From travel-size hand gels to industrial-size disinfectants and food-grade barrels, the lid blew off demand for many kinds of containers with the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Blow molding machine builders got to work.
The increased need for squeeze bottles, spray bottles and single-use containers for goods like sanitizers, household cleaners and food products was immediate. Everyone started cleaning their hands, wiping off their surrounding surfaces and dining in more often to fend off the respiratory illness.
Although shoppers left store shelves bare in an early panic-buying frenzy, manufacturers ramped up production of the highly sought goods, often by purchasing more blow molding machines to increase capacity.
The pandemic gave Kautex Machines Inc., and most, if not all, the industry, an "opportunity to demonstrate what we are made of and how adaptable we are as an organization," according to Admir Dobraca, CEO of the North Branch, N.J.,-based subsidiary of Kautex Maschinenbau since February.
Dobraca succeeded Bill Farrant, who had managed the North American site for a decade for Kautex, which builds extrusion blow molding machines for the automotive and, more recently, the packaging markets. Kautex began its push into packaging in earnest this year after a majority shareholder provided "double-digit millions of euros" to invest in pharmaceutical and health care packaging.
Dobraca, who previously was president and CEO of Retal PA LLC and a regional manager of beverage packaging for Husky Injection Molding Systems, said 2020 has been a year of challenges and achievements at Kautex.
"Despite the downturn in automotive markets, we have met our budgets by shifting focus to consumer and industrial packaging. Results have been astonishing," Dobraca said in an email.
At W. Amsler Equipment Inc. in Bolton, Ontario, a manufacturer of all-electric linear PET stretch blow molding equipment, orders started pouring in for bottle-making machines in the February to March time frame, CEO Bruce Coxhead said in a phone interview.
The company's machines range from one to six cavities with outputs of 1,500-10,000 bottles per hour.
"Business went topsy-turvy because of COVID-19," Coxhead said. "I sold two machines from my house on a Saturday night off my shop floor. That's how crazy the market demand went. The hand sanitizer market has shot up, but I think it's plateaued and now I'm seeing it start to stabilize to the 20-28/410 neck finishes. We're starting to see runs on those sizes and some scarcity of preforms."
Amsler was sold to Stans, Switzerland-based Benpac Holding AG in January 2020. Coxhead said a formal announcement of that deal is expected in coming weeks.
Fred Piercy, president and general manager of R&B Plastics Machinery LLC in Saline, Mich., said changes in cleaning and home habits, such as grocery shopping and cooking, also increased demand for blow molding machines.
"People staying at home are buying more products to cook at home, and many of those come in plastic packaging," Piercy said in a phone interview. "Food and personal care applications have increased."