Orlando, Fla. — R&D/Leverage, which makes tooling for packaging and offers design and brand development services, is partnering with two mold makers in Brazil to expand into South America.
Leading the move is Michael Warkentien, who grew up in Brazil and has a long history of working in packaging in the country. R&D/Leverage hired Warkentien last April as director of Latin America business. He speaks fluent Portuguese.
In an interview at the R&D/Leverage booth during NPE2018, Warkentien spelled out the move into Brazil by the company from Lee's Summit, Mo.
Earlier this year, R&D/Leverage signed agreements with two Brazilian injection mold shops: Btomec in Joinville in Santa Catarina state, and Artis Matriz in Curitiba in Paraná state
Btomec will make molds for injection stretch blow molding and injection blow molding. Artis Matriz will focus on preform molds.
Both of the companies make injection molds, but they have not been focused on PET, until now with the R&D/Leverage Partnership. Warkentien, who visited a lot of Brazilian mold shops, said he company officials were looking for good companies to work with. R&D/Leverage can help the tool shops get into the packaging market, and they can help R&D grow in South America, he said.
"The reason I chose them is because of their ability, quality, their vision and dedication to processing," he said.
Both Brazilian mold makers will remain independent. Warkentien, who lives in Kansas City, said he plans to travel to Brazil quarterly to help set them up.
"What we're doing is we're partnering. We're working together in this. R&D will be doing all of the engineering in the U.S. We will be building in most cases, all of the stacks that go into these molds, and shipping them to Brazil. They will build, with our engineering, the other components, the assembly components, the mold bases, assembled in Brazil," he said.
The local companies also can support customers and service molds for packaging companies in Brazil. "If there's a modification requirement we can have them do it, because they have the quality and capability to do it. So that's fundamentally important for the Brazilian mentality and customer needs down there," Warkentien said.
It's hard to build molds and support them out of the United States for Brazil, given the distance and the significant import duties. "So this helps to overcome that barrier. It gives a world-class product at a more competitive local price. It helps support our multinational customers, with more of a global footprint," he said.
Brazil can be a base to serve all of South America, thanks to the Mercosur free trade pact.
Warkentien said that Brazil, the largest country in South America, is also one of world's top beverage-consuming countries. The nation represents about 20 percent of the U.S. consumption of plastic packaging, a significant amount because of the disparity of incomes in Brazil, he said.
Btomec and Artis Matriz will serve more than the beverage sector. They also will make molds for a range of consumer-product packaging such as food, personal care, household cleaning products, healthcare and pharmaceutical.
"One of the big problems that have in Brazil is, there isn't the expertise in preform design and projects like this. That's where they fall short on it. So these companies will now have the access to our abilities in the U.S.," he said. R&D/Leverage will handle all preform design out of Lee's Summit.
R&D and its Brazilian partners don't plan to compete in the very large-volume markets, dominated by companies like Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., according to Warkentien. But he said there is plenty of business in more specialty applications.
R&D/Leverage also made technology news at NPE2018, showing its Liberty injection blow molding and its proprietary Genesis hot runner manifold system, originally built for injection stretch blow molding but highlighted now for IBM as well.
For IBM, the manifold system eliminates the need for press operators to use blow torches on nozzles and climb on machines during startup, by thermally isolating the nozzle from the mold cavity and optimizing heat transfer from the hot runner block to the nozzle.
Warkentien brings lots of direct experience to the Brazilian effort, starting at a very young age. His parents were missionaries in Brazil, moving to the country when he was three years old. He grew up there and attended college there before returning to the United States at age 21 and continued his college studies, getting married in the process.
Warkentien started his plastics packaging career in 1979, in the early days of PET bottles. He worked at Ethyl Corp., which was starting to manufacture PET and develop equipment to process it, at its Imco Containers business. He moved to Constar International Inc. becoming plant manager in the Kansas City area.
In 1997, Warkentien moved back to Brazil as general manager of an Alusuisse-Lonza plant, later Alcan Packaging. Then in 2001, Amcor Ltd. hired him as CEO of PET packaging in Brazil, covering blow molding and injection molding. After Amcor purchased the packaging division of Johnson Controls Inc., JCI already had a solid international management structure in place, so Warkentien came back to the United States. He was general manager of U.S. plants for Amcor in Lexington, Ky., helping the company grow in specialty custom packaging.
Working there from 2005 to early 2012, he managed investments of more than $35 million and added production of personal care, health care and pharmaceutical markets. Sales doubled during that period.
He went back Brazil again for a two-year management stint at a specialty pipe coating operation, including overseeing extrusion operations. He returned to Kansas City for a position at a company making aircraft and trucking refueling equipment.
Then Warkentien came to R&D/Leverage, where he's putting his Brazilian skills to work.