David Sawler (left), Copol's vice president of business/product development, and Denis Lano, vice president of operations and general manager.
Most of us probably know Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island for a few specific things: the Cabot Trail, the coal industry, and maybe the Rankin Family.
Cast polypropylene (CPP) film doesn’t exactly leap to mind, but for Cape Breton’s Copol International Ltd., manufacturing highly customized CPP is its sole business – and lately business has been good.
Since its start-up date 20 years ago, when it took over a 90,000-square-foot plant that had been producing PVC stretch film, Copol has slowly grown into a major presence in the North American CPP industry, currently providing customized mono- and multi-layer films for food and textile packaging, industrial applications and heath care products for customers across North America – just as CPP itself has been penetrating traditional packaging and non-packaging applications.
“CPP delivers a unique set of properties, in particular high-temperature resistance and excellent stiffness and great optics,” said Denis Lanoë, Copol’s vice president of operations and general manager. “It’s a niche market for high quality, high end products, and it’s where we’ve always focused our efforts.”
A NEW ADDITION TO THE FAMILY
The company has a variety of different CPP film structures, from three single-layer lines to one three-layer line, and is in the process of commissioning a brand-new five-layer, Filmex cast PP line from Windmoeller & Hoelscher. The addition of the new W&H line will expand Copol’s film gauge range from 0.7 mil up to 6 mil and facilitate the eventual production of CPP with up to nine layers, allowing the company to offer more to its current customers and pursue some new ones. “Customers are looking for more sophisticated films, barrier films, special applications for lamination, and pealable films,” Lanoë said. “Having five layers will allow us to add different characteristics for food grade applications and focus on new, value driven product development. The first part of the line arrived in late June, and the line will be running by the early fall.”
How well does Copol do CPP? Both of Copol’s primary material suppliers, LyondellBasell and ExxonMobil, have used Copol’s production equipment as an extension of their own R&D operations to test new resin formulations and film structures, Lanoë said.
SECRETS TO SUCCESS
As with any manufacturer trying to stay ahead these days, the name of the game for Copol is product flexibility combined with control. The company operates multiple slitter/rewinders that can produce custom finished rolls ranging from 0.75 inches to 72 inches. Copol determines the optimal resin/additive packages for each application, Lanoe said, but it also works to ensure that alternatives are always available to strengthen supply-chain management. “Offering a broad portfolio of resin/additive packages allows for product customization to meet specific and unique requirements,” Lanoë said. “We can customize an existing product to meet specific client performance parameters, or develop a new product that best delivers specific performance parameters. Either way, it helps our customers differentiate themselves and strengthens their positions in the market.”
And because of the depth and breadth of the product range, there’s no such thing as a dedicated production line at Copol. “We will combine orders from various customers in a single production run as needed,” Lanoë said.
If you’ve ever been to Cape Breton, you know that it’s not exactly centrally-located. “While we’re obviously not situated close to most of our markets, we remain accessible to everywhere in North America and we ship as far away as California,” Lanoë said. “Seventy-five per cent of our business is in the U.S., and we can offer lead times of two or three weeks to anywhere on the Continent.” What about the fabled manpower drain from the Maritimes to points west? “People assume that it’s difficult to keep employees in Cape Breton, but it’s not the case with us: most of our employees have been here from the start, and we have almost no worker turnover,” Lanoë said.
Not even during the Great Recession. “We experienced a slight slowdown during the recession, but it wasn’t drastic, and things have recovered since,” said Lanoë. “Our customers stayed with us throughout because of our service, quality, and flexibility.”