"Voice of the customer" drives Ad Tape and Label's growth

Ad Tape and Label (ATL) has supplied labels to over 2,000 different companies over the last 50 years. Growth in the firm's medical products has evolved into a new division; ATL Medical/Pharmaceutical Division. To accommodate the growth the Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin company recently completed a plant expansion.

About the only thing not growing at ATL is the grass. And even that's only a temporary condition as the dust settles on the company's recent plant expansion.

The company's growth has been fueled by product line extensions and commitment to quality. That commitment became immediately apparent when we visited the expanded ATL facility. Our brief wait in the freshly tiled lobby was interrupted, by a group of people filing into a new conference room. Following behind them was Don Dobert the firm's newly promoted President.

"I'm glad you saw that. That's our Quality Team getting together. We do that everyday. It's democracy in action," said Dobert. Included in the daily meeting are managers and team leaders from sales, creative design, engineering, manufacturing and production. This quality meeting is the tip of the iceberg for ATL's approach to business. Based on ISO 9002, ATL's quality programs ensure customers receive finished products that meet their specifications and expectations.

"The Enercon treater gives us ultimate control over the dyne level, and in turn, product quality."
- Don Galyardt, ATL Press Supervisor

Stringent Standards

Not all of ATL's customers are aware of the quality focus within the new walls of the company. However, some of ATL's customers are not only aware of the programs, they demand them.

"We've recently passed a number of audits from some of the major pharmaceutical companies, including Bristol Myers and Pfizer," says Dobert. "We're also one of only five Preferred 3M Medical Converters in the U.S.

The products manufactured for these companies are often used in life and death situations. Anything short of 100% accuracy is unacceptable. "You'll never hear anyone say a job has to go out today", claims Dobert. "It's not shipped until we're satisfied the job has met specifications."

Deploying the quality function

The company goes to great lengths to understand the expectations of their customer. "We employ a "voice of the customer" philosophy. It's critical that our sales person engages in an appropriate dialog with the customer. In turn, that information needs to be precisely translated through engineering and manufacturing to the shop floor," says, Dobert.

Recently ATL sent one of their pressmen to New York to visit a key customer. According to Dobert the expense of this effort pays long term dividends. "The more our people understand how our products are used by our customers the better they'll understand the reasons behind our customers' specifications," says Dobert.

Attention to detail

Press Supervisor Don Galyardt elaborates on some of the measures employed to ensure customer requirements are met. "Extensive documentation is maintained on every job. We monitor and document color consistency with a spectrodensitometer and maintain exacting die cutting tolerances." This attention to detail allows the company to reproduce results and maintain an ongoing history of projects.

Nuts and Bolts

Most of the presses ATL relies on are from Mark Andy. For surface treating there's only one name ATL turns to for equipment and support, Enercon. An Enercon XL is mounted on a 16 inch 4120 Mark Andy press. Galyardt explains the need for the corona treater, "Some of our products such as lithium battery packs are produced from polyfoil material. The corona treater burns the oils off the surface so we can print on it."

Other products that require surface treatment to ensure product quality include film and foam-based products. "Film materials come to us pre-treated, but they don't hold their dyne level," says Galyardt. The corona treater is used to "bump treat" the material to the required dyne level. "The Enercon treater gives us ultimate control over the dyne level and in turn product quality," states Galyardt.

When the company first purchased the surface treater, the technology was new to them. A trip to Enercon's Corporate Headquarters proved valuable. According to Galyardt, "Enercon taught us what corona should look like, how to make sure the air gap is properly set and how to test dyne levels."

Following correct procedures when testing dyne levels is critical. Through this test ATL can measure the surface energy of substrates. Galyardt and his team can then make adjustments to the power level of the surface treater to guarantee successful print runs.

Bright Future

After the plant expansion, ATL's plan was to consolidate operations with its sister plant. Business has been developing so fast that ATL is reevaluating that strategy as they keep pace with their own growth.

Dobert says "The company's growth is rooted in the philosophy that we're a solutions company that listens to the voice of the customer."

If ATL stays on course their biggest challenge may just be getting the grass to grow in the Wisconsin climate.

ATL's attention to quality has earned the company high marks from their customers.