GLOUCESTER, MASS. (March 28, 3:10 p.m. EST) — As NPE 2006 approaches, Battenfeld Gloucester Engineering Co. Inc. officials want to make sure customers don't get confused by negative headlines coming out of that other operation with Battenfeld in the name, Battenfeld Injection Molding GmbH.
The two are sister companies under SMS AG, a Dusseldorf, Germany-based holding company that makes equipment for the steel industry and machinery for plastics processing. SMS is closing a Battenfeld injection press assembly plant in Germany, and two top executives have left this year.
Leaders of Battenfeld Gloucester are promoting their company's film-making technology, global operations and the longevity of top executives and plant employees in Gloucester, a picturesque, coastal town known for its fishing industry and tourism. The company's 325 employees in Gloucester average 16 years of experience.
“It is clear that we enjoy a good reputation in the U.S. as well as in the international markets,” said Chairman Harold Wrede, a longtime Battenfeld executive.
Also in December, Brian Marvelley returned as president and chief executive officer in Gloucester, after a nine-month hiatus helping SMS study the efficiency of its overall North American operations, in both steel and plastics.
Bob Weeks is in his 18th year as vice president of sales and marketing.
Wrede, Marvelley and Weeks outlined Battenfeld Gloucester's strengths in a telephone interview Feb. 23. They were getting ready for Chinaplas, slated for April 26-29 in Shanghai. NPE 2006 follows, June 19-23 in Chicago.
Battenfeld Gloucester will show several products at NPE:
* The Flexoelite printing press, a gearless flexographic press that can run eight and 10 colors.
* A servo-controlled bag-making machine.
* A ThermoFlex sheet system for thermoforming.
* The E-Plus II process control.
* The Optical foam sheet die.
The three executives said the trend toward multilayer film will continue — with even more layers.
Multilayer lines now account for 70 percent of Battenfeld Gloucester's business, Wrede said. Right now, crews in the Gloucester factory are building a 17-layer cast film line, with nine extruders, to make barrier film for food packaging. Weeks said the line probably will be shipped in late spring. It can be expanded to 24 layers.
Weeks said having a higher number of very thin layers can resolve problems with layer thinning in the corners, which can happen when thermoforming stiff, thicker films that package foods such as meat and cheese.
The 17-layer line marks the highest number of layers for Battenfeld Gloucester. Previously, the largest was a 14-layer cast film line.
Don't expect the layer proliferation to end any time soon. “There are already very specialized applications that have more layers,” Wrede said, adding that such superlayered films are opening other markets beyond food packaging.
And Wrede said China is adopting multilayer technology. Battenfeld Chen Extrusion Systems in Shunde, China, is building a nine-layer blown film for a customer in that country. Wrede said Battenfeld Chen builds 25-35 film lines a year in China. After a lull in capital spending, caused by the Chinese government reducing credit, domestic processors are buying equipment again, he said.
“The government has especially pulled back on most of those restrictions starting a few months ago,” Wrede said. “Business is very good and has already returned to the previous level. So the business in China today I would say is quite good.”
Wrede retired as Battenfeld Gloucester's president and CEO in 2000. But he did not leave the company, staying on as chairman of Battenfeld Chen, a joint venture between SMS and Hong Kong-based Chen Hsong Machinery Co. Ltd.
Weeks said high resin prices, whipsawed higher last year by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, have not hurt Battenfeld Gloucester very much, except for a few delayed capital spending decisions by customers. But capacity use in film extrusion is nearing 90 percent, he said.
“The market is suited to grow for expansion, and that's happening, despite resin costs,” Weeks said.
Processors are making wider webs on higher-speed machines to boost efficiency, Weeks said. That fuels investment in high-tech winders that can keep up with the production speeds, handle larger rolls and change the rolls more frequently, he said.
Marvelley said his work at the corporate level last year looked at both SMS steel and plastics equipment holdings in North America. “It was looking at the structure, how to streamline it, how to maximize the benefits from the things that are common to those businesses,” he said.
Wrede said each unit of SMS Plastics Technology still has its own board of directors, but those boards now have fewer people. Communication has been streamlined, so that each board now reports directly to SMS corporate headquarters in Dusseldorf.
“We have a smaller management structure than we have in the past, at the corporate level,” Wrede said.