When Corona, Calif.-based blow molder Lighthouse Packaging LLC needed a spin trimmer for bottle production, President Ernie Hernandez looked to W. Amsler Equipment Inc., a Canada-based company founded nearly 30 years ago. Hernandez selected a $13,850 trimmer that could handle 6,000 bottles an hour and make quick adjustments for changes in height.
The payment terms were half down upon order and half "upon notice of readiness for shipment," according to the July 5, 2021, purchase order on the letterhead for "Amsler, a Benpac company."
Hernandez made both payments, cutting a check for the final installment on Oct. 4, 2021; it posted Nov. 19, 2021. However, the spin trimmer to finish bottles made from common materials like high and low density polyethylene, PET, polypropylene and PVC never arrived.
At first, Hernandez said delays were blamed on COVID-19, the inability to obtain parts and production problems.
"But then they've seemingly fallen off the face of the earth," Hernandez said of New York-based Benpac Holding Inc., a U.S. affiliate of Stans, Switzerland-based Benpac Group.
Benpac Holding had quietly acquired Amsler in January 2020 as part of a strategy to bring together leading packaging supply chain companies as a one-stop shop.
However, Hernandez's machine order now must make two stops as he turns to a second vendor to get the equipment Lighthouse Packaging needs.
The blow molding company's machine order coincided with both the closure of Amsler as part of a restructuring plan in North America and the liquidation of Benpac Holding AG in Europe.
The spin trimmer order fell through the cracks, according to Benpac Group CEO Marco Corvi. He said he will cancel the order and issue a refund as Hernandez requested.
"I have reached out to Lighthouse telling them we will resolve this shortly," Corvi said in an email Feb. 17.
Hernandez said he wanted a refund because he had already ordered a spin trimmer from a U.S. business.
"We're not a big company so this one was going to leave a mark," Hernandez said. "Our purchase was for a bottle spin trimmer so the monetary amount isn't great. It's just extremely frustrating. We still need a spin trimmer. We had to start the process all over again in finding a vendor that will provide what it is we need and wait for it to be produced."
This time, Hernandez is going with MTM Systems, a subsidiary of Lectro Engineering, in St. Louis.
"The machine I'm purchasing from MTM costs less, which is a blessing," Hernandez said.
Lighthouse Packaging is focused primarily on producing bottles for the personal care industry.
"We've just completed our sixth year of operations," Hernandez said. "The spin trimmer allows us to produce a wider neck opening in the bottle, which is either more challenging or impossible to accomplish using a typical in-mold finish."
The MTM spin trimmer is expected to ship in March.
"Since I never heard back from him [Corvi], I was left with no option but to pursue a machine with another vendor," Hernandez said. "That spin trimmer was originally quoted to be shipped in September of 2021."
When communication broke down with the machine builder, Hernandez said he had contacted an attorney about possible legal recourse regarding his unfilled order for the paid-off Amsler machine.
About the same time that Lighthouse Packaging's second check was cashed in November 2021, Amsler employees were locked out of their location in Vaughan, Ontario, for nonpayment of rent to the recently bankrupted Niigon Machines Ltd., which Benpac had also considered acquiring.
Niigon had billed Amsler about C$150,000 (US$119,619) for use of the space about 10 days before Niigon declared bankruptcy, Corvi told Plastics News for a previous story. He said a former Amsler employee failed to pay "incidental costs of the lease and parts of the rent" despite threats of lockout.
"We have had a very difficult time getting Amsler out of the Niigon building after Niigon's bankruptcy," Corvi said Feb. 17. "Also, the Amsler office manager was unfortunately on medical leave at the same time. Our records were not fully accessible."
Meanwhile, in Europe, a preliminary bankruptcy notice was issued for Benpac Holding AG on Nov. 16, 2021, for the former assembly division of Gallus Ferd. Rüesch AG, the former production site of Müller Martini AG, and the former site of Berghoff Mechanical Engineering AG, among others.
On Nov. 17, 2021, Benpac Group announced it was withdrawing from Switzerland as it implements a company transformation aimed at synergies and economies of scale.
In North America, businesses are operating as Benpac Packaging Canada Ltd., which is relocating from the closed Amsler site in Vaughn, Ontario, to a yet-to-be-named location, and Benpac Systems LLC, which is a production center in Johnstown, Pa., to make parts and controls and assemble machines.
"All the blow molding machines that were to be built at Amsler in Canada are now being built with the upgraded controls in Europe," Corvi said. "We are fulfilling all these orders. Unfortunately, the small spin trimmer slipped through the cracks."
With a $350 crate fee added in, Lighthouse Packaging paid a total of $14,200. Hernandez said "time will tell" if he gets the money back.
"How convenient that he all of a sudden found my emails after Plastics News reached out to him for comment," Hernandez said. "I feel it's quite unreasonable for him to expect that I would even consider allowing them to fulfill the order at this point."
Hernandez's lawyer, Richard Pumilia, said there is a lesson to be learned.
"My suggestion for other businesses to stay out of trouble like this is not to make the final payment for an ordered machine until you know for a fact that the machine is being shipped contemporaneously with the payment's being made," Pumilia said.