Next Generation Films Inc. is applying nanotechnology literally on top of the chickens lying in grocers' meat aisles.
The Lexington, Ohio-based extruder of three-layer films is marketing a new ultrathin oxygen barrier for food packaging that consists of a layer of nanonylon sandwiched between two layers of polyethylene.
The 14-year-old company has made three-layer bags using nanotechnology for more than a year, founder and Chief Executive Officer David Frecka said in an April 1 interview.
Frecka, 54, said Next Generation's goal is to beat, with patent-pending technology, those competitors that make five- and seven-layer films, as well as those using polyactic acid to produce biodegradable films.
``The bio-based films, you can't recycle,'' he said. ``With nano [film], you can use fewer layers - it's still as strong and it can be recycled.''
The move toward nanofilms comes as Next Generation nears completion of a $10 million renovation and expansion begun in 2007 at its four-building campus.
The newest building, which opened in June, has a 126-inch Windmoeller & Hoelscher Varex three-layer blown film line running in one of its four bays, cranking out as much as 2,100 pounds of film per hour. An 87-inch W&H Varex three-layer line is scheduled to be installed this summer.
Once that machine - the company's third W&H line - is in place and a new suite of corporate offices opens, Frecka and his 160 employees will be ensconced in a 260,000-square-foot campus, with 22 blown film lines, 10 bag-making machines and an onsite recycling and repelletizing operation. What's more, they'll be closing in on Frecka's goal of $100 million in annual sales, the size at which he figures he'll get the most favorable raw materials prices.
``We're going to have to be a low-cost producer,'' he said. That means analyzing competitors' products in the company's lab, engineering higher-quality new films and making them in the factory with automated machinery, he said.
Next Generation's sales are about $80 million, Frecka said, though he wouldn't give the actual amount. He said he gets ``a phone call a day'' from private equity groups and strategic buyers seeking to acquire the company. But he's not ready to sell - in fact, Frecka is critical of the flurry of industry mergers and acquisitions in recent years.
``If everybody's selling, nobody's building,'' he said.
Daniel Niss, Next Generation's president, said the $100 million sales benchmark keeps the company's operations in perspective for its employees. ``We have a definite list of clients and they are happy with our level of quality and innovation,'' he said. ``We don't want to be the biggest - but we're constantly working on new solutions.''
Next Generation's culture of entrepreneurship and efficiency continues a Frecka family tradition. David Frecka's father, John, was president of Empire Steel Corp. in nearby Massillon, Ohio. His grandfather, Harold, was the blast furnace supervisor at Detroit Steel Co. in Portsmouth, Ohio. David Frecka keeps his grandfather's pipe rack and tobacco jar on his desk, along with his collection of family photos, die-cast metal cars and industry awards.
``Every time I smell [tobacco], it reminds me of him,'' Frecka said.
Frecka founded his first company, Ultra-tech Plastics Inc. of Mansfield, in 1985, growing it to a $20 million business before selling Ultra-tech in 1993. He said he recognized then a need to grow beyond coextruded high density PE into specialty films. Since its founding, Next Generation has converted the majority of its business from commodity films to barrier, while keeping its debt manageable, Frecka said.
``I pay off fast and re-innovate,'' he said. ``That's the way you do this business.''