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MSI, a Model of Growth and Excellence

With an eye on sustainability, strategy, and customer care, the co-manufacturer expands and perfects its services.

MSI Express’ Batavia, IL, location and center of excellence for stick-pack production.
MSI Express’ Batavia, IL, location and center of excellence for stick-pack production.

Charles Weinberg, CEO of MSI ExpressCharles Weinberg, CEO of MSI ExpressIn 2008, Charles Weinberg and his partners founded what would one day become MSI Express (MSI). It started as one small contract manufacturing and contract packaging facility, then grew to a national company boasting 15 locations in six states and is considered one of the top-five co-manufacturers in the country.

“I've always enjoyed consumer packaged goods. And once I got into contract manufacturing, I knew where my career was going to go and what my passion was,” says Weinberg, CEO of MSI Express.

Weinberg says the business was built up through organic growth and acquisitions. The original plan was to expand to the four corners of the country, but customer demand led to a more centralized empire in the Midwest.

A history of growth

MSI acquired and merged with the following:

  • Per Pak in 2012 (Ind.)
  • Max Mochal in 2014 (Ind.)
  • 6575 Daniel Burnham in 2016 (Ind.)
  • Express Packaging in 2019 (Ill., Ind., La., Ohio)
  • Power Packaging in 2020 (Ill., Texas, Wis.)
  • Ameriplex in 2020 (Ind.)
  • PacMoore Hammond in 2021 (Ind.)
  • 6750 Daniel Burnham in 2022 (Ind.)
  • JW Smucker Ripon in 2023 (Wis.)

Different acquisitions and mergers have offered their own benefits to MSI. Some brought many facilities with equipment and/or technology, all expand the customer base, others provided new capabilities to increase MSI’s service offerings. These include PacMoore Hammond, with large scale blending both for finished goods as well as private label business and B2B blending; and JW Smucker Ripon, with expanded liquid filling capabilities.

All were strategic opportunities the co-manufacturer could not pass up. A partnership with HCI, a middle-market private equity firm, opened the door to MSI’s largest growth opportunities with Express Packaging and Power Packaging.

Weinberg also notes that MSI’s primary business in shelf-stable food products increased drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic from a volume standpoint which led to expanded production capacities. That business allowed MSI to solidify relationships with its customer base and continue to drive organic growth, which has not dissipated today.

Connection through digitalization

With each growth opportunity, MSI had to find ways to connect its facilities to synergize its business as well as to ease operations and make the facilities more efficient. MSI turned to digitalization through the implementation of various platforms that run in each MSI location.

Transitioning acquired facilities from paper to digital is sometimes a struggle, which can lead to failures. Weinberg emphasizes it takes a lot of work, both on the factory floor and behind the scenes, and requires transparency throughout the ranks. He says the digital tools brought in must fit the business and be for the benefit of the workers and require simple assimilation. 

Weinberg says the company often has individuals from other operations share their knowledge and teach those being onboarded, using the main management resources MSI has built through data collection.

“I can't emphasize enough that it takes a village, it takes everybody in the company. It takes management to listen, it takes people to execute, it takes folks on the floor to work with the systems and raise their hands when it's not working. It takes accurate data entry,” says Weinberg. “Give them the appropriate tools, help them to succeed, and they will do a great job for you.”

Digitalization tools include Neulogy, as a common MRP system, that is integrated with Dynamics 365 for accounting, pricing and invoicing, quality data management through SafetyChain, and maintenance management through ESET Protect Essential. Data from these systems are transferred via Redshift to an Amazon Web Services database, with reporting via Tableau. Common Reporting is also used to convey daily reports to plant managers. This allows MSI to create a Leader Standard Work system involving common systems, training documents, and other training information while keeping terminology consistent throughout the network. EDI is also used to share information seamlessly from these systems and electronically transfer them through fax or email to MSI customers, who can then enter the data into their own systems. MSI uses EDI to share business forecasting, production reporting, material inventory, and invoicing data with customers. Concur is MSI’s automatic billing and invoicing system.

MSI takes this connected network that it has built to create what it calls “centers of excellence”. These locations target certain services and capabilities so the employees can become proficient on the equipment in terms of operations and maintenance and so that they can communicate best practices in technology across the network to other plants. The Batavia, Ill., location is considered a center of excellence for stick pack production.

   What’s Your Game?

Batavia, a center of excellence

The systems used to digitalize the MSI facilities are used at Batavia to interface with customers, drive continuous improvement, and manage the location’s spend. Weinberg says the Batavia team is integral in introducing new products through trials, expanding capabilities, and generating line extensions—such as additional SKUs. The data gathered from trials are then used to improve speed-to-market.

“Batavia handles thousands of SKUs for our customers. Without digital systems, trying to manage that many materials would be almost impossible, it would take an army of people,” says Weinberg. “So, the systems and the digitization of our data from an inventory management, a production planning, and a scheduling standpoint, becomes more important to a plant like Batavia than some of our smaller facilities.”

MSI also strives to improve operations through automation, which became more of a necessity during the labor shortage issues surrounding the pandemic. Wage rates have additionally justified the increased use of automation and digitalization. MSI also invests in scanners and smart tablets for forklifts as well as tablets for quality control technicians and operators, including at the Batavia location. Computers located throughout the factory floor also include scanners to ease processes for the workers.

The Batavia location implements automation on many stick pack lines and the data collected serves to analyze downtime so the facility can focus on areas experiencing significant loss and waste. The data also provides operators and supervisors with daily and weekly data sets on productivity and losses versus standards.

“The data tells our plant managers, our supervisors, production managers, and maintenance teams where to focus their efforts to drive continuous improvement that's going to yield the biggest results for the company,” says Weinberg.

At Batavia and MSI’s other locations, hand assembly, automation, and robots work side by side.At Batavia and MSI’s other locations, hand assembly, automation, and robots work side by side.

Growth in Batavia

Future digitalization goals for the location include getting smarter about data collection methods to improve predictive maintenance capabilities. It also will take the form of gathering data from material requirements planning to improve management of material ordering—from a price improvement standpoint as well as safety stock and understanding lead time to ensure the location doesn’t run out of materials. MSI is seeking better ways to balance forecasts and inventory by better understanding the data, the accuracy of forecasts, and by improving its MRP system.

The Batavia location owes a lot of its capabilities and success to mergers and acquisitions with large scale blending, stick packs, horizontal form, fill, and seal, canister filling, and fulfilling in a variety of other formats.  

“They've seen explosive growth at Batavia because of the availability of other projects that we never would have had if we hadn't acquired PacMoore Products, as an example, or if we hadn't done the merger with Power Packaging. Their location in the Chicago area along with their capabilities provides a great option for our customers to expand and grow,” says Weinberg.

Further growth goals for Batavia surround optimizing line configuration with upcoming equipment installations, equipment retrofits, and robot and automation implementation to expand capabilities at lower price points for the customer base and more effectively use floor space. MSI also has plans to continue expanding its stick pack production in Batavia.

Power of the big and spirit of the small

As MSI continues to grow and gain capabilities, improve procurement of materials, share resources amongst operations, and provide more opportunities to employees, Weinberg emphasizes how important it is that the company never lose the flexibility of a small company that maintains a personal touch in customer care.

“We're there if they need us, no matter when they need us. We’re always hungry to make things better, because you don't know where the next job’s coming from,” says Weinberg.

He says the spirit of the small embodies customer perspective that MSI owns their brands and will protect them every day, and drive cost savings, sustainability improvements, and operational improvements. MSI strives to provide its customers with alternatives—including sustainable options—and choices when approached with new product ideas. Transparency around mistakes and providing solutions to fix those mistakes goes a long way in building trust, which is the biggest foundation, according to Weinberg.

   High Growth in 2024 Predicted for Contract Packaging Industry

A leader in sustainability

MSI has taken it upon itself to become a leader in sustainability in the contract packing industry. The company is three years into its sustainability plan, which breaks down what they can control when packaging materials are ultimately up to customers:

  • Energy efficiency of machines
  • Getting landfill waste to zero
  • Recycling programs

According to Weinberg, a majority of customers seek MSI’s help in achieving their own sustainability goals.

The Batavia location in particular focuses on waste reduction, utilizing data to determine where losses are occurring, which not only saves disposal costs but also drives improved reliability and efficiency, which in turn makes the company more profitable. Each of MSI’s locations are partnered with Quincy Recycle, but Batavia works with Quincy to set up a recycling system that segregates materials and sends them off to be recycled. Wienberg says the Batavia location has saved close to $100,000 alone.

The Batavia location also works closely with customers to improve packaging formats, and utilize recycled packaging materials. The plant is also a one-stop shop for stick pack production, where the product can be blended, the stick pouch created, filled, and shipped—in some instances direct-to-store delivery. This helps MSI’s customers reduce their carbon footprint by optimizing one location.   

“There are ways to drive sustainability even if the packaging material itself isn't the source of the sustainability,” says Weinberg.

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