Diversification: Bemis Fits the Mold

Processor has grown and diversified in many ways since its origin.

The roots of Bemis Manufacturing Co. run deep. As deep as 1901, in fact, when it opened its doors in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., as White Wagon Works, making small wagons used by kids to deliver newspapers. Then it branched out into wicker/rattan furniture, then laminated wood toilet seats that it made for Kohler.

It branched out into plastics as a result of World War II. The military was consuming brass and most other metals, so Bemis developed a nylon-based hinge for toilet seats. Even then, the company was still wood-focused, making bowling pins, sled components, billiard balls, and assorted other products.

It got into plastics in a bigger way when it introduced the first all-plastic toilet seat in the late 1950s, and soon after that morphed into what Steven Kolste, director of market and business development, terms a “regular injection molder trying to fill machines.” Initial products included bowls, spatulas, and hamper frames.
Since those humble beginnings, Bemis has evolved into a multi-process, multi-market company that is difficult to define. It got into profile extrusion in 1976 with the purchase of Wisconsin Plastics. And its injection molding business grew from four machines in 1968 to roughly 30 just 10 years later.

“In plastics we went from being known for toilet seats to being known for large, molded-in-color parts for lawn and garden, to being a big-machine specialist, to being experts in co-injection molding,” says Tom Weber, v.p. of sales. “We’re all those things, and more.”

Adds Randy Spatz, project engineer, “It’s all in the way we look at things. Some say Bemis is a large-part molder that utilizes co-injection molding. We look at our presses more like multi-barrel machines. With different programming, that allows us to sequentially fill molds for multi-component overmolding or even gas-assist applications. We don’t stand still. We’re constantly evaluating new technologies and forming partnerships with suppliers to help us develop new products and enter new markets.”

Bemis has also stayed ahead of the technology curve. Since 1986 every injection machine it has purchased has been equipped with a robot. Presses can have as many as five robots on them, providing assembly and a wide variety of other secondary operations. Recently, it moved from molding shopping-cart components for a major big-box retailer to providing the customer with a completely assembled cart.

Bemis of late has also diversified its equipment lineup to include presses as small as 33 tons. “Just a few years ago we didn’t have anything smaller than 440 tons,” Spatz recalls. “As a result, for certain projects that might have required 10 or 12 different tools for the same end product, we had to subcontract a lot of the smaller parts. But with the lower-tonnage machines we’ve done a lot less of that and have really broadened our horizons.”