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Leveraging KPIs to grow profits in the corrugated packaging industry

6 minute read

The corrugated packaging industry, pivotal to global supply chains, faces constant pressure to innovate and improve profitability.

Amidst these challenges, implementing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) emerges as a strategic lever to align business objectives with measurable outcomes, driving efficiency and cost reduction.

This article delves into a systematic approach for developing and utilizing KPIs to enhance margins through better costing controls and visibility.


Strategic alignment through KPI development

Achieving operational excellence in the dynamic corrugated packaging industry requires aligning operations with strategic goals through a structured Key Performance Indicator (KPI) process. This approach integrates strategic objectives with actionable, relevant metrics across functions like production, supply chain, and customer service.

It ensures KPIs are directly linked to key operational areas needing improvement, such as production efficiency and customer satisfaction, making them actionable for data-driven decision-making and continuous improvement. Furthermore, this method aligns all operational activities with the company’s broader goals, ensuring efficient resource allocation and enhancing performance.

A structured KPI development process is crucial for systematic, measurable progress toward operational excellence, securing the company's competitive edge and future success.

Step 1: Defining strategic business objectives

Achieving operational excellence in the competitive corrugated packaging sector starts with defining strategic objectives. These objectives, reflecting the company's aspirations and mission, guide its direction and focus on enhancing market position, revenue growth, cost efficiency, and risk management.

Key goals include increasing revenue through market expansion and innovation, reducing operating expenses (OPEX) and cost of goods sold (COGS) by optimizing processes and leveraging technology, and mitigating risks to ensure financial and operational stability. This strategic foundation is essential for aligning initiatives with the company's vision, driving sustainable profitability, and navigating the industry's challenges.

Step 2: Identifying critical success factors

After establishing strategic objectives, identifying Critical Success Factors (CSFs) is crucial for corrugated packaging companies aiming for operational excellence. CSFs pinpoint the vital areas where exceptional performance is necessary to achieve these goals.

Key CSFs in this industry include optimizing production capacity to meet demand efficiently, enhancing on-time delivery (OTD) for competitive advantage, and improving material utilization to control costs and minimize environmental impact. Other important factors involve maintaining high-quality control standards, providing exceptional customer service, driving innovation, and committing to sustainability.

Focusing on these CSFs allows companies to direct their efforts and resources effectively, supporting the achievement of strategic objectives, boosting competitiveness, and securing long-term success in the dynamic packaging market.

Step 3: Developing relevant KPIs

After pinpointing Critical Success Factors (CSFs), developing specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each is essential for aligning operational success with strategic goals. KPIs convert strategic objectives and CSFs into measurable metrics, guided by the SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound), ensuring they are well-defined and aligned with the company's aims.

For instance, to optimize production capacity, a KPI could target a specific percentage increase within a set timeframe. This KPI would embody the SMART criteria by being clear, quantifiable, realistic, aligned with efficiency goals, and time-constrained. Similarly, enhancing on-time delivery (OTD) might involve a KPI aiming for a percentage reduction in lead times, directly boosting customer satisfaction and competitive edge. Another KPI could focus on reducing inventory costs by optimizing stock levels and improving demand forecasting, thereby cutting expenses and supporting sustainability.

This approach of assigning SMART KPIs to each CSF enables a structured performance management process, helping organizations concentrate on key operational aspects that drive strategic success. Regular monitoring of these KPIs offers insights for continuous operational improvement and strategic adjustment, ensuring agility and alignment with the company's strategic vision. This method enhances the organization's ability to effectively manage the complexities of the corrugated packaging industry.

Step 4: Implementing and monitoring KPIs

The implementation phase is crucial in achieving operational excellence in the corrugated packaging industry, where strategic KPIs are integrated into daily operations. This involves setting up systems for regular data collection, analysis, and action on KPIs, making these metrics central to the organization's operations. 

Specialized software, like ePS’ Corrugated Suite, plays a key role in this phase by automating data collection and analysis, thus reducing errors and ensuring consistency. These tools offer real-time tracking of production, waste levels, and delivery timelines, providing a clear performance overview. Their advanced reporting capabilities also simplify complex data, aiding in quick, informed decision-making and promoting a culture of continuous improvement.

By embedding KPIs into the operational workflow with the help of such software, corrugated packaging companies make strategic goals actionable and measurable, driving operational efficiency and achieving strategic objectives more effectively.

Step 5: Continuous improvement through KPI adjustment

In the fast-changing corrugated packaging industry, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) must be frequently reviewed. This ongoing process of evaluating and refining KPIs ensures they stay aligned with business strategy and industry dynamics, provides insights, celebrates achievements, and highlights improvement opportunities.

Periodic KPI reviews gauge progress against goals, signal potential issues, and identify successful strategies for replication. They accommodate strategic and operational shifts by recalibrating KPIs to current realities, which might include setting more ambitious targets or developing new metrics for emerging concerns.

This process embodies the principle of continuous improvement, promoting a culture of ongoing optimization and strategic adaptation. It ensures strategic management remains data-driven and aligned with the goal of operational excellence, keeping organizations agile and proactive. This structured yet flexible approach to KPI reviews is vital for navigating the industry's complexities and achieving sustainable success.

Practical application of KPIs

In the competitive corrugated box manufacturing sector, strategic use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) targeting crucial business aspects offers a route to operational and financial enhancement. Manufacturers can identify optimization opportunities by identifying and monitoring KPIs across critical areas, boosting performance and profit.

Increasing revenue

Revenue growth, a universal goal, requires a comprehensive strategy focusing on production, delivery, and forecasting improvements. Key strategies include optimizing production capacity and sequencing for higher output, expanding market share, and enhancing on-time delivery (OTD) to improve customer satisfaction and retention. These efforts, supported by accurate production timeline forecasting, can reduce lead times and non-value-added time, fostering customer loyalty and new business opportunities.

Reducing Operating Expenses (OPEX)

For corrugated box manufacturers, lowering operating expenses is pivotal for profit enhancement. Strategies such as optimizing job sequencing to improve production efficiency and reduce costs and advanced inventory management can decrease the capital locked in inventory, thus enhancing cash flow and operational efficiency. Targeted KPIs can help pinpoint improvement areas, maximizing revenue per employee and minimizing unnecessary expenses.

Lowering Cost of Goods Sold (COGS)

COGS reduction is achieved through strategies that enhance material utilization and reduce waste, which directly impact material costs. Implementing KPIs focused on minimizing paper scrap, optimizing material use, and improving purchasing lead times via effective supplier management can significantly lower COGS. These measures reduce expenses and contribute to sustainability efforts. 

By leveraging KPIs to focus on these critical business levers, corrugated box manufacturers can comprehensively improve their operational and financial standing, leading to revenue growth, cost reduction, and enhanced market competitiveness.

The role of technology

Corrugated-specific software solutions are essential for manufacturers to achieve operational goals, offering advanced features like order promising, capacity management, and intelligent roll stock management. These tools streamline workflows, automate routine tasks, and support proactive decision-making, enhancing efficiency and customer satisfaction.

Order promising accurately forecasts delivery dates, while capacity management optimizes production planning and resource use. Intelligent roll stock management ensures material availability and minimizes waste, directly affecting cost efficiency. By automating processes and providing valuable insights, these software solutions enable manufacturers to navigate industry complexities, improve productivity, and maintain competitive advantage.


The corrugated packaging industry stands at a crossroads where operational efficiency and cost management are paramount. Manufacturers can significantly improve their margins by adopting a structured approach to KPI development and leveraging industry-specific software. Engaging staff in this process and fostering a culture of continuous improvement can turn strategic objectives into achievable outcomes, driving the industry forward in an increasingly competitive landscape. 

ePS at drupa 2024

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