Sumter Packaging: Embracing Continuous Improvement and Cutting-Edge Technology

In a recent OpExChange plant visit, peer manufacturing and distribution professionals had the privilege of exploring some cutting-edge advancements made this year at Sumter Packaging in Sumter, South Carolina. The event began with a presentation from Tom Lawrence, Quality Manager, followed by a personalized plant tour, and concluded with a collaborative discussion among the visiting peers. Ben DeSollar, CEO and owner of Sumter Packaging joined the team for the entire visit and provided insightful input and advice.

A Legacy of Continuous Improvement
Sumter Packaging is a fourth-generation, family-owned business. They have been a member of the OpExChange for nearly eighteen years. As the first company to join this continuous improvement benchmarking group from the midlands of South Carolina, Sumter Packaging has consistently demonstrated its commitment to excellence.

The roots of this commitment trace back over fifty years. Tom shared that their introduction to Lean Manufacturing had a somewhat providential origin. A previous CEO had a dream in which he was called in front of the Board of Directors. He was promptly fired from his leadership role because they had not adopted lean principles and the facility and business was suffering because of this. That dream had a significant impact on him and as a direct result, on the entire Sumter Packaging team and culture. They contacted the SCMEP who came in and introduced them to Lean Manufacturing and led them down the path of continuous improvement and ISO 9000 certification. They have been on this continuous improvement journey ever since.

The Plant Tour: Continuous Improvement 2023
The focal point of the plant visit was Sumter Packaging’s latest addition, the Göpfert High Board Line rotary die cutter. Tom Lawrence, acting as the master of ceremonies, highlighted how this state-of-the-art machine marked their foray into Manufacturing 4.0.

This rotary die cutter, a comprehensive packaging line with advanced automation features, showcases the company’s dedication to both internal efficiency and product quality.

Notably, it incorporates seven colors, expanding the traditional four-color spectrum used in corrugated printing.

The result is a broader range of colors, vibrant gradients, and more accurate depictions, elevating the quality of their products.

Quality Control and Efficiency
Tom emphasized the high-level controls of the Göpfert, particularly praising the high-speed vision inspection system. This system ensures 100% inspection, automatically rejecting sheets that deviate from specifications without halting the production line. Programmable by part number, it allows for varying quality levels and stops the line if a higher frequency of rejects is detected. He added that this was a game changer for him in his Quality Manager role.

The introduction of this automated line has not only led to significant direct labor savings but also streamlined changeovers between runs, reducing non-productive time and associated overhead.

Diverse Capabilities and Shop Cleanliness
Both Tom and Ben emphasized that Sumter Packaging is a job shop that caters to a diverse customer base across multiple industries. They stress flexibility from designing packaging solutions to customizing these solutions for exactly what the customer needs. Tom commented that the company is committed to investing in new technologies to expand this flexibility. “Ben has invested more money in this plant in the last two years,” he said, “than in the entirety of the company history.”

The plant tour showcased various converting equipment, including die cutting machines and Flexo Folder Gluers (FFGs), illustrating the company’s adaptability to varied product runs in terms of volume and complexity. Although they are investing in new technologies, they continue to make use of some of their reliable “work horse” equipment. Tom pointed to one machine on the tour, still in operation, that is being used for slotting partitions. It was implemented by Ben’s grandfather in the late 1940’s when he started in the corrugated box business.

Remarkably, the facility’s cleanliness stood out to the visitors, considering the nature of the product being produced. Kevin Batten, plant manager for Graphic Packaging International, commended Sumter Packaging for maintaining one of the cleanest facilities he has seen in both the corrugated and paper industry.

Peer Collaboration and B2B Relationships
As is typical with OpExChange plant visits, this one concluded with a “Plus/Delta” session, where the visiting peers provide feedback from the visit – itemizing takeaways they will bring back to their plant and suggestions on how Sumter Packaging can further their continuous improvement journey.

Notably, Sumter Packaging’s B2B relationships were spotlighted, as they are already a supplier to several OpExChange members, some of them as part of this tour. Supplier relationships are always encouraged within the region, particularly when they are peers in improving the local economy.

Sumter Packaging’s journey reflects a continuous commitment to operational excellence, which is vividly evident with their embrace of advanced manufacturing. This plant visit not only showcased their technological advancements but also highlighted their collaborative spirit within the OpExChange community, setting a benchmark for peers across the region.

Ben beamed with pride as he made this bold statement – “I am confident that with the addition of the Göpfert we are producing the highest quality printed boxes in the world.” The OpExChange is proud to have this high-quality box supplier right here in the South Carolina ecosystem!

About Sumter Packaging
Sumter Packaging Corporation was founded in 1958 as Kankakee Container Company. In 1981, we expanded to our present headquarters in Sumter, South Carolina. Since that time, we have expanded to 4 locations serving the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia with over 350,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space. Sumter Packaging has been a family-owned business for three generations and has been committed to continuous improvement for over 50 years. Sumter Packaging continues today to serve its customers through personal service and quality products with fast, dependable delivery.

About OpExChange
The OpExChange, sponsored by the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, is a peer-to-peer network of manufacturers and distributors in South Carolina known for generating success for members through benchmarking and best practice sharing. Member companies host events and share practical examples of industrial automation, lean manufacturing improvements, and leadership development. It is an invaluable resource to South Carolina companies that provides access to others who are on similar improvement journeys. If your company is interested in participating in this collaborative effort to improve both the competitiveness of your operation and South Carolina, contact Mike Demos ( More information and upcoming plant visits are available on the OpExChange website

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