generally delivered within a few months.”

“A great investment from the get-go”

“Our planning department now saves a huge amount of time and for customer orders many hours are being saved. We’ve got integration built up-front that feeds Phoenix these demand orders so there’s no issues with data entry.”

As well as up-front tasks, Inland has felt the benefit of Phoenix’ open architecture through the entire job fulfilment. Feeding Phoenix exports downstream has enabled the company to eliminate data entry duplication and potential errors: “It has saved us huge amounts of time in our planning department. The prep department is now taking a fully stepped PDF and creating plates from it – their time has been cut in half.”

Exploiting a Phoenix feature called Cover Sheet, Spindler says that finishing and distribution functions have likewise made significant gains. “Cover Sheet allows us to embed product info into the barcode, making our verification systems much more effective. This means we can use it to help sort combo jobs into the right boxes and eliminate those mixed bundles that would otherwise happen when the wrong label gets into the wrong box.”

Since installation, Inland has turned its characteristic curiosity and problem-solving to exploring how the Tilia Labs technology might be implemented for other production processes outside of the original remit. Its digital printing facility should be the next area to benefit from the Phoenix capabilities.

“Our company strategy is to continue to support our large brand clients, while at the same time developing our success with many smaller brands. This means investing in new technologies and expanding capabilities that make our culture of innovation possible,” concludes Jackie Kuehlmann, Director of Marketing at Inland.  “Systems such as flexographic printing, offset, rotogravure and digital give our customers unparalleled choices. Digital specifically is very different so we’ve had to bring in new technology – such as Tilia Labs – and change a lot of our processes to make them much more agile.”