Custom multilayer containers, and a reputation for quality and service, are driving growth at Continental PET Technologies Inc.'s New Hampshire operation, according to Wayne Collette, Continental's vice president of research and engineering. In March it moved into a new, 180,000-square-foot plant on 20 acres in Bedford, N.H., a $6 million investment for the Florence, Ky.-based blow molder. The New Hampshire operation had outgrown its digs in nearby Merrimack, and was unable to find enough land for ``what we had in mind,'' Collette said.
What the firm had in mind was a plant three times the size of its leased Merrimack site, with room to grow. About 80 percent of that new space houses manufacturing. Also there is research and development for the entire company, and warehousing. Collette numbered the plant's employees at ``less than 100.'' He would not say what equipment has been added.
The facility makes both two-material, three-layer and three-material, five-layer containers using a sequential coinjection process, which Continental has been developing since 1983. Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. produces the machinery exclusively for Continental, he said.
The company will begin licensing the technology sometime this year, he said.
The key to the system is metering, to produce an even distribution of material across the preform mold, rather than relying on hot runners, Collette said. An extruder fills small pistons, one per cavity, that, in turn, hydraulically inject a metered amount of resin into the cavities. Metering is even more important when using barriers in five-layer preforms, since less than one-half gram of barrier is injectedinto each 30-gram cavity, he said. Metering guarantees that all cavities - typically 48 -preform identically, he said.
``It's a complicated mold that runs with the efficiency of monolayer systems,'' Collette said. ``You can develop the best package, but if you can't manufacture it day in and day out, it's not of much use.''
Continental makes containers that use 30-35 percent post-consumer PET, and can use as much as 50 percent recycled resin, he said.
The company's five-layer container competes with glass, single-serve bottles and drink boxes, he said. From Bedford, Continental supplies hot-fillable, five-layer containers to Very Fine Products Inc. of Westford, Mass., for its single-serve juices; and cold-fill, five-layer ketchup bottles to H.J. Heinz Co. of Pittsburgh.
Heinz was the coinjection technology's first customer in 1990, Collette said. The Bedford plant also supplies Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. of Lakeville, Mass., with hot-fill, three-layer juice containers.
Collette would not disclose the plant's sales, but he said hot-fill applications make up a large percentage of them. Bedford's customer base is still expanding, he said.
Continental, with eight plants, had annual sales of more than $250 million in 1994, making it the sixth-largest blow molder in North America, according to Plastics News data. Its parent is BTR plc of London.