Seventy-Five Years and Counting for Bancroft Bag

With people living longer these days, a few of you actually may remember 1924. But if you don't (or if you weren't even alive yet), there are a few things worth noting that happened that year. In 1924 the Washington Senators beat the New York Giants in the seventh game of the World Series. The Winter Olympic games were given the official blessing of the IOC (International Olympic Committee). And, Bancroft Bag, a family-owned bagmaking business, opened its doors in West Monroe, LA.

Well, the Senators aren't around anymore (they transferred to Minneapolis and became the Twins); the Giants moved to San Francisco; and the IOC now schedules the Summer and Winter Olympics in two-year intervals.

While Bancroft Bag also has experienced many changes over the years, it's still a family-owned business operating at its original site in West Monroe.

Milestones and Turning Points
The independent bagmaking company celebrated its 75th anniversary last September, complete with two-days' worth of activities for its 450 employees.

T.O. Bancroft Jr., recently retired president, talks about the milestone: "We're especially proud of this anniversary, not just in terms of longevity but in how and why our company has continued to grow and prosper through the years. From the time my father established Bancroft Bag in 1924 until now, our goals have not changed: We hire the best people, give them the respect and support they deserve, and in return, we always get the best from them. That translates into superior quality products and continuous innovation. Whenever a customer has a packaging problem, our people immediately view it as a challenge and inevitably come up with a new and better bag."

The company has experienced yet another turning point since it marked the special anniversary last fall: A new captain now stands at the helm of Bancroft Bag. Bonnie Woods, daughter of T.O. Bancroft Jr., took over the presidency and CEO position in November at her father's request.

"He asked me this last summer to take over as president," says Woods. "I was quite excited to fill the position; I grew up with this business and, as a girl, spent a lot of time with my grandfather, T.O. Bancroft Senior, the founder of the company. Basically, I have heard 'bag talk' all of my life."

According to Woods, Bancroft Bag has grown tremendously since her grandfather started the company. "The first year of operation, the company was housed in a 5,000-square-foot facility, had 16 employees, one self-opening bag style, and served only the carbon black market."

Today, Bancroft Bag produces its bags in a 300,000-sq-ft facility; provides bags for a host of markets, including pet food, fertilizer and other chemicals, cement, and more; and has no less than 15 bag styles, 7 of which are specialty bags that were developed in-house.

Giving Customers a Double-Patch Bag
Among Bancroft's specialties is the double-patch bag, a pasted-valve bag with a patch applied to both the top and the bottom of the satchel. According to VP of sales Dennis Pace, Bancroft is the only bag manufacturer in the US now producing this type of bag. "Although there is one competitor who can apply a patch on either the top or bottom of the bag, Bancroft is the only one that can apply a patch to both."

Louis Rothschild, VP of technical operations, says the development of this bag at Bancroft is a demonstration of the company's response to its customers' needs. "A lot of our customers in the chemical industry have some ties to the European market, and virtually all of the bags in Europe have patches on the top and bottom of the pasted-valve-style bag. So there was substantial customer interest in producing this style of bag domestically."

Prior to 1999, Bancroft was producing the pasted-valve-style bag on four of its bag machines, one from Windmoeller & Hoelscher and three Sheldahls (a company now owned by Battenfeld Gloucester). But Bancroft soon realized that it needed a new bagmaking machine.

Rothschild explains: "We hadn't made any significant investments in that type of equipment for about ten years, and we were, frankly, beginning to fall behind the rest of the industry in our capabilities here. We had made the decision to continue producing the pasted-valve style of bag, so we decided that the only way we could do that was to make an investment in new technology."

That new technology turned out to be a 2379 Universal Bottomer from W&H.

"This model has been out a couple of years," notes Rothschild, "but an innovation that it now features is a different configuration for the drying section on the bottomer."

Rothschild says the new W&H bottomer produces only the pasted-valve-style bag, but he adds that this type of bag can have different features. "[This bottomer] can put a filling spout in [each bag] with up to four different materials in the filling spout. We call the filling spout a 'sleeve,' so basically, you can have up to four layers in the sleeve. That's unique for our industry. In addition, the machine can put patches on both the top and the bottom, which is, of course, key to the new bag."

More Control, Less Personnel
Rothschild says the company is quite pleased with the bottomer's controls and operating functions. "It has computerized change- over capabilities so that once you've run a bag with certain features, it stores those feature settings in the machine. When you need to come back to those features, you just call up that unique identifier for that bag, and the machine adjusts to the correct size and setup. The bottomer also came with an automatic palletizer section, which helps our efficiency. With all of our other bottomers, you need one or two people to stack bags off the end of the machines. And you still need to go to a separate operation for palletizing. So, this machine has not only eliminated the person or people needed at the end of the machine, but also the tow motor driver who is moving it to the palletizing area. It's all done in one operation with this bottomer."

Rothschild calls the bottomer's speed "remarkable." "This one bottomer, in capacity, has more than replaced three of our older bottomers."

He says the new 95-ft machine is capable of producing 50 million units/yr (250-270 new bags/min), compared to the 15 million that one of the older bottomers can produce annually (about 80 bags/min).

And Bancroft couldn't have been more satisfied with W&H's response to itsdelivery needs, Rothschild reports. "They were anxious to get this new design into the US, and we were anxious to get the equipment, so things moved pretty rapidly. From the time we decided we were going to buy it until it was ready to be installed, only seven months passed. That's pretty fast, even for W&H."

In addition to the rapid-response delivery time, W&H also provided training for Bancroft's operators. "Because this piece of equipment encompassed such a technological leap from anything we had in this area, we sent four operators to Germany to learn how to run it," says Rothschild.

More Than Bagmaking
Bancroft Bag also prints the bags it produces. The company currently operates four older flexo presses manufactured by W&H; two other flexo presses made by a now-defunct manufacturer; a recently installed Kidder six-color, central impression, flexo press; and an offset press manufactured by Taiyo.

A fifth W&H CI flexo press -- a 56-in.-wide, eight-color Olympia Stellaflex -- was installed in 1998 and has increased Bancroft's printing capacity "probably by 25 percent," says Rothschild. He reports the press can run at speeds to 1,100 fpm, features a UV curing station, and like Bancroft's other presses, is capable of in-line slitting.

Dennis Pace says the decision to buy the Stellaflex also came out of customer demand. "We're in an unusual position here at Bancroft; we have been in a sold-out position for the last year-and-a-half. And that started when we began to gain more and more business in pet food accounts across the country. Most of those accounts were demanding UV lacquer and seven- and eight-color printing. We had to increase our capacity to cover that demand."

Bancroft buys substrates from numerous suppliers, including paper from International Paper, Champion, Longview Fibre, and Tolko. Film is supplied to the company by Coating & Laminating Specialties, Bemis Converter Films, Louisiana Plastics, Cadillac Plastic & Chemical, Inteplast, Ludlow, and Van Leer Flexibles Inc. Ludlow and Coating & Laminating Specialties also supply foils. Bancroft uses only water-based inks. Main suppliers for inks and UV lacquer are Sun Chemical and Progressive Inks.

Amid a flurry of activity in the last year or so -- with the anniversary celebration, a new president, new bag developments, and new machinery installations -- Bancroft remains a fixture in West Monroe and a company faithful to its original goals.

Says new head honcho Bonnie Woods, "We're still very much focused on innovation and on providing the best customer service we possibly can. As far as the future, well ... we're always looking to see what's out there. Someday, hopefully, we'll have a second plant, possibly in a different area. But, for now, we're steady at it here down South, and we're looking gorward to doing business for 75-plus years to come."

Supplier Information
Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp., Lincoln, RI; 401/333-2770; whcorp.com

Battenfeld Gloucester Engineering Co. Inc. (Sheldahl), Gloucester, MA; 978/281-1800

Kidder Inc., Agawam, MA; 413/786-8692; kidderpress.com

Taiyo, Grand Prairie, TX; 972/264-4330; fax: 972/262-9882

International Paper, Purchase, NY; 914/397-1500; internationalpaper.com

Champion Intl. Corp., Stamford, CT; 203/358-7887.

Longview Fibre Co., Longview, WA; 360/425-1550; fax: 360/575-5934

Tolko Industries Ltd., Vernon, B.C., Canada; 250/545-4411; fax: 250/545-5133.

Coating & Laminating Specialties, Monroe, LA; 318/322-8133; fax 318/323-5530

Bemis Converter Films, Oshkosh, WI; 414/236-7300; bemis.com

Louisiana Plastics, West Monroe, LA; 318/388-4562; fax: 318/387-5642

Cadillac Plastic & Chemical, Hayward, CA; 510/786-0832; fax: 510/786-9301

Inteplast Group Ltd., Houston, TX; 281/440-1434; fax: 281/933-5959

Ludlow/Laminating/Coating Div., Homer, LA; 318/927-2531; fax: 318/927-9520

Van Leer Flexibles Inc., Houston, TX; 713/462-6111; fax: 713/690-2746

Sun Chemical, Menasha, WI; ph: 920/722-4331; sunchemical.com

Progressive Inks, St. Louis, MO; 800/325-9088. fax: 314/768-5540.


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