Case Study: American Greetings

E24iFor more than 100 years, American Greetings Corporation has been a creator and manufacturer of innovative social expression products that assist consumers in enhancing their relationships to create happiness, laughter, and love. In 2015, they sought to enhance their own facility and found a working relationship with Hytrol and integration partner Cisco-Eagle, Inc.

American Greetings built its facility in Osceola, Arkansas almost 60 years ago and was once boasted as being “the largest one floored building in the United States.” Its miles of conveyors were built spanning multiple decades, and despite the effort of American Greetings’ maintenance team, several areas were in dire need of constant repair.

Because the plant was running 24 hours a day, 5 to 6 days a week, for 10-11 months a year, it was important to identify a solution that would provide a savings in power consumption and maintenance. The solution they found also provided a safer work environment through noise reduction.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. Approximately 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work; an estimated $242 million is spent annually on worker’s compensation for hearing loss disability.

American Greetings turned to Rodney Freeman, account executive for Cisco-Eagle, a leading materials handling systems integrator. “One of the big challenges for American Greetings was finding new ways to keep an old system alive,” Freeman said. “Spare parts models 30-plus years old are often hard to find. This was the daily task of experienced maintenance supervisor Gerald Davis. Davis crafted creative solutions to keep things operational but it was a difficult task.”

The Cisco-Eagle team of project engineer Joel Pason, Arkansas market leader James Murphy, and account executive Rodney Freeman presented a solution to address all of American Greetings’ concerns – with the Hytrol E24i.

In January 2015, Freeman and former American Greetings’ engineer Alan Keith and maintenance supervisor Gerald Davis made the trip to Hytrol’s Technology Center in Jonesboro, Arkansas to see the E24i in action. They were sold.

The maintenance team was able to walk away for what was once a problematic areas and focus their attention to other issues, according to Freeman.

Boyce Bonham, Director of Integrated Systems and Controls for Hytrol, stressed that maintenance costs (via spare parts and scheduled maintenance) were the main reason for choosing the E24i; the additional benefits of the 24-volt integrated motor and control card included a reduction in noise levels and an increase in energy savings. Bonham said, “The first line was a sort of test/evaluation and that after installing the second line, Hytrol is now American Greetings’ conveyor of choice. Reducing stocked maintenance parts and eliminating the scheduled maintenance was crucial in their decision to install the Hytrol system. While it wasn’t the largest concern at the time, an important factor was a reduction of noise in the plant.  They were impressed with the much quieter system, and have noticed energy savings with that system as well. They’re continuing to replace their other lines with newer equipment.”

Ira Koonce, Engineering Project Manager for American Greetings said, “We were using accumulation roller conveyor that used air bladders and tension rollers for carton controls. The conveyor was over 30 years old. We were also able to remove a sawtooth merge station that was no longer needed.  American Greetings had a working relationship with Hytrol integration partner Cisco-Eagle from previous jobs from several years prior, and they reestablished that relationship and seem more customer focused.”

Koonce said, “This conveyor technology provides several benefits including power savings, noise reduction, and no compressed air requirements. It also seems to provide an easier means of resolving motor breakdowns when they will occur (hasn’t happened yet).”

The greeting card lines of American Greetings Corporation are American Greetings, Carlton Cards, Gibson, Recycled Paper Greetings, Just For You, Tender Thoughts, and Papyrus, and other paper product offerings include DesignWare party goods and American Greetings and Plus Mark gift-wrap, and boxed cards. American Greetings also has one of the largest collections of greetings on the Web, including greeting cards available at and electronic greeting cards available at In addition to its product lines, American Greetings also creates and licenses popular character brands through the AG Properties group. Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, American Greetings generates annual revenue of approximately $2 billion, and its products can be found in retail outlets worldwide.

Companies like American Greetings, working with Hytrol and integration partner Cisco-Eagle, often find that new automation solutions which replace decade old technologies provide dramatically lower decibel levels. Koonce said, “We checked the decibel level on the previous system and it did not reach the safety threshold. The sound difference is noticeable but not a safety issue. Any type of reduction helps relieve the system.”

NIOSH recommends removing hazardous noise from the workplace whenever possible and using hearing protectors in those situations where dangerous noise exposures have not yet been controlled or eliminated.

OSHA’s Office of Information and Technology, analyzed compliance actions citing more than 10,000 violations in reference to OSHA’s Hearing Conservation standard (§1910.95), with accompanying initial penalties over $7.5 million.

From general hearing conservation, noise monitoring, audiometric testing, hearing protection, employee training and recordkeeping the violations at manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution centers have grown dramatically over the past decade. The lack of appropriate hearing protection was deemed to be a serious violation more often (72%) than any other provision in the regulation.

Hearing conservation programs strive to prevent initial occupational hearing loss, preserve, and protect remaining hearing, and equip workers with the knowledge and hearing protection devices necessary to safeguard themselves. Employers are required to measure noise levels; provide free annual hearing exams, hearing protection, and training; and conduct evaluations of the adequacy of the hearing protectors in use (unless changes made to tools, equipment, and schedules result in worker noise exposure levels that are less than the 85 dBA). Research indicates that workplaces with appropriate and effective hearing conservation programs have higher levels of worker productivity and a lower incidence of absenteeism.

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