Until now, Plastic Technologies Inc. (Booth N4392) has been known for the quality of its PET bottle research, its inroads in recycled PET and its new container designs.
But until the opening in May of a new, 7,000-square-foot plant adjacent to PTI's Holland facility, PET preform production was no more than a blip in its operations.
The new plant in the Toledo, Ohio, suburb of Holland opens a new chapter for PTI, said Executive Vice President Robert Deardurff. The narrow preforms do more than fill the needs of customers wanting help with excess production. They also will help PTI in its quest to find new ways of making plastic containers for the packaging industry, he said.
``We needed the ability to increase our capabilities to service customers in preforms,'' Deardurff said during a May 15 open house at the facility. ``But we might also use this as an opportunity to develop new techniques in manufacturing.''
PTI has some history there. The company has shaped the design of many new carbonated soft drink bottles for Coca-Cola Co. and others and has assisted with the conversion of many consumer products to plastic.
At its recycling subsidiary, Phoenix Technologies LP in Bowling Green, Ohio, the firm converts recycled flakes to resin that has the same physical properties as virgin material. The company's work helped spur Coca-Cola Co. to launch a recycling initiative in 2002. The soft drink leader plans to use as much as 10 percent recycled content for its PET soft-drink bottles by 2005.
That takes the company back to preforms, which are heated and expanded in the PET blow molding process. PTI's preforms, injection molded on a Husky injection press, can be made with recycled content, said Don Heyward, Phoenix vice president and general manager. That brings both economic and environmental savings, he added.
``If you're in the packaging business, you're also in the waste management business,'' he said. ``Our challenge is less in waving our hands about it and more in finding new ways to deal with that challenge through recycling.''
At the plant, a 300-ton press is capable of producing as many as 50 million preforms a year on a rotating mold that can carry up to 48 cavities. Boxes of the slender plastic parts are shipped from a loading dock near the press.
The plant, the size of a spacious garage, recently was reopened by PTI. For the past several years, the space, across the street from PTI headquarters, had been used by a company distributing frozen foods. While the space is small, plans are larger. A second Husky press may be added later this year to produce more preforms, and the company eventually may be forced to look for a larger site in the Toledo area, said PTI President Thomas Brady. If that happens, the current site would become primarily a research and development laboratory for preforms, he said.
The new preform plant was launched with the impetus of New York-based Colgate-Palmolive Co., a major PTI customer. Colgate's plant in Cambridge, Ohio, makes such household items as liquid hand soaps, laundry detergent and dishwashing liquid and also produces the blow molded containers for those products, said several Colgate officials at the event.
The consumer-products giant needed additional preforms for its blow molding operation and set up PTI with the equipment, Deardurff said. The PTI facility includes a dryer and blender, with outdoor resin silos conveying material to the system.
Although Colgate officials do not like to talk about it, the company is one of the country's leading users of recycled PET bottle resin. As much as 75 percent of its containers are made from recycled PET, a figure that has climbed steadily during the past decade, according to several sources at the event.
Colgate has been using recycled material in its products since the late 1980s, those sources said. The company does not put the standard recycling symbol on its containers, and a spokeswoman in New York did not respond to several requests for more information.
The company won an award in October 2002 from the Arlington, Va.-based Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers for its creative use of the post-consumer resin, said APR director Robin Cotchan. Colgate has used significant amounts of post-consumer resin in light-duty liquids over the past decade, Cotchan said.
``Even when the market cycles are down and it might be more economical to use virgin material, they continue to use post-consumer resin,'' said Cotchan.
Other household-products companies, including Unilever NV and Clorox Co., are making similar efforts, Cotchan said. But Colgate is among those select companies that had used hundreds of millions of pounds of post-consumer resin over the past 10 years, she said.
PTI will start making standard, 28-millimeter preforms but will have the ability to make them in various sizes and shapes, said Daniel Durham, senior associate with PTI and the director of the new preform-production center. The facility, with four full-time employees, uses the prototyping expertise of PTI to help create new preform designs, he said.
PTI is considering showcasing other technologies at the new site. At the open house, officials with mold-cooling company Metallamics Inc. of Traverse City, Mich., were discussing possibilities. The Michigan company has developed a heat exchange system that it claims can cool an injection mold taken from a press much faster than the traditional method.
The company signed an agreement in November 2001 to work with Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. But Metallamics could not get the soft-drink behemoth to move forward after Coca-Cola went through several management changes, said Metallamics President Robert McDonald. Now, Metallamics is looking for other customers and a means to showcase its technique.
``We're starting over with marketing and trying to build a broader customer base,'' said McDonald, a former Dow Chemical Co. executive. ``This could be a nice opportunity to show what we can do.''
The new facility hopes to show what it can do in preforms, too, beyond just operating as a small production site for Colgate. It is not a segment of the industry that has always attracted that kind of attention.
``It's been a bit of a unexplored area,'' Durham said. ``We'll have to see where we go with this.''