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Alpha boosting production

By: Michael Lauzon

August 16, 2013

ST. LOUIS — Blow molder Alpha Packaging Inc. is adding new machines to support its new Pharma line of high density polyethylene containers.

The St. Louis company is ordering six new injection blow molding machines and an extrusion blow molder in a $3.5 million expansion at its Bethlehem, Pa., operation. The program includes vision systems, leak detectors, molds and downstream equipment. Alpha said it could double or triple that investment in the new product line in 2014.

"The Pharma Line will be a family of look-alike bottles that match the specifications of leading end users," marketing director Marny Bielefeldt said in a telephone interview. The product line initially will comprise 14 stock sizes and eventually will be expanded to include custom bottles.

Alpha's Bethlehem plant will house operations for the Pharma line. Two new injection blow molding machines recently arrived there, and the complete equipment order should be in Bethlehem by early 2014.

The new HDPE product line is suited to pharmaceutical applications and to Alpha's core customer base of nutritional supplement producers and contract product fillers, many of which are located in the East, near Bethlehem. Alpha will continue to offer PET containers to those market segments as it adds a new material choice. Customers that want both HDPE and PET bottles will gain by consolidating shipments to full truckloads from one shipping point, President and CEO Jeff Kellar said in a news release.

Alpha decided to invest in dedicated assets for Pharma rather than duplicate existing HDPE lines or move assets from other plants. Injection blow molding will churn out bottles from 50-300 milliliters, while sizes up to 950 ml will be made by extrusion blow molding using a 12-cavity mold.

The extrusion blow molding unit's high cavitation will support competitive pricing in nutrition and pharmaceutical markets and be attractive to other sectors, according to Alpha's vice president of sales and new business development, Brian McCarthy.

"The new [extrusion blow molding] platform in particular will make us very competitive in East Coast personal care as well, and complement our existing capabilities," McCarthy said in a news release.

Bielefeldt estimated Alpha will have about 185 blow molding machines installed by the end of 2013. It has eight blow molding plants in North America and one in Roosendaal, Netherlands. It also runs a decorating facility in Winona, Minn.