Schoeneck Containers Inc. has always had an appetite for expansion, but the Wisconsin-based extrusion blow molder is continuing to ramp up growth thanks to the financial muscle of private equity.
Schoeneck's latest move, valued at nearly $8 million, includes the installation of a high-volume Graham Rotary Wheel extrusion blow molder as well as a 1,200-ton Engel injection molding press, CEO Tom Frank said.
"That's a big deal for us, being a regional blow molder, getting a piece of equipment like that," Frank said about the Graham wheel. "It's a game-changer for us."
"It's huge," said Josh Kouba, vice president of engineering at Schoeneck.
The Graham wheel being installed in Delavan, Wis., is called the Mighty 11 dual station model because it can create larger containers with 11 molds on each of two sides. That means a single rotation of the wheel can produce 22 containers, an output that is much higher than other extrusion blow molding technologies.
"I think coming from a regional player, we've always made investments in top-of-the-line technology. This piece of equipment for the dedicated line of business we have on it, just the amount of units we can kick out, is like three times what we could on a typical machine that we purchase. That's what's huge about it," Frank said.
Purchase of a Graham wheel will allow the company to shift production from other machines to the high-speed lines to create more capacity to win more work.
This latest expansion continues a history of growth at Schoeneck, which was acquired by private equity firm Mason Wells Inc. of Milwaukee in May 2020. Members of management, along with other investors, participated in the purchase of the previously family-owned operation.
Schoeneck, which dates back to 1972, has a 174,000-square-foot facility in New Berlin, Wis. But that headquarters location has no room to expand. This led the company to open a new 250,000-square-foot site in Delavan in 2019, which is where the new equipment is going. The company previously had looked at a site in Elkhorn, Wis., in 2018 before building in Delavan.
Schoeneck has always been a blow molder, but the company began injection molding in recent years. That's because customers asked the firm to create caps and closures, made through injection molding, for the blow molded containers they were buying, Frank explained. The Engel press that expands injection molding capacity already is installed.
"We just wound up getting a lot of our customers wanting us to provide the total package. They wanted to see a one-stop shop, that we could provide the lids and the closures for the canisters that we make," Frank said.
Added capacity in Delavan now allows Schoeneck to rethink the work that takes place in New Berlin. While they are both large facilities, the Delavan location is highly automated, and the New Berlin site relies more on workers.
Delavan has about 40 employees, with another six being added thanks to the new machinery. New Berlin has about 140 workers.
"We've been looking at product flow and looking at ways to automate the facility here," Frank said. "Now we have more options to be flexible and go after some additional pieces of business. … So that's really what that's doing for us."
"The added capacity in Delavan also helps us with the ability to phase out some older equipment here and help us really lay out the facility for better product flow and better automation," Kouba added during an online interview from the New Berlin site.
Having Mason Wells as a backer means more than the money the firm brings to the business, Frank said. The private equity firm has a history of making plastic packaging deals and provides added connections to Schoeneck.
"Now we are trying to take it to a different scale. We want to keep growing," Frank said. "We're pretty excited about our future and what we can do. I think there's a big drive at this organization to constantly improve and learn and that's part of the culture," Frank said. "We are not afraid to learn new things and try different stuff to be better in the long run. That's our goal."
Schoeneck, Frank said, also does some reciprocal blow molding and would like to continue expanding into additional technologies.
"We want to be the total solution, whether it's blow molded, injected molded. A rigid plastic solution with a cap, closure and label. That's where we are headed," the CEO said.