Firstan supplies elite packaging services to an impressive roster of clients from the manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries. In the run up to celebrating its 40th year of production, the company is investing in both technology and people power to stay ahead in a very competitive and often challenging market. The company remit covers full design and production using the latest technologies, and also extends to braille implementation and brand protection.
Director of Operations Paul Hartwig often eschews complexity when it comes to his manufacturing methods, preferring to defer to 'common sense' as often as possible. This homespun process seems to be working, as he proudly declares: “In some instances we are going from a phone call to producing 100,000 cartons in 24 hours.”
Key members of the company meet on a monthly basis to discuss key business issues. Members of the Continual Improvement Team discuss project progress and what the future may bring, as well as the latest developments in technology. Not only do regular meetings like this galvanise the vision of a company, but they also provide different sections of the business with a platform to communicate.
Firstan is ISO14001 accredited, which means that it is actively reducing waste within the company, and making best use of its materials. Not only does it ensure that the paper it uses complies with the established guidelines set by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), it also uses paper suppliers that comply with the PEFC (Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.) This commitment to high standards in an industry as paper-hungry as print is certainly refreshing but is also given more of a personal note, when Hartwig told us: “We know our suppliers aren’t ripping up trees in rainforests and kicking orang-utans out of their homes.”
Further to reaching its goal of zero carbon emissions, Firstan turned to a local source to secure its haulage requirements. Aside from reducing the distance between the haulier and the Godmanchester factory, the contractors exploit their strategic position on the A1 corridor to ensure that their lorries do not return with empty containers. For a company in a sector that relies so much on distribution, this initiative represents a gold standard for transportation, one that is both “cost efficient and environmentally friendly” according to Hartwig.
Firstan recognises that sustainability is a concept that applies as equally to its staff as it does the environment, and this paradigm has caused them to foster a loyal and aspirational workforce. Hartwig warmly informs us: “We have a few people that have been with us for over 20 years, some travelling probably for an hour each way… some people even drive past a competitor of ours on their way here, which tells you something.” Alongside a happy and motivated workforce, loyalty to this degree enables a company to retain employees that are experts in their industry, who have experienced the growth of the business first hand.
The company is keen to invest in the development of its employees, overseeing it all with an expansive computerised HR system that Hartwig and the rest of management use to “see what skills are around us.” Furthermore, he states: “Management are basically talent scouts. We have a low turnover of staff… if you look at employees past history, we have seen people go from shop floor to director level.”
In line with its operational goal of becoming a zero carbon company, Firstan is keen to see that best practice begins at the top, with managers becoming role models for the rest of the company; this is headed by a dedicated training initiative that helps management comply with the strict standards of the ISO14001 accreditation.
Putting the talent to work
Utilising cutting edge developments in manufacturing technology has not only ensured the durability of the company in the face of sometimes adverse market conditions, but has also created a system that delivers fantastic results for its customers. Perhaps the most interesting example of this is the adoption of Xrite colour management systems, which has reduced make ready times by up to 30 percent, as well as cutting waste by 50 percent. This surely represents the ‘sweet spot’ of implementing new tech – delivering returns to the business, the customer, and the environment.
Hartwig is proud of the work his design team does, saying: “We supply to a lot of major retailers, and the feedback we get is that they have not seen anything as creative as Firstan.”
He goes on to add: “Especially within the pharma industry we’ve got demand for packing that is tamper evident and has hidden or covert security features… Innovation is more and more being sought by our customers and our design department has focused heavily on that area so we’re ahead of the crowd.”
Alongside the methods used to successfully deliver pharmaceutical standards, the company also offers a range of overt and covert measures to ensure that its client’s brand is strongly protected from criminal counterfeiting measures.
To sum up, Firstan is an effective, forward-thinking company, whose dedication to quality and sustainability concerns has earned it a reputation for delivering for both its clients and the environment. Hartwig sums up by saying “we’ve always forged good relationships” and this, in essence, is the insight that puts this company out in front. Whether it’s the employees, the materials, or the very technology that powers the business, Firstan has every detail covered. The innovation that drives its product solutions spills over into the rest of the company, investing each decision with the confidence to wander off the beaten track. Returning to the director’s homage to common sense – it would be truly refreshing if the sense that is so engrained in Firstan was seen by every company, not just the packaging sector.