In the world of caps and closures, officials at Weatherchem Corp. worry about the precision of molding polypropylene living hinges, where the cap has to stay closed for production but also meet consumers' needs for opening once the product hits retail.
When it comes to recycling, the company also is addressing its concerns about recycling caps with liners.
``With recycling, we do a good job,'' President Jennifer Altstadt said in an April 17 interview at Weatherchem's headquarters in Twinsburg. ``We'd like to do a better job. Recently, we had somebody in, somebody who would take our scrap with liner.
``The other piece is that we have a [research and development] project that is looking at corn-based material. ... The hesitation right now is that there's not enough material. So if we do find something that works, we can't supply it.''
The changes are among many happening at the privately held injection molder, which operates out of more than 100,000 square feet in two Twinsburg buildings.
One of its best-known products may be a cap for a Parmesan cheese container. Its newer products include the LiquiFlapper closure system, a one-piece design for controlled dispensing of pourable products like condiments, marinades, sauces and dressings.
On bioresins, Weatherchem now is working with Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., to increase its sustainability efforts.
Altstadt, who has been the firm's president for three years, is implementing changes that include switching from a custom material to a resin that is more standard. Weatherchem also has decided to exit some of its custom business during the past few years, especially business outside its core areas.
This year, the company - with its sole production facility in Ohio - teamed up with another distributor in an overseas market. Now, Weatherchem distributes to more than 10 countries. Weatherchem also hired a sales manager, Chris Gross, whose job is to set up sales outside the United States.
``I'm interested to see how the world progresses,'' Altstadt said. ``As the middle classes develop in countries like China, India and Mexico, as the buying power becomes more widespread ... what's the impact going to be?''
The company may entertain the idea of joint ventures as it looks at its five-year plan for growth, but it won't necessarily look to put another facility in the United States. Also, it will focus on organic growth vs. growth by acquisition.
``We have room to grow here,'' she said, ``which is good. Five years after that (five-year plan) it becomes a concern of, where do the walls go?''
Packaging and closures are expected to grow at about 3 percent annually, with child-resistant packaging and dispensing growing than 5 percent, officials said during a recent annual meeting of the Closure Manufacturers Association, based in Kilmarnock, Va.
``We [would] expect our growth to be at that level at least, if we only focused on what we had,'' Altstadt said. ``As we're adding our new products to the portfolio as well, we're expecting our growth is going to be more than that.''
According to Cleveland-based research firm Freedonia Group Inc., U.S. annual demand for caps and closures is projected to advance nearly 5 percent, reaching $6.9 billion in 2010 - representing 221 billion units.
There will be increasing demand for child-resistant and dispensing closures. In part, demand for child-resistant closures is being fueled by regulatory requirements enacted in 2002 that expanded the range of products requiring such packaging, Freedonia said.
Plastics closures are expected to be the fastest-growing industry segment. The material will expand its share by supplanting metal closures, and technological advances have allowed plastic to supplant metal closures on glass containers, Freedonia said.
The purchasing power of baby boomers and women also will affect the demand for products. In addition, food safety concerns are pushing the demand for tamper-resistant caps and closures.
``We understand that women are the influence in purchases,'' Altstadt said. ``What we are targeting is the convenience [of] the dispensing. One of the terms I heard recently at a conference was `dashboard dining,' that people are eating breakfast in their cars. ... That's a great niche for us to be in because that's what we know.''
Among boomers, the ease of opening caps is critical and becoming more critical, Altstadt said, particularly in the area of nutraceuticals.
Officials of the privately held company keep sales numbers to themselves. Weatherchem is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cleveland-based Weatherhead Industries Inc., under Albert Weatherhead III, for whom Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management is named.