Converter's expansion plan brings clean room for bags.

A Wisconsin custom blown-film and bag converter has been growing steadily for the last several years, primarily because they use low-density polyethylene for their products.

The growth of Wisconsin Film and Bag Co., Shawano, WI, can also be attributed to handling numerous, relatively small orders, product customization, quick turnaround and creating flexible manufacturing lines and customer service systems to make it all work.

The company recently added a sixth blown-film production line and doubled the floor space of their production facility to be ready for even more growth.

Because their formula for success has worked so well, the firm decided not to change it, just redirect it a bit. WF&B is preparing to extend its success by concentrating custom expertise on a specific market segment, dean bags. Generally, they can be defined as bags used for food, produce and medical products, or more specifically, as those bags subject to regulatory agency requirements.

President Jack Riopelle explained the reasoning behind this move. First, the market segment is growing. Manufacturers have been putting agency-regulated products into more sophisticated flexible packaging at a rapid pace. They're using poly bags not just in the packaging seen in the stores, but for handling goods internally during production like tray and tub liners and poly liners for bulk produce or meat cartons.

Second, the regulatory agencies are becoming more demanding as they see more of the newer types of packaging, and as they respond to an increasing public concern for safety and demand for protection.

A third factor is WF&B's geographic position. Wisconsin and the surrounding states are leading packagers of dairy products, produce, grain, poultry, beef and pork. There are a significant number of medical manufacturers nearby.

Apart from marketing logic, WF&B practices common sense. They stay close to their customers. As a group, customers report seeing more stringent regulation coming. Consequently, they're looking for more help with regulated packaging from suppliers like Wisconsin Film and Bag.

To serve this segment of the market, the company was required to make changes in the manufacturing area. WF&B recently dedicated a 10,000-sq. ft. addition to its primary' facility. The new space, large enough to hold five full production lines, was designed from the ground up as a clean-room facility. Employees working in the room observe strict clean-room procedures.

The first production line in the new room, a blown-film system from Battenfeld Gloucester Engineering, Gloucester, MA, is also up and running. Supplied by a 3 1/2-in. Battenfeld Contracool air-cooled extruder, this line uses a twin-die configuration to enhance production flexibility.

Twin-die extrusion lines have received some bad press in the past. Jeff Rupple, vice president and general manager, decided a few years ago the benefits of running two tubular products simultaneously on the same line would optimize the output capabilities of the extruder.

At that time, following an extensive evaluation of the major manufacturers' twin-die capabilities, Rupple turned to Battenfeld Gloucester to design a twin-die system for the fifth production line. This move to twin dies was so successful that six months following the update of line five, WF&B updated an older 3 1/2-in. GEEC extruder and replaced a single die with a twin-die arrangement.

Bagmaking machinery, of necessity, figured prominently in WF&B's manufacturing planning. Line number five was installed with Gloucester's model 418HE bag machine in-line. Its electronic controls enabled on-the-fly product changes by adjusting the bag cutoff length from a computer console.

The new clean-room line goes one step further, using Gloucester's newest in-line bagmaker, the model 4180, which has completely electronic controls and incorporates a brushless ac-digital servo motor as its main drive.

According to Rupple and Riopelle, the older machines had hydraulic variators requiring oil that could contaminate a clean room. Because the 4180 doesn't have hydraulic variators and uses new hydraulic technology, the potential for contamination is virtually eliminated.

The flexibility of the converting line, including the bagmaker, gives WF&B the edge it needs to stay on top of the this segment of the custom-bag business. Because the new area has room for up to four more lines, the firm is well positioned as that market expands.

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