Packaging printers understand certification. Many regularly undergo audits in food and pharmaceutical safety, product security, and other areas where their clients want documented proof that the highest standards of performance are in place. These printers know that earning and keeping the credentials is a prerequisite for doing business with brand-owning producers of consumer packaged goods.

Printers serving brand owners with the most demanding requirements for package manufacturing quality can show that they are up to the mark by obtaining certification from Graphic Measures International (GMI). About 800 printers around the world hold the distinction, including roughly 250 in the U.S.

he number is small, as the ranks of elite providers of any service usually tend to be. But, for printers who can make GMI’s benchmarks their own, becoming part of a select group that less capable printers can’t enter is the whole point of the undertaking.

Paul Biernat, GMI’s director of global operations, says that among printers who apply for certification, there are “many that don’t pass.” Those who do will have demonstrated that they can meet brand owners’ expectations based on a common core of specifications and standards.

Biernat says that in this way, GMI can act as a neutral, third-party advocate for brand owners that want to be sure of working with the most qualified packaging suppliers they can engage. He adds that because the goals and targets are specific, “printers aren’t chasing an unknown”—they’re working towards clearly defined quality objectives that they can continue to demonstrate they are achieving through their ongoing relationships with GMI.

GMI administers its certification programs from a global headquarters near Minneapolis, MN, and from facilities in Hong Kong, China, India, Costa Rica, and the U.K. Kenny Eckhart, director of client onboarding, describes the operation as “quantitative, data driven, and closed-loop”—as well as exclusively focused on packaging.

He says that GMI’s certification methodology covers all aspects of package manufacturing in services provided to consumer packaged good manufacturers, retailers, and other brand owners. Besides printer certification, services include on-site monitoring, in-store assessment, and training.

Brand owners that want to develop qualified networks of packaging services providers can direct their printers and converters to seek certification from GMI. Or, the printers and converters can approach GMI independently as a way to gain access to the brand owners. In either case, the process begins with an online self-appraisal that tells GMI whether or not the applicant meets its minimum equipment requirements and capability standards.

Those who don’t make the initial cut are given recommendations for training to help them come up to certification standards in a subsequent try. Applicants deemed certification-eligible have the option of moving to the next stage, an on-site inspection.

This visit by GMI certification engineers includes running to color targets and carrying out other hands-on tests of the package manufacturing processes in use at the applicant’s plant. GMI awards what it calls “front-end certification” to suppliers that meet its specifications in five categories: process control and documentation; equipment maintenance; training procedures; operator capability; and equipment performance. Every applicant gets feedback in the form of a gap analysis that indicates where performance is either satisfactory or needs to be improved.

Front-end certification takes three to five weeks to complete and costs $3,000 (including travel expenses for GMI personnel sent anywhere in the world). But, it is only the beginning of the oversight that gives brand owners the assurance of manufacturing quality they want. Certification indicates that the supplier has the necessary process controls in place. Going forward, GMI works with the supplier to keep the brand owner confident that the controls are delivering consistent, repeatable results.

Biernat says that by regularly testing printed samples from certified suppliers, analyzing their production data, and conducting follow-up visits as needed, GMI opens a quality-maintaining “line of sight” window into their operations. If problems occur, GMI can spot them and prescribe corrective action to keep the printer from slipping below certification standards. With the help of ongoing

monitoring and guidance from GMI, printers do not need to seek recertification after achieving it the first time (unless the brand owner has a mandated recertification policy in place).

GMI came into being in 2009 when a group of printing and packaging experts decided it was time to bring a uniform set of quality standards to packaging production. The idea was to enable brand owners to work within their existing supply chains, holding their vendors accountable to clearly defined specifications for structure, graphics, print quality, and other characteristics that are crucial to brand integrity. Another goal was to create a quality program that could be applied in the same way and with the same results anywhere in the world branded packages are manufactured.

The chief advantage of the program for brand owners, says Shawn Austin, GMI’s vice president - client engagement, is the “peace of mind” that comes from dealing with suppliers certified to have the same qualifications in process control, equipment capability, and adherence to specifications. Biernat adds that brand owners no longer have to worry about the fact that package manufacturing hasn’t always held itself to the same standards of execution that exist in other industries. With certification, he says, the playing field is level—and on a higher plane than before.

For printers and converters, says Biernat, the payoff of certification is “the reach” it gives them toward greater visibility and credibility with brand owners. Besides setting the supplier apart from the competition, certification opens a “communication channel” with the brand owner that makes the relationship more secure.

Certification holders, notes Austin, also benefit from knowing that other certified providers in the brand owner’s network place the same top priority on quality production as they do. If there’s rivalry for work among them, it will be on that basis—not merely on offering the lowest price.

GMI doesn’t position its standards as wholesale replacements for others recognized by the packaging industry. In fact, it supports these initiatives by holding designations such as G7 Expert certification in color management from IDEAlliance. It also belongs to the Institute of Packaging Professionals (IOPP), the Flexographic Technical Association (FTA), the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA), and other industry groups that promote excellence in packaging production.

But because GMI certification is a holistic distinction, says Biernat, achieving it shows that the printer has cleared “a higher bar to gain entry” into the exclusive class of preferred providers to today’s leading brand owners.

Making that possible, says Austin, is the heart of GMI’s mission: not just “selling certifications” to drive revenue, but helping a select few qualified candidates join “the best of the best in the world.”