Plastek Inc. adds Bell-Mark presses to its bagmaking operation,
and idea that looks better and better as time goes on.
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
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
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
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
BIGGER AND BETTER
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
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.
THE ROAD AHEAD
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.
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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