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    Bagmaker Reaps Rewards By Refocusing Its Business
National Plastek Inc. adds Bell-Mark presses to its bagmaking operation, and idea that looks better and better as time goes on.

At first glance, this story seems all too familiar: Mergers and consolidations create larger and larger corporations, and an industry that starts out with a healthy supply of small-to medium-sized competitors evolves into a market in which price makes economies of scale the rule and drives the little guy out of business. But what happens when the smaller company retools-changing course, adding new capabilities, and targeting a specific segment of its market?

In the case of extruder and bagmaker National Plastek, Dutton, MI the answer is that David and Goliath co-exist peacefully, thriving in their respective niches. National Plastek was purchased by its current owner in 1987. At the time, the company owned four extruders, one in-line bag machine, and two out-of-line bag machines. "We were a small supplier of high-density polyethylene trash bags back then," explains production manager Dan Murphy. "We operated for about two years that way until the larger companies got into that business. All of a sudden we were dealing with a commodity product, and any mistake you made would mean the company would lose money. We just couldn't compete." Instead of fighting for its share of what had essentially become a price-based business, National Plastek decided to re-examine its product offerings. The company transitioned itself into a "job shop," custom-manufacturing and tailoring bags for specific applications in industries as diverse as furniture, automotive, food, medical and drugs.

National Plastek operates out of a 40,000 sq-ft manufacturing facility and a 10,000 sq-ft warehouse. About 23 production employees work shifts around the clock, seven days a week. The plant houses six blown film extruders from Kiefel, Alpine, and Kuhne. Resin for HDPE films is supplied by Equistar. All loading systems and blenders are form Conair, and Battenfeld Gloucester and CMD winders. Battenfeld Gloucester also supplies in-line bagmaking equipment. Four bottom-seal bag machines from Amplas comprise the out-of-line bagmaking equipment. Corona treaters from Corona Designs and Pillar are positioned on five of the six extrusion lines. The company makes bags on a roll as well as individually cut and fold-in-place bags.


At about the same time National Plastek was changing its product focus, the company noticed a growing demand for printing on the film used to make bags. Murphy says this trend represented yet another opportunity for the company to set itself apart from its competition, and with the help of press manufacturer Bell-Mark, National Plastek did just that. "We started out by purchasing a Bell-Mark 12-by-12 inch flexo press, and then we turned around and bought two 12-by-8 printers," Murphy reports. "Being able to print on our film has opened up a lot of different markets that we typically would not have been able to reach." Since extruding and bagmaking are the company's primary business, National Plastek initially looked for a press that didn't require extensive operator training.

Murphy says the Bell-Mark press' ease of use sold him on that company's products from the start. "They're very easy to operate, which when you have to deal with training personnel, becomes key to getting you operation running right away," he explains. "The presses have a fixed anilox roll, so you simply adjust your fountain roll to apply the amount of ink you want on the anilox. It works the same way with the printing cylinder-you just adjust it down to pick up ink off the anilox roll." In order to keep the process as simple as possible, National Plastek uses the standard ink pan instead of ink pumps. This not only saves time but also reduces waste because less ink is mixed each time, Murphy says. Water-based inks for the presses are supplied by INX Intl.


National Plastek's initial foray into printing was an immediate success. However, it wasn't long before the company started to hear the same request from its customers over and over. "We kept hearing, Can you make bigger print?" So we stepped up to a stock model of an 18-by-10 press," says Murphy. Soon after that purchase, the company added a second press of the same size to yet again accommodate growing demands. Murphy says that last summer the requests for still larger print became too numerous to ignore, and the decision was made to add the company's biggest press to date. "We needed to be able to print a larger impression, because we have a lot of customers who require very large bags," he says. "Plus, we were getting into a situation where we couldn't run certain orders because the printers were already being used. If you're shutting down an extrusion line because you don't have a press, there's something wrong with that picture." Murphy looked at what other press manufacturers had to offer, combining the aisles of various trade shows, but he returned to Bell-Mark when the time arrived to purchase.

"I have looked around at other companies' equipment, but it's been really hard for me to find somebody that makes as good a press as Bell-Mark does. They've earned my loyalty." He says. National Plastek purchased a Bell-Mark 24x20 press which it mounted on a 60-in. wide frame; Murphy considers it to be the best press the company has ever had. Despite the high praise for the new press, all of the older models, including the first press, the company purchased from Bell-Mark, are still up and running. Murphy says Bell-Mark's continued support of its older products is another reason that keeps him coming back to the supplier. "On the first press we bought, we had a side plate that eventually failed,"says Murphy. "They could have said, "Well, this press is ten years old, so why don't you buy a new one?" or "This piece is going to be so expensive, you might as well spend the extra little bit of money and buy another press." But Bell-Mark's engineering department has drawings set up so that years after you purchase one of their presses, you can go to them and tell them you need a side panel for a press you bought in 1988."

To further anticipate wear and tear issues, Murphy explains, Bell-Mark stocks spare parts on the shelf that can be shipped to National Plastek within a day. Murphy also keeps spares of all of the company's anilox and fountain rolls to speed replacement for those critical parts. "Everything else is a bearing here or a bearing there," he adds. "You've just got to realize that we deal in water-based inks, and bearings and water don't typically go together very well. So it's just part of our preventive maintenance program that once a year we shut down and replace all of the bearings and swap out our anilox and fountain rollers." Otherwise, maintenance on the presses is minimal, and Murphy says if a printing problem presents itself, he tends to look at the inks being laid down rather than the press itself.


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By concentrating on its core markets, National Plastek has seen steady growth over the past ten years. The company attributes a good portion of that growth to its decision to offer printing to its customers. National Plastek plans to continue this growth strategy into the future, and Murphy says that as the company expands its extrusion capabilities its need for presses will most likely grow as well. "Bell-Mark has been consistently supplying us with better and better equipment as time has gone by. As we buy more equipment, I'm sure the need for presses will follow right along. We will most likely eventually retire our smaller presses and standardize with the larger presses. "We sell to a very diverse market, and we never really slow down.

Because we've added printing capability, we've been able to expand our customer base and grow along with it. The investment we've made in these presses has paid for itself many times over," Murphy sums up.

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The article above is reprinted from Paper Film Foil Converter Magazine. Users of this site are granted the limited permission to view this article on-line or print it locally for personal use. Any electronic or print reproduction, reprinting, retransmission, or alteration, in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited without the express prior written permission of Intertec Publishing.

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