Sparkle Returns to the Bottle Market
After a few lean years marked by high-profile bankruptcies in the early 2000s, the scales began to tip back in favor of growth for the Canadian blow molding industry last year."For a few years there w...
After a few lean years marked by high-profile bankruptcies in the early 2000s, the scales began to tip back in favor of growth for the Canadian blow molding industry last year.
“For a few years there were very few startups,” says Peter Tordy, president of BMPS Blow Molding Parts & Systems (Concord, ON). “In 2003 things picked up.”
There’s a feeling of optimism in the industry, based on an upbeat finish to 2003. At Richards Packaging, an extrusion blow molder headquartered in Mississauga, ON, president Howard Sandys reports business was brisk in the last quarter of 2003. “I was somewhat surprised at that, because U.S. business is getting more difficult to find for both our direct sales and for our customers due to the currency situation,” says Sandys.
Richards is both a manufacturer and distributor of bottles and containers to the food and health and beauty industries.
Bev Agnew of Automa North America (Burlington, ON), which sells extrusion and injection stretch blow molding machines, says quoting activity for new machines was also vigorous at year end.
EXPANDING DESPITE A SLOW ECONOMY
Cousins-Currie, an extrusion blow molder which produces proprietary bottles for institutional food, agricultural chemical, household chemical and sanitation industries, opened a new plant and head office in 2001 in Toronto. Since then it has added several Davis Standard FHB blow molding machines. The most recent capacity additions were scheduled to come on-stream in January and February 2004.
President and CEO Sean Seawright reported in a company newsletter that a diversified customer base of “best-in-class” clients has helped Cousins-Currie maintain growth in the slow economy of 2002-2003. “As a result of partnering with the ‘best’, Cousins-Currie experienced double digit growth in 2002 and is on target to duplicate that in 2003. In fact, we are one of the few industrial blow molders in North America who are expanding.”
Seawright says that Cousins-Currie has invested heavily in its engineering design group in recent years, and that resources and funding have also been set aside for research and development.
One tool of the engineering and design group is a made-in-Canada blow molding simulation program. Cousins-Currie is part of the National Research Council’s Special Interest Group for blow molding (SIG Blow) which operates out of the Industrial Materials Institute (IMI) in Boucherville, QC. The members of SIG Blow have developed a software package that will simulate the blow molding process from parison creation to part inflation, and perform structural finite element analysis to verify part integrity.
A recent innovation at Cousins-Currie is the manufacture of a two-neck, single-chamber container on a two-station shuttle machine. In the U.S., these containers are generally made on a wheel machine. The container is often fitted with a spout and used for liquid household laundry detergent. The positive reception to this package has opened doors for Cousins-Currie in other industries. The company intends to push the double-neck package into non-traditional areas.
PET bottle manufacturer Ascent Ltd. (Mississauga, ON) has expanded its capacity by installing a SIG Corpoplast stretch blow molding machine purchased at NPE in June 2003. The new unit, a Blowmax 20/III, will be used for 500 ml PET bottles. It can produce 30,000 bottles per hour.
Ascent is a privately-held supplier of PET bottles, with two main product lines: bottles for water ranging from 250 ml to 1.5 L, and 473-ml bottles for juices, dairy and teas.
The company was founded in 1988, and expanded in 2002 with the purchase of two high capacity, 20-cavity stretch blow molding machines. One of these was a SIG Corpoplast Blowmax 20 Series III, similar to the one purchased this year.
“The PET business is really doing well,” says Bev Agnew of Automa. “Cooking oils, like olive oil, have mostly switched over, even the larger sizes. We’re also noticing other foods like vinegar converting to PET.” She also notes that hotel amenities bottles and cosmetics are strong growth areas for the crystal clear resin.
As an indicator of the widespread growth of PET containers, consider figures from Amcor, a global packaging supplier with operations in Canada. Amcor’s PET packaging operations reported volume growth of 15% in the company’s fiscal first quarter, ended Sept. 30, 2003. (Volumes in Canada dropped 7% due to the appreciating dollar and a strike by an Amcor customer.)
In addition, the number of injection stretch blow molders in Canada has increased in recent years, according to data in the Canadian Plastics Directory and Buyers’ Guide. In the 1995 edition, 17 companies listed themselves as performing injection stretch blow molding. In 2004, that category had grown to 26. (Injection stretch blow molding is used almost exclusively for PET containers.)
“I think a lot of long-time extrusion blow molders have bought PET machines to add to their mix,” says Tordy.
THE GLOBAL VILLAGE
Global competition is becoming a factor in blow molding, even though the maxim in the industry has always been that it’s not economical to ship air (empty bottles).
Richards Packaging’s Howard Sandys reports that some cosmetics packages are being imported from Asia, and that preforms can now economically be sourced from around the world.
BMPS’ Tordy has also noted an increase in Asian imports of blow molded articles. “Cheap Asian competition now affects toys, housewares, etc. Articles that we once thought you could not ship economically are now being imported from offshore.”
According to Tordy, small blow molded items, such a hotel amenities bottles and cosmetics containers, are and will continue to be imported. Large parts have felt the heat of Asian competition for some time now, but continuous extrusion blow molded applications haven’t been affected much yet, he says.
UPSTREAM GROWTH: All those PET bottles need preforms
The sale of a fast-growing PET preform manufacturer in Quebec to a capital pool company in Vancouver received final approval in December 2003, giving the preform manufacturer Ameriplas an infusion of capital for growth.
Although termed a sale, the transaction will effectively make Ameriplas International Ltd. of Marieville, QC, a public company, while maintaining control in the hands of the original owners. Cordova Industries Ltd. is the capital pool company which acquired Ameriplas, and subsequently changed its name to Ameriplas Holdings.
The three primary shareholders of Ameriplas — Clement Lussier, chairman and CEO; Andr Lussier; and Franois Fournier, president and COO — own a majority of the shares in Ameriplas Holdings. The transaction raised almost $700,000 in equity financing for Ameriplas, which plans to move to a larger facility and expand its capacity.
Ameriplas began molding preforms in December 1999, and had sales of $2 million in 2002. Sales in the first half of 2003 surpassed that figure. The company is now positioning itself to capture large orders for major North American bottling clients.
New molds and machinery were recently acquired, and Ameriplas expected to move into a new facility in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, QC, early in 2004.
LEAN, BUT NOT MEAN, BLOW MOLDER OPENS IN MONTREAL
Magellan Plastics Inc., a new extrusion blow molder, began production in Montreal last fall. President Attila Joo describes the operation as a “custom” molding shop. Magellan doesn’t have a catalog of stock bottles it produces; rather it has a wide selection of blow molding heads to let it run a wide variety of customers’ molds.
Joo says he’s been in the blow molding business 1991, and decided to strike out on his own last year. “There is a market for a good quality, service-oriented blow molder.”
Magellan has two machines, one high-output 6-cavity unit, and a second smaller machine suitable for the short-run market. The company has clients in chemical and industrial markets, pl
us some health and beauty contracts.
“Our main focus is to provide good customer service,” says Joo. “Our strength is that we’re a small, lean operation.”