Film extruder, printer and converter Roplast Industries Inc. of Oroville, Calif., is adding processing and robotic equipment and pushing sustainability with its longtime use of post-consumer-recycled content.
“We focus on sustainability,” said Roxanne Spiekerman-Vaughan, Roplast executive vice president and general manager.
In recent years, Roplast has narrowed its product line to focus on reusable carrier bags and other packaging for retailers and grocery stores.
In September, Roplast began operation of its fifth blown film extrusion line — a three-layer modular Varex II — from Windmöller & Hölscher KG of Lengerich, Germany.
“With the addition of this new and updated W&H line, Roplast will be able to provide customers with a better bag more efficiently,” said Roger Hewson, western U.S. territory sales manager for W&H's North American equipment and parts distribution unit, Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp. in Lincoln, R.I.
“With pending legislation in California as well in other parts of the country, Roplast will be prepared to have an answer to sensibly controlling consumer use and utilization of plastic carrier bags,” Hewson said.
Roplast has ordered robotic packaging equipment from Lemo Maschinenbau GmbH of Niederkassel, Germany, with a goal of having it operational by year's end.
Roplast is aggressively moving to make additional use of post-consumer polyethylene.
“Customers look to get material made in the U.S. with an identifiable chain of custody,” said Robert Bateman, Roplast president, CEO and an owner. “That makes it possible for us to compete, even in California.”
Bateman and Robert Berman founded the company as a greenfield operation in 1990. Berman is Roplast chairman and chief financial officer.
Roplast operates four extruders now. Three work in line with 1970s-era in house-rebuilt central impression flexographic presses using water as a medium.
Roplast has three stack presses, also rebuilt in-house, and is adding two more custom-designed stack presses now.
The Lemo robotics equipment will help Roplast reduce its number of converting machines to seven from the current 14.
“Now that U.S. resin prices reflect the cost of natural gas from fracking, we get prices that are closer to those in Asia,” Bateman said. “We get our labor costs down, and Asia's advantage of cheap labor goes away.”
In October 2002, Roplast began operating a cogeneration power system in an effort to lower energy bills. Roplast maintained a service connection to publicly traded utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for excessive demands.
Roplast runs the system depending on the comparative prices, but the operational benefits have been eroded over the years.
PG&E with backing of regulators at the California Public Utilities Commission “has been chipping away at the advantages of running a cogeneration system,” Bateman said.
Roplast and other manufacturers are working with Butte County authorities with the aim of establishing an aggregated system for energy.
Roplast and other converters are looking at having their interests more fully represented before the CPUC.
Spiekerman-Vaughan and Bateman aggressively monitor critical industry issues.
The Roplast team has been active in battling anti-plastics legislation and the bag bans across the country.
“They see their ‘bring back bag' as a viable alternative to the single use T-shirt bag or the expensive woven polypropylene grocery bags,” Hewson said. “Their persistence and efforts have paid off with an acceptance of the product to a point where more thick-thin capacity was needed.”
Spiekerman-Vaughan joined Roplast in September 2005 and was promoted to her current position in November 2015. Michael Jobes is Roplast vice president of sales and marketing, and Chris Mann is Roplast's technical director.
Roplast employs 150, occupies 140,000 square feet and had sales of more than $40 million for the fiscal year ended Oct. 31, 2015. Sales growth is expected to fill the expanding capacity.