If There Are a Million Ways to Make Fluid Flow Better, This Company is Working on Most of Them

Written by Jen Hocken

Graco Inc. produces everything to manage fluid handling in dozens of industries and over 100 countries. It relentlessly tasks its divisions with developing new applications based on advanced technology. And it still finds time to be one of Fortune’s “20 best places to work.”

Founded in 1926, Graco has its world headquarters in Minneapolis, MN, with regional headquarters in Belgium, China, and Uruguay.

Highly focused on problem solving, Graco uses its expertise and resources to find unique solutions for customers struggling with a product or application. In a recent example of this, a potential customer approached Graco complaining of an issue with another sift-proof application. This is a packaging process designed to prevent loose product sifting out of its container in the hurly-burly of transport.

They found that, first, the sift-proof seal was not up to keeping all the product in the box, and, second, there was a safety concern when changing from one box to the next since it involved moving heated applicators by hand.

Graco devised a safe process where the applicators did not have to be moved, and designed a higher-quality bead to improve the sift-proof application process, which exceeded all requirements for containing the product in the box.

Sticky problem solved
Summit Brewery, located in St. Paul, MN, has been working with technology designed by Graco for several years now and is continuing to see great results. Before Graco’s intervention, the brewery had been having backups and downtime caused by nozzles plugging up, a common problem with hot-melt operations dispensing sealants or adhesives. An additional problem was inconsistent temperatures, both as the glue pellets went into the tank, and as the glue traveled through the hose delivering it onto the packaging.

The installation of Graco’s InvisiPac® Tank-Free Hot Melt System enabled Summit Brewery to keep its machines up and running much longer and significantly decrease downtime. The new system required less maintenance, for a further saving on costs. The packaging manager also observed that start-up time was reduced from over forty-five minutes to less than ten. Now eight years in place, the Graco system has demonstrated its reliability and worth to Summit Brewery over and over.

Graco offers a wide variety of products for use in many different industries. Last year it released over thirty new products. Yet despite its heavy investment in new product design and development in all divisions, its opinion is that the packaging sector itself is still in dire need of improvement to its own ways of operating.

More problems, more solutions
“One thing that we found within packaging specifically is how the industry is kind of a tech desert; it’s one where there is not a lot of innovation… [So] with our product InvisiPac®, we not only are trying to produce a unit that is more advanced than our competitors, but also trying to produce solutions overall,” says Kayt Boldenow, Marketing Manager at Graco. The company believes that it can supply solutions to practically every problem in the packaging space because of its research into all types of fluid handling and packaging. There’s no doubt it stands out as the leading one-stop shop for its customers.

“We’re not just a one-trick pony, we’ve got a whole portfolio of products that we can deploy to solve problems and, if you take a step back from the packaging space into the general business, the same is true. We’re deploying lots of different products to solve lots of different problems across a wide gamut of customer needs,” says Corey Johnson, Global Product Manager for InvisiPac®.

The hot melt industry has made few real advancements throughout its history, and the InvisiPac® system was the first innovative technology to enter the market in a long time. Part of Graco’s DNA is to create unique products that solve current problems in the industry as opposed to just producing more of products that already exist.

Advanced options
Typical of Graco’s modus operandi, InvisiPac® was developed to solve problems that had plagued hot melt operations for decades. “The way it has always been isn’t the way it has to be, and now that Graco is in this space, we’ve got an opportunity for customers to be able to do things differently. They don’t always have to suffer with plugged nozzles, tank scrapes, or suffer through some of the maintenance and operation issues that they’ve had in the past,” says Johnson. True to its word, Graco is setting out to raise awareness of the new advanced options for hot melt applications throughout the industry.

The benefits of InvisiPac® include the short, ten-minute start-up time, increased productivity, decreased waste, average adhesive savings of 60 percent, no tanks, no plugged nozzles, and improved operator safety. It is a safer process too because the system can be controlled remotely, unlike the method used at present where operators personally manage tanks of molten adhesive.

Safety, savings, and sustainability
The cost savings are also undeniable and Graco’s customers see an average payback time of less than two years once they fully convert their facility to InvisiPac®. Compared to the competition, the whole packaging experience with InvisiPac® is on another level, and safer.

Sustainability is increasingly just as important in packaging as in the other divisions of the company. “We are really trying to be innovative in ways we can be more sustainable, not just in our own production but also [in how] Graco as a company and InvisiPac® can help our customers with their sustainability initiatives,” says Boldenow.

Safety, savings, and sustainability are three key areas of expertise at Graco, and the company is reaping the benefits as it encourages manufacturers to put outdated methods of using hot melt behind them with the adoption of InvisiPac®.

To continue building relationships with current and potential customers, Graco Inc. will be attending PackExpo Las Vegas this year and PackExpo International next fall in Chicago. “The ability to speak with others in the packaging industry and customers in person is invaluable. We are excited to share with attendees all the ways we can collaborate with them to improve their packaging processes,” says Boldenow. The company will be highlighting a few recent enhancements to its product offerings.

The customer experience
The annual report by the CEO and president of the company, Patrick McHale, highlights that customers now drive the sales and require more attention than in the past. To get this customer experience-oriented mindset into everyone’s awareness, McHale encourages people to email him directly and personally directs those emails to the relevant teams.

Another way the company has tried to eliminate unwanted restrictions on communication with customers is by putting together a customer-experience group from all areas of the company, specifically including, along with sales and marketing, those not traditionally involved: manufacturing, engineering, and product management. The purpose of the broad-base team is to create products that customers truly find interesting, and noticeably improve the customer experience.

Last year, Fortune Magazine named Graco one of the “20 Best Places to Work in Manufacturing and Production in the United States in 2018.” It employs approximately 3,700 people – fortunate people, it must be said – worldwide. Fortune Magazine’s recognition of Graco is a tribute both to an enlightened leadership that’s made Graco a rewarding place to put your best foot forward, and the people of a committed workforce who embody so much skill in such an intensively high-tech field.

Giving back
It’s probably also right to link some of Graco’s success with its own work environment to its various charitable efforts in local communities. Inside and outside the company, Graco’s support for the community is seen as tangible proof that its heart is in the right place.

“In 2018, the Graco Foundation’s contributions reached $1,173,416, going towards community grants, scholarships programs, Graco Gives, Dollars for Doers, Workforce Development, Youth Development, and Education (STEM) Development,” says Boldenow.

Graco is a global leader of complete fluid-handling systems and is making great strides in the packaging industry with its innovative, groundbreaking engineering. Industry observers believe that the spectrum of solutions generated by Graco with its active problem-solving approach will continue to turbo-charge the company with the fresh energy of innovation.

Graco acknowledges that it cannot outline the exact path the future will take because so much – well, everything – depends on the often rapidly changing needs of its customers. “What is great about Graco is that our customer portfolio is so large that we’re not restricted to just trying to focus on one thing or another, we have the ability to solve a variety of problems and needs that our customers may have,” says Boldenow.

Put another way, what’s great about Graco is that the more challenges there are, the merrier it is.



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