Flexible To The Core

BluePrint Automation (BPA) helps snack makers succeed. “Our vision is a world where flexibility and automation can live happily together,” BluePrint Automation (BPA) CEO Martin Prakken says. “Flexibility is in our DNA.”

Today, BPA is the world leader in designing and manufacturing automated case packing systems for flexible bags. The 36-year-old company uses standardized packaging automation systems to configure unique solutions for clients around the world. Every project is overseen by a highly-specialized team.

BPA operates three full-service manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and Europe with additional locations around the world. While the company today services many industries, the snack-focused component of its business is about 10-30 percent of its entire portfolio. Worldwide, the company employs about 400 people.

It was founded in 1980 by Martin Prakken’s father, Bob Prakken in Holland to supply the “missing link” for automated, non-rigid packaging. A U.S. subsidiary was launched in 1987 in Richmond, Virginia. Martin and his wife, Juliette came to the United States shortly after graduating from college. They moved to Richmond in 1992 to join the BluePrint (BPA) team, first leading the family business’ U.S. division before being appointed CEO in 1999. And while they originally planned to be in the U.S. for a five-year short term adventure, 25 years later, they are still here.

Arriving at a critical point for Blueprint’s business, Prakken was presented with multiple challenges. At that time BluePrint (BPA) had just a few customers in the snack food industry. The large snack food brands were focused on competing for market share and were not investing in automated lines. Prakken realized that the company needed to diversify, expanding into a variety of other industries, including frozen French fries, which has grown to become an important part of their business. But make no mistake, the snack food industry remains at BluePrint’s core. This is one of the many reasons why they find involvement in SNAC International so valuable.

“SNAC International is a great association because our company is very defined by the snack food industry. The fact that the members get together twice a year provides access to our customer base and works right in to our culture of relationships,” Prakken says.

Over the years, BPA’s processes and machines have evolved to reflect changing trends, moving to robotics and vision-guided systems in an effort to minimize wasted time due to changeover between systems. Twenty years ago, changeover could take up to 30 minutes. Today, it can be virtually instant, saving valuable production time.

BPA’s team prides itself on delivering systems that can provide true flexibility in a real production environment. Their focus on flexibility is focused not only on their packaging. The whole company, from the division heads, to sales team, to service technicians, to Prakken himself, are proud of being hands-on with customers.

“If it is too complex, it is not workable,” says Prakken. “We say we are ‘flexible to the third degree’ – we create flexible systems, that deal with a flexible product, and we are flexible in how we work with our customers.”

Mr. Prakken describes BPA’s company culture as a “get it done” philosophy that emphasizes relationships within the team and their customers. Most of their employees are long-term team members. In fact, employee turnover is so low within the company that they don’t even measure it!

Instead, Mr. Prakken’s focus is on strategic growth. “As our customers grow, we grow,” he says. Almost all of their new business comes through word of mouth from existing customers. His vision is a future that requires zero training for personnel to operate new equipment – a reality that would address challenges such as employee turnover, lack of technical expertise, or language barriers that some manufacturers grapple with when installing new packaging systems.

Customers also receive an in-depth of customer satisfaction survey that reviews BPA’s worksmanship, equipment performance, and other metrics. The survey concludes by asking if the customer would recommend BPA for their next project. If the answer is yes, BPA chalks this up as a satisfied customer. The company’s annual sharing program with employees is based on the number of satisfied customers the company services each year. They are getting close to a 100 percent satisfaction rating – although if the results are not definitive, the company follows up to clarify how they can improve in the future.

“We have built in to the DNA of the company an attitude that it is not all about making money. We deeply believe that we want to have customers who have positive experiences and great things to say about us,” Prakken said.

Back to the overview