- May 01, 2000, Edward Boyle, Contributing Editor
Ray Glenn, VP of Apollo Plastics, Jersey City, NJ, never went to medical school, but his company's approach to customer service sometimes makes him wish he had. "At times it's like an emergency room in here," Glenn says of Apollo's efforts to respond to urgent customer demands. "Everything we sell goes to other manufacturers. If they're out of film or out of bags, they're in trouble. And we have to respond."
The fairly recent addition of a 64-in. Battenfeld Gloucester film line has added not only to the company's response time but to its quality levels as well.
Bread and Butter... and More
The company has been involved in what it calls a "bread and butter business"--the manufacture of blown film and in-line bag converting--since its founding in 1966. Apollo has relied on Battenfeld Gloucester film and bagmaking equipment since it was established. Today, it has 65 employees that operate a total of 16 film lines from Davis-Standard, Reifenhauser and Gloucester, some of which are enhanced by Gloucester 4180 in-line bagmaking machines and 1001 Series winders.
In addition to the extrusion lines, Apollo also operates five one-color Bell-Mark presses and one two-color Manzoni press that are portable and can operate in-line on any of the film machines. The presses are used to print such things as company logos and product safety warnings. (Ink suppliers are proprietary.)
Ray Glenn emphasizes that his company's newest Battenfeld Gloucester lines provide not just additional volume-increasing its pound capacity by 15%-20% in the past several years--but are a "big step forward for Apollo" in other ways.
Besides being happy with the increased output, which Glenn describes as at least two to three times that of conventional lines at speeds up to 350 fpm, he says the finished film provides a big jump in quality. The improved converting speed and quality of this line's products have allowed Apollo to capture critical applications in demanding markets that previously could not be entered, including converters, laminators, and shrink bundling film applications.
"We're very pleased with the new lines," says Glenn. "We see a lot of new business potential, particularly in packaging, and the higher level of control on this new line positions us to get it." In terms of output, Glenn notes that yield from the 64-in. line is equal to or better than an older 124-in. line.
Glenn, whose father and uncle founded the business, notes that the diversity of its film lines allows Apollo to produce film from 0.0006 to 12 mils. End-use products converted from the film products include box liners, bags, shipping sacks, pallet covers, shrink bags, and more. The factory, located in a long-established industrial zone within Jersey City, is using "every square inch" of its 55,000-sq-ft building to capacity. "Gloucester," says Glenn, "knows our plant, so they went out of their way to help us put a good-sized line in a pretty tight space."
Glenn believes that operating a single plant is another key to quality control, allowing Apollo to offer more consistent product than it could from multiple facilities.
"We can be very hands-on, and that's something we've found our customers appreciate," explains Glenn. "We have total control over what we're making. They know that we're very growth-oriented and continually adding to upgrade equipment to meet customer needs as far as quality and service.
"The edge we have when we put in new equipment is the ability to turn things around faster than other people," notes Glenn. "And, our level of quality is a little higher and more consistent. With our one plant, customers can be certain about what they're going to get."
Maximizing Floor Space
Ray Glenn likes to show off the new lines, or more precisely, he likes to show the quality of the rolls on the winders. Some of his older lines are immediately adjacent, making it easy to compare. While the film rolls on the older lines look good, the difference between them and the rolls on the new line is clear. The film coming from the new blown film line, for example, is noticeably flatter and smoother; consequently, Glenn says, it converts better and faster.
Moreover, notes Glenn, "we are talking about film with consistently exceptional performance properties, roll after roll."
One of the space-saving features Glenn appreciates is the 90-deg turn in the very short adapter carrying the melt from the 80 mm, 30:1 air-cooled Contracool extruder to the die. This enables the die to sit alongside the extruder rather than directly in front of the extruder.
According to Glenn, the air-cooled extruder offers an interesting and economical side benefit: When the outside weather becomes warmer, the air carrying heat away from the Contracool's barrel can be vented out of the building. When the outside weather turns cold, that same warm air is used to heat the factory.
Material feeding is by gravimetric technology to assure high precision and constant monitoring of blending and feeding, according to Glenn. The in-line cylindrical filter screen is built into the section of the conduit emerging from the extruder.
Access to the screen pack at the 90-deg bend makes cleaning much more efficient, says Glenn, adding that this feature saves time in screen changes, although he notes that the melt quality from the grooved feed extruder is such that changes are needed less frequently than with other older lines. "Typically, one change after six weeks of running is all that has been needed, which really helps us maximize our uptime."
"Swing Line" Means Flexibility
The new Battenfeld Gloucester blown film system is a "swing line," meaning it will process both low- and high-density materials. Apollo's business has been mostly in low and linear low-density polyethylene products. However, the company has worked with HDPE and expects to be producing more products in both standard and high molecular weight HDPE in the near future.
Glenn explains that some of the "swing" features of this line include the die, the internal bubble cooling (IBC) control, and the grooved feed extruder, which can process even HMWHDPE at high throughput rates. The IBC reduces set-up time to a quarter of what it had been, he notes, and its uniform cooling of the bubble increases output as much as 35%.
The Digisonic layflat control (from Battenfeld Gloucester) on this line uses patented noncontact sensors to precisely monitor bubble diameter. On this line, there are two sets of sensors: one set for LD and medium-weight HD materials, and another set for HMWHD. Glenn says layflat width and bubble dimensions remain virtually the same throughout entire runs with no intervention.
Low Profile Die Saves Time
The die is a 12-in. model of Gloucester's taper lock alignment and pin insert technology. The Optiflow's design allows easy die gap changes, an essential asset in a swing line, Glenn reports. He explains that, because the total height of the die is less than 40 in., the increased centerline distance from the die to the nip increases cooling and throughput rates.
The shorter design also significantly reduces polymer residence times. This improves film quality by minimizing or eliminating the material degradation generally associated with longer residence times.
Glenn is most impressed by how the Optiflow's height saves time. Platforms or steps around the die are not needed. The operator can see the frostline simply by walking over and looking in. The film is easily grabbed to begin the string-up process, using a fraction of the time it takes with a conventional die. That translates to significant time savings on startups and restarts after changes.
"Overall," says Glenn, "it's a die made for easy use, and it's obvious our operators like working with it much more than older designs."
The Optiflow is Apollo's first nonrotating die. Previously, gauge bands were randomized by die rotation. Glenn points to the Traversanip(r) oscillating hauloff on the top of the tower. "The T-Nip," he says, "creates a unique roll profile that the rotating dies can't approach. The virtually zero gauge banding that results from using the Traversanip and IBC is a big part of the new higher quality."
Comparison Shopping Pays Off
Despite its long-term relationship with Battenfeld Gloucester, when Apollo decided it wanted a line of this type, company officials went shopping. "I've been very satisfied with the responsiveness of Gloucester's service and support over the years," says Glenn, "but it makes sense to check all the options."
They found that Gloucester not only met all of Apollo's specifications but also was able to recommend and provide some custom items that helped improve the flexibility of the line.
Since Apollo wanted to do in-line gusseting, but not all the time, Gloucester's engineers designed a retractable gusset board/side guide configuration into the film path below the Traversanip hauloff. "It is a great time saver," Glenn says, "and a good example of how Gloucester works with the company on any request, even if it involves something totally new."
Apollo's 64-in. Gloucester blown film line also includes the Model 1001D winder, which Glenn notes has rugged construction and discrete automated controls that put the finishing touch to the extremely high quality rolls this line makes.
"The real beauty of this line," says Glenn, "is that it combines reliability and cost control, such as minimal maintenance and downtime, with extremely high quality film. We have the tightest possible tolerances for gauge and layflat, and that's why we can move into super-critical applications. We can get the quality we need and at the same time downgauge for cost control where possible. All of this together is what helps Apollo gain entry into new and more profitable markets."
He adds, "More importantly, Apollo stays in those accounts because the high quality, which is easily seen and appreciated by customers, is consistent, order after order."
The company has yet another Battenfeld Gloucester film line being set up as this article goes to press. It is a 94-in. line, strictly for LLDPE, that includes many of the same features as the 64-in. line, including the Traversanip oscillating hauloff, the 1001 Series winders, and a 4180 bag machine. It is scheduled for startup by the end of April.
"The newest line has given us a good shot of momentum in meeting customer demands," Glenn says of the 94-in. line. "It was built to improve the quality, production capabilities, and lead times in our bread and butter business."
Battenfeld Gloucester Engineering Co. Inc., Gloucester, MA; 978/281-1800; bge.battenfeld.com
Davis-Standard Egan, Somerville, NJ; 908/722- 6000; davis-standard.com
Reifenhauser Inc. Lawrence, MA; 978/686-2700; reifenhauser.com
Bell-Mark Corp., Pine Brook, NJ; 973/882-0202; bell-mark.com
Manzoni-Costruzioni Mellaniche, Rep. in N.A. by Apollo Pack Inc., Toronto, Ont., Canada; ph: 905/946-8716; fax: 905/946-9746.