Recycler KW Plastics has developed its first all-plastic paint can and plans to injection mold it at a new plant being built near its Alabama headquarters.
The Troy, Ala.-based company, considered North America's largest plastics recycling company, will introduce the plastic can early next year under its KW Can brand name, said KW partner Kenneth Campbell on June 19. The paint container, including its new plastic closure, is made entirely of recycled polypropylene.
The company has purchased a 100,000-square-foot building adjacent to its Troy facility, where it will mold both the canister and the plastic lid. The company is investing about $20 million to launch the new facility, including adding 15 Roboshot all-electric presses from Milacron Inc. The figure includes the purchase price to buy the facility.
KW's foray into paint cans started in 1999 at a plant in Bakersfield, Calif., after the company began work with a West Coast paint manufacturer, Campbell said. Those cans are made of recycled PP but have a metal closure. Meanwhile, KW continued to develop a can and closure made completely with a single plastic material. The company's current cans are sold in national retail stores, Campbell said.
``Historically, we have not been a container manufacturer,'' Campbell said. ``But about three years ago, we started producing paint containers with an all-plastic body but that still have a conventional metal closure. We thought we could do it entirely in plastic.''
The hybrid plastic/metal can has grown in sales. Today, KW makes about 140 million plastic/metal paint cans a year at four plants.
The paint-can work was an unusual turn for a recycling company, but not one without its merits: The package presented a good use for the resin that KW recycles in-house, Campbell said. KW makes a specially formulated PP compound to mold the cans, while purchasing a metal ring and plug from an outside supplier.
KW is not the first to market a plastic paint can. A much-advertised can is being made for Sherwin-Williams Co.'s Dutch Boy Group by molder North American Packaging Corp. of Lithonia, Ga. But that ``Twist & Pour'' can is made of high density polyethylene and is blow molded, a more expensive material and difficult process. Only the twist-off lid for the Sherwin-Williams can is made of PP.
The new closure for the KW Can does not use threads and instead snaps in place and locks, requiring no hammering or heavy exertion to pry it open, Campbell said. And dried paint cannot stick to the threads and make it difficult to open the can, he said.
A plastic can also does not rust, allowing firms to use a water-soluble paint and increase shelf life, and does not dent easily in shipping, Campbell said. For metal cans, paint makers lose quite a bit of money when a dented can is returned to them unopened.
The can also has similar dimensions to metal versions, helping producers shift easily from metal to plastic, Campbell said.
``Compared to other containers, we think it is quite different,'' he said. ``It works with existing fill lines at plants, so you don't have to invest a lot of money to relabel and set up a new line to run these containers. It's easy for our customers and easy all the way to the consumer.''
The company will use recycled PP from its own operations to make the cans. After the molding work starts in Troy, the company would like to create a collection system with its paint-manufacturing customers to retrieve the cans and reuse them, Campbell said.
KW now recycles both PP and polyethylene resin in Troy, using both post-consumer and post-industrial material. Much of its recycled material goes for automotive applications, including under-the-hood parts and bumper fascias, and the materials also are used for vehicle batteries.
For the latter, KW uses an established collection system to reclaim old battery casings.
The new plant will ramp up slowly, adding about 75 employees by the time it opens in early 2004 and gradually boosting that to 150, Campbell said. The presses also will be added gradually and will have clamping forces from 550-935 tons, he said.
The company plans to move production of the all-plastic cans to its other molding facilities, once demand increases. Those facilities - In Bakersfield, Chicago Heights, Ill., Allentown, Pa., and McDonough, Ga. - now make the metal/plastic hybrid can.
The Troy location will mold the plastic closures for all the facilities. The new molding site has plenty of space, sitting on 23 acres of land.
According to Plastics News rankings, KW was the largest North American recycler in sales during 2002, far surpassing the next-largest company. The Alabama firm is projecting sales of $155 million for 2003, an increase partly from the growth in its molding operations, Campbell said.
``This adds value to what we're already doing,'' he said, ``particularly if the line of products can be returned at the end of its useful life. It might have a wide range of applications other than packaging.''