Industry 4.0 Make to Order Manufacturing at Valpak, Who Would Have Guessed?

Industry 4.0 Make to Order Manufacturing at Valpak, Who Would Have Guessed?
Industry 4.0 Make to Order Manufacturing at Valpak, Who Would Have Guessed?

I was impressed by a tour of the Valpak Manufacturing Center in St. Petersburg, Florida, hosted by Siemens, which is a great example of a company applying Industry 4.0 make to order manufacturing concepts.

Valpak Direct Marketing Systems, Inc., commonly known as Valpak, is a North American direct marketing company and it provides print, mobile and online advertising solutions and coupons. Valpak is well known in many households for the familiar envelopes that arrive in the mail with coupons for dining, health and beauty, entertainment, automotive, home services and more.

The companies was started by Terry Loebel, an unemployed autoworker in 1968 using a $500 loan to start mailing coupons from his home to households in Clearwater, Florida. In 1972, Valpak established its first Franchise in Orlando, Florida and by 1982, expanded the business into Canada. A group of investors purchased Valpak from Terry Loebel in 1985. September 1991, Cox Target Media, Inc. purchased Valpak and by 1997, Valpak was mailing out 11 billion coupons a year. In January 2017, Platinum Equity acquired Valpak from Cox Target Media, Inc.  Today, Valpak operates nearly 150 franchise offices in the United States and Canada, mailing to nearly 40 million households each month. Annually, Valpak distributes some 20 billion coupons in more than 500 million envelopes and millions more through its mobile app and websites.

Highly automated make to order manufacturing

The Valpak Manufacturing Center fundamentally has two raw materials large rolls of paper and huge ink containers that are used to produce addressed envelopes with unique set of coupons put into containers in the proper sequence for delivery by the United States Post Office. This is a highly synchronized operation driven by an integration of information technology and automation. The make to order manufacturing process is driven by marketing information and demographics specified by advertisers to determine which coupons are delivered to a specific home address.  The set of coupons you receive in the mail may well be different from those delivered a few miles away to other households.


Collators are important piece of equipment in the operations and to increase efficiency and achieve full integration of equipment operations and status monitoring existing units were retrofitted using Siemens PLCs, WinCC Web Navigator Clients, and SCADA Server. This solution delivered a  system architecture that opened system capabilities for current and any future Valpak’s business needs.

Printing press controls

Each of the operations printing process perform 50 jobs per day or roughly 12,000 jobs per year.  Put this in perspective most shops run a single job for 2 or 3 days. Accomplish this required Valpak to deploy an AutoTransfer method to quickly switch from job to job for efficiency.  The operations were improved significantly byretrofitting existing controls using:
5 – Siemens S7-400 PLCs
2 – Siemens S7-300 PLCs
40 – Siemens MasterDrive (MM440)
30 – Siemens Simovert MasterDrive
29 – Siemens ET200S I/O modules
16 – FESTO Electro valves
12 – Siemens ET200M I/O Modules
6 – Siemens Simodrives


Retrofitting proprietary machine controls using Siemens PLCs has enabled Valpak to perform maintenance in-house to keep operations running smoothly. This has significantly lowered Mean Time To Prepare  (MTTR).


Prior to using WinCC very little plant and project run information was captured meaning any data for process improvements needed to be manually collected. The new data available is allowed the Valpak to gain greater insights into their operations and identify process improvement projects that have yielded results including for 2009 to 2018:
  • 64% reduction in overall print run waste
  • 71% reduction in downtime
  • 32% reduction in make ready waste
  • 85% reduction in run waste
This was accomplished while improving quality and increasing the number of products produced.


The team I met at Valpak included David Smith, Greg Larson, Rafael Cardenas, Kimberly Johnson and Christopher Ruskowski. They are great group of manufacturing and automation professionals focused on excellence committed to improving operations and this is essential for any successful automation.

Ongoing Education

Valpak has a unique education program available to any employee.  Employees are free to take automated learning on various aspects of plant operations and equipment, and if they successfully pass a test will be given an increase in pay. This also prepares them to move up in other positions and responsibilities in the company.

About The Author

Bill Lydon brings more than 10 years of writing and editing expertise to, plus more than 25 years of experience designing and applying technology in the automation and controls industry. Lydon started his career as a designer of computer-based machine tool controls; in other positions, he applied programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and process control technology. Working at a large company, Lydon served a two-year stint as part of a five-person task group, that designed a new generation building automation system including controllers, networking, and supervisory & control software. He also designed software for chiller and boiler plant optimization. Bill was product manager for a multimillion-dollar controls and automation product line and later cofounder and president of an industrial control software company.

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