A successful business rests on the backs of its relationships with employees and suppliers, the Society of Plastics Engineers Thermoformer of the Year told an audience at the group's annual conference in Minneapolis.
George Lueken, 79, owner of Mullinix Packages Inc. in Fort Wayne, Ind., received the award Sept. 21 during the SPE Thermoforming Division's annual awards dinner.
He thanked Mullinix managers for their efforts to expand the company and said materials suppliers are helping thermoforming grow as an industry.
``They challenge us to meet different types of applications, taking advantage of what materials are available, [which] they continue to develop and continue to improve. That's why the large names in thermoforming are really taking over a lot of the injection molding business,'' he said.
Lueken praised SPE for making an effort to recruit young leaders in the industry to its ranks. ``My greatest joy in this business has been to challenge a young person and give them some way you see a light come up in their eye. They get at the job and they get it done,'' he said.
The central Illinois native served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, achieving the rank of sergeant. After leaving the military, he received his business degree from the University of Illinois in 1957.
Lueken joined Dow Chemical Co., where he developed an interest in plastics. In 1965, with three partners, he started a plastic extrusion company called Alchem. He eventually sold his interest to start Mullinix in the back of a small machine shop in Saginaw, Mich.
Mullinix incorporated in 1970 and remains a closely held manufacturer of custom thermoformed packages serving the disposable food packaging industry.
In 1976, Mullinix moved to Fort Wayne, to be closer to its primary customer, Peter Eckrich & Sons Inc., supplying Eckrich with a package made of Barex acrylonitrile copolymer for luncheon meat known as the Meat Keeper. Mullinix rapidly developed a reputation for identifying new applications for thermoformed packages, including the use of barrier films for the meat processing industry.
By the 1980s, the company was recognized as a leader in crystalline PET thermoforming for airline food-service applications and dual-ovenable prepared-foods packaging. Mullinix worked with Lyle Machinery on a pilot project for the former Allegheny Airlines and it claims to be the first to develop the two-stage CPET forming process. In 1982 Mullinix claimed another first, when it conventionally formed amorphous PET to develop a rim-rolled cup for cream cheese. By 1984, the design developed into a two-layer coextruded silver/white PET container that was double-seamed.
Clear containers followed, including an ice-cream container for Breyer's. In 1988, Mullinix developed the Impromptu Line with General Foods Corp. The firm claims the package was the first retorted CPET shelf-stable package ever developed for dinner entrees.
Mullinix continues to work with most of the major national food-processing companies and holds patents for wide-web inline forming of polypropylene, including GladWare. The firm operates 400,000 square feet of production and warehousing space in Fort Wayne. It employs more than 450.
Lueken has been an SPE member since 1962, and in 1996 received the Jack Barney Award in recognition of his contributions to the sheet extrusion industry. He remains active in Mullinex's day-to-day affairs.
``The [thermoforming] industry was founded and developed by people like [Lueken].
``Without the people that came before us this industry would not be what it is today,'' said Curtis Zamec, SPE's 2007 Thermoformer of the Year, in his introductory speech at the awards ceremony.
Zamec, formerly president and chief executive officer of Chicago-based thermoformer and injection molder Wilbert Inc., became president of TriEnda LLC in December 2007, when he bought the Portage, Wis.-based heavy-gauge thermoformer from Wilbert.