In-house sheet production allows Tech II to vertically integrate to hasten product development, control costs.

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Three years ago Tech II, then just an injection molder, became the first North American processor to team IML technology with thermoforming. To gain a further edge, Eric Shiffer, company president, decided to expand into sheet extrusion with a new multi-layer line from Welex (below).

Tech II just won't stand still. A few short years after becoming the first North American processor to implement in-mold labeling (IML) for thermoforming, the Springfield, Ohio, firm  has made yet another move by expanding into sheet extrusion.

Mind you, this is a 44-year-old company that until 2010 was only an injection molder. Even today, molding is still a huge part of Tech II’s business. It runs 50 presses in two plants, producing a whopping 15 million pieces/day.

But three years ago the processor saw an opportunity to expand its business. It looked at IML, but didn’t want to be just another molder to offer this technology. So Tech II decided to break new ground—both literally and figuratively. It added 52,000 ft² of space in Springfield. While that plant expansion originally was intended to house Tech II’s IML thermoforming operation, it is now used for warehousing. Since then, Tech II has added a new 240,000 ft² headquarters plant a few miles away from its first facility. Most of this space is used for manufacturing; it also houses a tech center for R&D.

Tech II started in thermoforming IML with a Model FT3500 machine from Thermoforming Systems LLC (TSL), Union Gap, Wash., and equipped that with a multi-cavity mold and a high-performance labeling system from Hekuma in Germany. That machine is about to be moved to the new plant, where it will join a second forming machine, TSL’s trim-in-place FT4000, with IML technology provided this time by Ilsemann in Germany.

“Three years ago, we were experiencing the difficulties of a mature, competitive market,” explains Eric Shiffer, Tech II president. “We decided to invest in thermoforming IML in order to leapfrog injection molding IML, thereby creating the only North American manufacturer of thermoformed IML packaging. This creates a high-quality lid-to-container interface to compete with all-injection-molded containers and lids. It also enables the added benefits of a thermoformed container, including multi-layer and barrier structures.”

That first foray was a success, as Tech II secured a major project to provide a one-of-a-kind thermoformed IML package for an undisclosed application. Interestingly, Tech II ultimately added injection molded IML technology to produce the lid that goes with this container.

And now, Tech II is extruding its own polypropylene sheet for its thermoforming operation. In January, it installed a line from Welex, Blue Bell, Pa., consisting of 4.5-in. and 2.5-in. extruders capable of producing two- or three-layer sheet with film-lamination capability.

The modular line can be expanded to add up to five more extruders plus additional rolls for supplemental sheet cooling. This will enable Tech II to produce high-barrier sheet structures containing EVOH and adhesive layers, or two-color sheet with a core layer of 100% scrap.

The modular design of the Welex DB-W feedblock allows sections (and extruders, too) to be added as necessary. The additional extruders would connect directly to the Welex Super Sentinel control station for “plug-and-play” simplicity.

“The decision to manufacture our own sheet came from a desire for greater vertical integration and to control quality and costs,” says Shiffer. “But even more importantly, it allows us to experiment and innovate on a confidential basis, accelerating the innovation cycle. This allows us to experiment with products in a proprietary way, without giving away any secrets we develop. If we find something that really works well, we have a great head start.” Tech II winds sheet into rolls.

Shiffer says he went with Welex because of that firm’s “leadership and expertise in barrier solutions,” among other things.