At Tyler Mountain Beverages' fruit-drink production facility in Paducah, KY, delivering high-quality products requires quality equipment and supplies, strong supplier partnerships and an engaged workforce—one in which everyone from the line operator to the plant manager is empowered to address problems when they arise. These factors are what have contributed to the company's growth and success over the years, according to Tyler Mountain's general manager, Kevin Tappa.
The significant growth of Tyler Mountain's business is due in large part to the success of the Paducah plant, a 334,000-sq-ft facility dedicated to the production of fruit drinks. In 2005, the facility produced about 7 million cases, or 320 million bottles, which accounted for about 75 percent of the company's sales. Bottled water—which includes spring, distilled and still water—comprises the other 25 percent.
Tyler Mountain makes three fruit-drink product lines; Rainbow—the company's largest seller—and Tampico and Hawaiian Punch products, both of which the company is licensed to produce. Products are shipped to supermarket chains and other retailers across the country, with the bulk in the Midwest. The company employs 140 people and hires about 60 additional temporary employees during the high-sales summer months.
In the U.S., fruit drinks account for nearly 14 percent of the $93-billion nonalcoholic refreshments market. Packaged bottled water accounts for about 13 percent, while carbonated soft drinks account for about 73 percent, according to the American Beverage Association (www.ameribev.org).
“This is an extremely competitive market. We compete with regional companies, as well as with large, international bottlers, such as Coke and Pepsi,” says Sandy Thomas, Tyler Mountain's operations manager. “The way we compete is to be a low-cost producer of quality beverages. We can do this because of our dedicated workforce and our partnerships with reliable, top-quality suppliers.” For Tyler Mountain, being a high-volume, low-cost producer requires that it do as much as possible in-house, including blow molding all of its own bottles, mixing the fruit-flavor concentrates, filling the bottles and packaging and shipping the products. Being able to bottle several flavors simultaneously is essential, and the company has filling machines that deliver four flavors at a time, enabling the production of variety packs.
“Product consistency is key to our success,” says Stuart Fotheringham, maintenance manager. “This involves consistency in our bottles, consistency in our adhesives, consistency in our packaging and consistency in our workforce. Keeping all of those areas together requires working as a team with all of our partners, from our adhesive supplier to our paperboard supplier to our packaging supplier to our bottling-materials supplier. They've all got to work together to make a good product.”
Adhesives play a big part in maintaining product consistency, according to Tappa, including in the labeling and palletizing operations, as well as in case and carton sealing. “Adhesives are a very key area for us, and the performance of those adhesives is super important to our success and efficiency,” he says. In fact, adhesives are so important to Tyler Mountain that, in late 2005, it scrapped the adhesive and adhesive-application systems that it had been using for years in its case- and carton-sealing operations on all nine of its packaging lines. Significant and repetitive problems involving charring and clogged nozzles on its dispensing equipment created an “untenable situation” for the company, says Tappa.
“We were changing nozzles on a daily basis; multiple times a day sometimes. Probably at least once per hour, on average, a line would stop because of an adhesive problem. It was really completely out of control,” says Tappa. These adhesive-related problems translated to about an hour of downtime on a major line per day. As many as 12 glue nozzles had to be changed every day.
Instead of simply replacing its current packaging adhesive, Tyler Mountain decided to start with a clean slate and switch to a new, all-in-one package-sealing system called the EASY-PAC™ package sealing solution, supplied by National Adhesives (www.nationalstarch.com). The EASY-PAC system includes a hot-melt dispensing unit with an integrated auto-fill vacuum feeder, char-free, 200-deg-F case-and carton-sealing hot-melt adhesives and new nozzles and modules. The system also includes a convenient, hot-melt storage bin that works with the feeder. The system comes with a three-year warranty and a replacement-parts guarantee.
The switch to the EASY-PAC package-sealing system has reduced downtime at Tyler Mountain by 90 to 95 percent, has increased line efficiency by 10 percent and has cut the spending on the replacement of hundreds of glue nozzles each year, according to Thomas. “I think the biggest improvement, since we switched over to EASY-PAC,” says Thomas, “is that we don't have to focus so much on glue issues anymore. These issues have literally gone away, and now we can focus on areas of quality, increased productivity and better packaging, and get away from the minor nuisances of glue issues. And that's really what they are. They're just minor nuisances, but they have a big impact.”
The new hot-melt system has not only contributed to efficiencies by dramatically reducing downtime, but it's also a much cleaner system, according to Fotheringham. “You fill the bin up with the glue once, and it continuously feeds itself. You do not need to have someone continuously attending that piece of machinery throughout the day.”
The inclusion of new hoses, nozzles, modules and spare parts was particularly attractive to Tappa. “One of the most appealing things about the system was not having the cost associated with spare parts,” Tappa says. “This showed a significant commitment from National and, certainly, confidence in the performance and the quality of the glue systems as well as the adhesive itself. The offer that National Adhesives made really gave me a good feeling, and a willingness to go forward.”
For Thomas, standardization was a primary reason for going with the system. “We were able to virtually eliminate all of our old systems and go with one universal system, where we can eliminate a variety of parts. We can minimize our spare-parts inventory, and we can train our maintenance mechanics to work on only one type of unit,” she says.
Running a packaging operation with a 200-deg-F hot-melt adhesive, rather than the 250-deg adhesive Tyler was running previously, virtually eliminates char, and it also greatly reduces the chance of injury due to burns. “You can literally touch the glue. You don't burn yourself on it,” says Fotheringham. “With our prior packaging adhesive, I saw people who had burns on their hands because they had touched the hot-melt adhesive. This system is much better on multiple levels. You don't have to have as much compression to actually glue the carton together, and you don't need to have as much glue. It's a far, far superior product over and above what we used to use.”
Tyler Mountain views suppliers like National Adhesives as partners in its business, and the formation of partnerships is critical to its problem solving and, ultimately, its success. “Some of the qualities that we look for in a supplier are customer service, quality of materials, on-time deliveries and, obviously, performance of its product. It's all of those things, really, that have to come together for us to form a partnership with a supplier,” says Tappa.
Tyler Mountain works closely with a majority of its suppliers on technical issues and problems, even on the development of different packaging materials and packaging formats. “We really like to work with our suppliers, because we're an end-user, and the suppliers of those different materials—whether they're corrugated cases, adhesives, what have you—are all much more of experts on their materials than we are. So we like to listen to any ideas that those suppliers might bring to the table that either save us money or increase our efficiency,” says Tappa.
Strong partnerships provide a competitive edge in the marketplace, according to Thomas, who explains that partnerships have enabled the company to streamline the flow of materials into its facility, improve on-time delivery, increase cash flow and reduce inventory.
“We strive to build strong partnerships with our suppliers; not so much relationships, but true partnerships,” Thomas says. “We have found over the years that when you build a true partnership with a supplier, the quality of the material you receive is exceptional, and we can be more cost-effective in the marketplace.”
For Fotheringham, the fact that National Adhesives provides Tyler Mountain with an all-in-one package-sealing system and stands behind it, 100 percent, exemplifies the best in a business partnership. “I've now got a supplier that wants to work with me,” he says. “It basically is a partnership, where previously we had one glue supplier, one equipment supplier and somebody else supplying nozzles and hoses. If one of those was faulty, nobody would take ownership for it. Now I've got one supplier who's taking control of everything, and that, to me, is a big asset. Now we can start to reduce the amount of glue we're applying, so we can start to save costs, and saving costs is why we're all here.”
While saving costs is key to Tyler Mountain's business strategy, empowerment is an essential tool in creating a work environment that makes for an engaged work-force. For this reason, empowerment is a basic tenet in Tyler Mountain's philosophy, and it extends to all employees at all levels of the organization.
“Maintaining product quality in this facility is really a global effort,” says Tappa. “We involve each and every employee, from the guy sweeping the floor, right up to me; everyone is empowered to do what they need to do including shutting a line down, or writing a work order if a line needs repair or a problem needs to be addressed. We are a high-volume, low-margin producer, and we have to be the low-cost producer out there to stay in business. The crew here does a pretty good job of making that happen.”
According to Thomas, Tyler Mountain's biggest goal is to take care of its employees. “We're very employee-oriented, very proud of our employees, and we try to convey that to everybody. We offer them long-term employment with good benefits, and we're a good company to work for.”
More information is available:
National Adhesives, 800/797-4992. www.nationalstarch.com.
American Beverage Association, 202/463-6732. www.ameribev.org