T.O. Plastics Inc. is aiming for more complex packaging jobs with a new Kiefel thermoformer.
The Otsego, Minn., company began debugging the KMD 90 machine in mid-February and plans to bring it into service in March for medical packaging and other goods.
Customers are demanding more difficult part geometries and cleaner packaging, according to T.O. Plastics. More packaging contains new, functional features formed into the packaging and a more precise thermoformer is needed to tackle those jobs, Crystal Pierson, value stream manager of T.O. Plastics' life science and custom solutions business unit said in a phone interview.
“The KMD provides outstanding repeatability with better process controls and monitoring capabilities,” Pierson explained by phone from Otsego.
“It's also more self-contained and processes larger rolls of material, decreasing the likelihood of contamination, which is critical for the sterile barrier products we manufacture.
“It's for a new generation of trays and packaging,” Pierson said.
The new thermoformer will supply existing customers and new programs. T.O. Plastics installed it in a Class 8 clean room in Otsego.
Pierson said the company's existing thermoformers would have a hard time controlling undercuts and forming deep draw sections, so a more advanced one was in order.
The new thermoformer has a forming area of 34 inches by 36 inches. T.O. Plastics had tooling for the machine built outside, but it plans to eventually make future tooling in-house in its mold making shop. Pierson declined to reveal the cost of the machine and related equipment.
Pierson said a short delivery time was key to the firm choosing the Kiefel model. Delivery times of nine months is typical in the machinery market, but that wasn't acceptable because T.O. Plastics was running flat out and needed new capacity. Kiefel was already building the advanced thermoformer for its own use and quickly made it available for delivery to T.O. Plastics in January. T.O. Plastics personnel checked out other Kiefel installations before making a final decision on the KMD 90 model. The search for a new pressure former began some two years ago.
Pierson said the new thermoformer will be able to process rolls up to 36 inches in diameter and 1,500 pounds. Those metrics are three times larger than for the company's machines already in place.
T.O. Plastics was founded in 1948 as a thermoformer of refrigerator components for the company known today as the Frigidaire unit of Electrolux AB of Stockholm, Sweden.
In addition to the Otsego facility, T.O. Plastics operates a production plant in Clearwater, Minn. About 150 staff members run the two facilities, including two clean rooms and 25 thermoforming lines. It thermoforms sheet from a range of thermoplastics, including glycol-modified PET, bioplastic, vinyl and post-consumer resins. Industrial goods account for the lion's share of T.O. Plastics' $35 million in annual sales.
The Clearwater facility primarily makes horticultural products such as pots and trays, as well as custom and heavy industrial components. The operation includes an extrusion line for polystyrene, most of which is used internally for horticultural products. The extruder can also make ABS sheet.
The Otsego operation focuses on life sciences packaging and light industrial components.
Besides medical packaging, T.O. Plastics supplies electronics, lawn and garden, automotive and agricultural markets. It has quality certifications to ISO 9000 and medical-oriented ISO 13485 standards.
Otter Tail Corp. of Fergus Falls, Minn., owns T.O. Plastics. Publicly traded Otter Tail also owns PVC pipe producers Vinyltech Corp. of Phoenix, Ariz., and Northern Pipe Products of Fargo, N.D. Its plastics businesses accounted for about 19 percent of Otter Tail's 2016 sales of $803.5 million.