When they founded injection molder International Plastics and Equipment Corp. in 1994, co-owners Joe Giordano and Chuck Long were looking for something to augment their successful local contracting and paving businesses in the New Castle area.
Today that side venture recently renamed Ipec Global Inc. is worth millions and annually is shipping 3.5 billion high, low and linear low density polyethylene closures for the dairy, juice, bottled water and custom markets. About 500 clients use Ipec closures in the Americas and Europe.
Dairy closures make up about 60 percent of Ipec's business. A 38-millimeter, drop-lock design screw-on cap, which complements the company's snap-on and snap-screw closure portfolio, has been a big success, said operations Vice President Jay Martin.
``For the first year and a half of Ipec's existence, we didn't make a bottle cap. We just made equipment, because [the owners] wanted to build their reputation and show that our team will come to [bottling] facilities and improve efficiencies,'' Martin said during a June 24 tour of Ipec's New Castle headquarters. ``Over time, that focus has evolved to supplying closures and helping our customers achieve quality control over the total packaging systems.''
Ipec recently completed expansions at New Castle and a second plant, in Brewton, Ala. Martin said management also is laying groundwork for a new manufacturing operation in 2009 near Ipec's Henderson, Nev., distribution center, to serve West Coast markets. The company has not decided whether it will build or buy a plant, he said.
Ipec has spent about $5 million since 2006 on new construction and machinery at New Castle and Brewton, he said. The New Castle plant grew from 50,000 square feet to 105,000 square feet of warehouse and manufacturing space, and added a new Krauss Maffei and eight new Husky injection molding machines, with clamping forces of 250-400 tons, to its 10 existing Sandretto presses. It also boosted its 65-person work force by 12.
``Instead of running the majority of our molds at 32 cavities, most of our molds now are upwards of 72 cavities,'' Martin said.
In Alabama, Ipec expanded a 50,000-square-foot facility by 38,000 square feet. Its workforce grew to about 70 and that plant added four Krauss Maffei machines, bringing its total presses there to 15.
Those expansions involved working with local utility companies to curb energy use, Martin said. At New Castle, workers installed high-efficiency fluorescent bulbs and painted walls a reflective white to maximize lighting. The plant also makes more use of a nearby water tower for machinery cooling instead of relying on air conditioning systems.
``Air is very expensive and uses a lot of electricity to run a compressor. We've converted every [conveyor] line to run vertically, using gratuity, rather than horizontally,'' Martin said.
The firm's sustainability initiatives include a household recycling program for New Castle employees (the city does not have curbside recycling) and working with customers to improve shipping efficiencies and bottling techniques to minimize spillage.
``It's important for Ipec's growth that we continue to help our customers improve in very challenging times, because without their success financially and their continued growth we're going to have a very limited market to grow in,'' Martin said.
In addition to product-testing labs, Ipec maintains metal fabrication shops at its plants.
>From 2002-05 Ipec was publicly traded, until its owners took the company private once more. For 2004, Ipec reported net profit of $1.7 million on sales of $22.4 million. The firm would not disclose current sales.