Life, to say the least, has been a little busy at Cloud Packaging Equipment LLC these past few years or so.
The Des Plaines, Ill.-based company has, for five decades, made form-fill-seal machines for the water-soluble film market.
And with the explosion in interest and use of products packaged in those films, Cloud has seen growth in sales, manpower and manufacturing space in recent years, according to Mike Werner, vice president of sales and marketing for the firm.
Cloud produces what is known as a continuous motion rotary-style form-fill-seal machine, marketed under the Hydroforma brand, that the company claims to be the fastest in the world. Think of a drum continuously spinning to create all those dish and laundry detergent packets commonly found on today's store shelves.
Cloud doesn't make those packets; it makes the machines that make those packets.
And they've been quite busy doing just that, Werner said.
“Outside of the P&G pouches, every other pouch you see out there, probably 95 percent of them are made on a Cloud,” Werner said. “Over the last three or four years, I can't build machines fast enough.”
To help meet demand, Cloud has doubled its employee ranks to 60 and space to about 30,000 square feet at its Des Plaines facility. Sales, too, have just about doubled in recent years.
Cloud, initially, was not ready for the explosive interest in water soluble packaging solutions even though it has been in the equipment making business for decades.
“Quite frankly, the lead times on my machine got way out of whack until we got the resources to support it and the room. So we needed to increase our manufacturing area. We needed to add more assembly guys, which we did. We needed to add more engineers,” he said.
Those growing pains, Werner recalled, probably actually helped the company in the long run. That's because a few customers that jumped ship and purchased equipment elsewhere, then came back with future orders.
These days, Cloud markets its water-soluble machine in conjunction with its Robert's line of pouch filling equipment in North America, allowing the company to offer a manufacturing and filling line to consumer goods companies.
While there continues to be strong interest in water soluble packaging, Werner sees a couple of trends that he believes will further propel the market.
“We certainly see that the powder-liquid combo is a trend that's going to continue for the next couple of years,” he said.
Cloud also realizes that larger companies essentially now have their machines in place. So the equipment manufacturer is starting to also concentrate on smaller firms that want to utilize its technology but do not need the same throughput as the very big consumer product firms.
To help serve that segment of the market, the company has developed a smaller unit — half the size.
“They tend to be contract packagers, so that's kind of where we see the demand going and how we're trying to respond and anticipate those trends,” he said.
Cloud should know about contract packaging as it is owned by Hearthside Food Solutions LLC, which calls itself the food industry's largest contract manufacturer and largest private bakery.
Cloud also sees future growth prospects in markets around the world only now being introduced to water soluble consumer packaging. “We're getting more and more inquiries from South America and Asia to be able to provide this technology,” Werner said.
“This technology is global and it's getting bigger,” he said. “It's growing significantly.”