CHICAGO - Free-Flow Packaging Corp. has been very busy. It changed its name, acquired a packaging firm, battled a blaze in one of its plants and introduced new products and equipment at Pack Expo - all within the last month. The firm changed its name to Free-Flow Packaging International Inc. and will be known as FP International, its new trade name. The name change became official Nov. 17, the opening of Pack Expo '96 in Chicago.
``Our name reflects the expansion of our business into new products and international markets where we see tremendous growth ahead,'' said President Arthur Graham.
FP International purchased Holden, Mass.-based Protean Packaging Corp. on Oct. 21 for an undisclosed amount. Protean, with six employees, had sales of $2 million last year.
``The acquisition of Protean strengthens our base of operations in Massachusetts and is the first step of our planned expansion on the East Coast, implementing our commitment to expanding operations and growth in this region,'' said Graham.
``We haven't found a precise location,'' said Tom Livermore, assistant to the president. ``But we plan to install another plant in the next 18 months in the Midwest, East Coast area.''
Protean, a polystyrene loose-fill expander, had the same type of customers as FP; the company's loose-fill expansion equipment will be incorporated into FP's Auburn, Mass., plant. The building where Protean had its operations also was occupied by Tuscarora Inc., a New Brighton, Pa., thermoformer.
The Auburn plant is undergoing a 10,000-square-foot expansion to accommodate the additional equipment. When com- pleted later this month, the plant will have 36,000 square feet for the expansion and extrusion equipment as well as distribution operations.
Meanwhile, a fire in the warehouse section of the Thornton, Ill., plant broke out the evening of Nov. 12. The fire was contained in the section of plant where the firm's Cushion-Lite-brand polyethylene sheeting was stored. About $20,000 worth of product - several hundred bales - was destroyed by water and smoke. The other loose-fill products made there were not affected.
A few employees were examined for smoke inhalation and one was treated for a sprained ankle. No employees were seriously injured and no damage was done to the structure or production equipment.
While the cause of the fire is under investigation, a malfunction in a light fixture in the warehouse is suspected, company officials said. Safety officials issued a hazardous materials alert because the plant contained plastic foam, which is highly flammable and can emit toxic fumes. However, production on all three lines resumed that night.
Originally established to make one loose-fill packaging product, FP International has expanded into new products that were introduced at Pack Expo.
``All [the products] fit into our basic product standards to be environmentally sensitive and responsible,'' said Livermore. ``They are either made from recycled products, can be recycled, provide source reduction or a combination.''
Flo-Pak Cell-O-brand, made from high density PE film, contains a pillow of air. FP leases the tabletop machinery and sells the material to customers. The company plans to manufacture the film as well.
Cushion-Lam-brand is a cross-linked PE foam used to provide multiple-impact protection. The plank is laminated into thicknesses of 1-2 inches and is nondusting and moisture-resistant. Uses for Cushion-Lam-brand include end caps, surface pads, display case inserts, flotation devices and protection for sensitive electronic parts. FP has the private-labeled product made to its specifications and plans to make this product in-house also.
The Flo-Pak Pouch-brand equip- ment puts loose-fill in a bag for easy packing and unpacking. FP manufactures and sells the PE film tube sleeves and the machinery to fill them. Once in the bags, the loose-fill can be fitted around products to protect them.
Two vacuum dispensers also were introduced at the show. The Flo-Vac SRT-brand is a self-contained, free-standing unpacking and recycling system. When a carton is being unpacked, a grille allows loose-fill to drop into a collection bin below. Vacuum pressure moves the loose-fill to an overhead storage dispenser containing between 15 and 75 cubic feet. Packages can then be filled with the loose-fill collected. The Flo-Vac jr is a hand-held vacuum that removes loose-fill from a box.
FP International, with sales of $50 million last year and 375 employees, has 10 plants worldwide. The company recycles about 10 million pounds of expanded PS annually, which is about 20 percent of all PS recycled in the United States.
FP International, started in 1967 by Arthur Graham, serves the automotive, computer, pharmaceutical, electronic, furniture, housewares and lighting industries. Its plants are in Redwood City, Calif.; Los Angeles; Atlanta; Auburn; Thornton; Newark, Del.; Sarcelles, France; Harbrechtingen, Germany; Heerlen, the Neth-erlands; and Shanghai, China.