With more than 50 manufacturing facilities producing an amalgam of blow molded products, Consolidated Container Co. LLC is a model of diversity.
Yet diversity also can bring challenges. Meshing product development and design work with the differing units - producing a cross of PET, high density polyethylene, polypropylene and polycarbonate containers - is not easy.
The Atlanta-based company has dealt with that challenge by putting all its design work into one location. Its 40,000-square-foot engineering and development center, dedicated in January 2004 in Atlanta, has pooled the resources of its many acquisitions.
``We have a lot of expertise through different companies,'' development director Wayne Barron said in a March 30 interview at the center. ``This gives us the luxury of a little more time to respond to the market. We're bringing it all together in one location now.''
Consolidated Container needed to coordinate operations after rolling up several blow molding companies in the late 1990s. CCC was formed after equity firm Vestar Capital Partners III LP of New York bought a majority of the packaging business of Suiza Foods Corp. and added it to Vestar-owned Reid Plastics Inc.
CCC posted total sales last year of $761.3 million. It has 3,500 employees.
The company had operated a development site in Elk Grove Village, Ill., that was similar to the Atlanta site in size, but not functionality, said Gina Haines, CCC business development director. In addition to its distance from CCC's headquarters, the facility did not have the equipment to work with both HDPE and PET projects, and it could not do the detailed work performed at the new center.
CCC is one of the few container makers to develop bottles from such a cross-section of resins in one facility, Haines said. The company is designing consumer-product containers for everything from dairy products, water, juice and ketchup, to household chemicals and automotive uses.
``All brands are represented here under one roof,'' Haines said. ``We can paint the realm of possibilities both in design and manufacturing.''
The center mixes a large design studio with diverse blow molding production equipment. Design capabilities include a side room to photograph product samples and a Stratasys rapid-prototyping machine that can make dimensionally accurate working samples using ABS.
The company was one of the first in the industry to use PP in hot-fill bottles for pasta sauces, Barron said. CCC's lab is enhancing the material's clarity, with a goal of making bottles similar in transparency to PET containers, but at less cost, he said.
A large plant area ties design to manufacturing practicality. Five blow molding machines can mold every type of bottle CCC puts out, except for its large PC water bottles, Barron said.
The equipment is a blow molding who's who of production machines. On the plant floor is a 10-station rotary-wheel machine for high-volume and multilayer containers; a two-cavity shuttle machine, also for extrusion blow molding for smaller applications; a reciprocating-head, accumulator unit for large containers holding several gallons; a smaller shuttle machine to test molds; and a Sidel injection stretch blow molding unit to make PET bottles with preforms.
Next door to the test center is a CCC manufacturing facility that shares some resources. In many cases, products from that plant come to the center for development, Barron said.
The technology center also includes a separate room to test products. A vibrating table can shake a bottle to simulate what would happen to it during shipment. A 25-foot-high cage is set up to drop-test products for breakage. Oven and freezer units test for temperature fatigue.
The lab, while still expanding, has led to new products already on the market, said marketing analyst Adam Brown. Last year, CCC introduced an 8-ounce HDPE dairy bottle as a replacement for traditional, gable-top paper containers used by many schools and restaurants. The more attractive package, with colorful graphics and a resealable cap, was designed and tested at the Atlanta center.
Last fall, McDonald's and Wendy's restaurants started using the bottle. Sales for milk products doubled at McDonald's and rose 15 times at Wendy's, Brown said. And more importantly, children were asking for milk instead of soft drinks, Brown said.
``It wasn't something that children had to have, but suddenly something they wanted,'' he said.
The development center brings in customers and CCC plant workers as it develops products. The goal is to save costs by designing manufacturable products upfront, rather than going back later to fix errors, he said.
``Our customers understand the points of pain we must go through in design,'' he said.
``We'd like to take care of some of that on the front end instead of later.''