For 16 years, it was just another idea that had not been commercialized: merging the best of blow molding and thermoforming to make high-quality baby-bottle liners.
Now, two years after taking the idea to production, PBM Plastics Inc. is expanding to a new building and developing other applications.
``It didn't take us too long, and we're already looking at new opportunities,'' David Reese, PBM vice president of sales and marketing, said at EastPack 2002, held June 4-6 in New York. ``We've gotten there fast.''
The company, based in Newport News, Va., uses a proprietary melt-phase thermoforming process to make liners for baby bottles. Since its parent company, Gordonsville, Va.-based PMB Products, bought the technology and opened PBM Plastics in June 2000, the company has hit the ground running, looking at other commercial applications, said PBM Plastics President Adam Burke.
Essentially, the patented technology allows a transparent, flexible plastic container to form at the melt phase, as it does in blow molding. In conventional thermoforming, the shape is formed from a cooled solid.
The proprietary process produces a lower-stress, polyethylene-based product that better holds its shape when heated, Burke said. And the deeper draws allow the liners to be both deeper and thinner, giving them added flexibility, he said.
Because the billet - or the rounded piece - is not cut until after forming, little scrap is produced compared with traditional forming methods, Burke said. The company calls the technology melt-phase billet forming.
The company has contracts to supply the private-label bottle liners to 16 retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Burke said. And PBM is working with several companies to make transparent containers for such areas as medical-pump delivery systems, retortable food items that require pasteurization, and even packages to hold crab meat, a popular delicacy in Newport News.
``And imagine peas or corn in a clear can that can be cooked,'' Burke said. ``That's where we might go with this.''
The company moved in February to a new, 50,000-square-foot facility from a 15,000-square-foot plant. The new site includes a prototyping laboratory to test products So far, it has 55 people and three machines - with a fourth on the way. The Newport News plant is zoned for another 60,000 square feet, Burke said.
The technology dates back to the mid-1980s, when it was developed by Shell Oil Co. PBM bought it from QuesTech Packaging Inc., a development company.
Burke formerly worked at Procter & Gamble Co. in the baby-products area and before that had been a marketing director with GE Plastics in Pittsfield, Mass.
Without revealing sales figures, Burke projected that PBM will average about 250 percent sales growth during the next several years.