Coating Operation Starts a Tradition of Growth

Venture Coating Technologies, located in what once was a Wisconsin cornfield, is striving to be much more than a budding converting plant. Moving the process along is a slot-die coater assembled by Dri-Tec.

When Bill Hammann went location hunting for a brand new coating venture outside of Chicago, he found the perfect spot—an open cornfield in southern Wisconsin. These days, the once ear-laden field still yields a crop, that of pressure-sensitive overlaminates, mounting adhesives, and specialty films. Venture Coating Technologies is a plant all right, but it's a 20,000-sq-ft converting plant located in Janesville. The operation is in its second year of operation, and plant manager Hammann reports the company is carrying on its location's tradition: growth.

"We had minimal production in the beginning. When you get started in this business, it takes time to develop a customer base and perfect the product. But since the first of the year, we've been full every day," he explains.

The plant coats 12 hours a day, five days a week, reports Hammann, and currently employs eight people. Hammann says Venture runs a variety of substrates: release-liner papers, latexes, polyesters, polyurethanes, and acrylics. The company buys its paper from Eastern Fine Paper, DCP-Lohja, and Rexam Release, and it purchases films from a wide assortment of suppliers. Venture treats its substrates with a corona treater made by QC Electronics.

The Coater Quest
Before Hammann could begin coating at his operation, he needed a coater. So after he found the perfect spot, he went on the hunt for a "perfect" coater/laminator. It turned out to be a much more daunting task than checking out cornfields.

"I started calling up the `big guys' in the industry, and I had them give me price quotes; I thought they were all too expensive. So then I decided to look at the used coater market. I was traveling all of North America looking at used coaters, used equipment—I went everywhere!"

Hammann finally found one he "kind of liked" in Toronto, Ont., Canada. "I realized it was not exactly what I wanted, though it had some guts and some nice pieces to it. But I knew Venture would need somebody to work with us on taking it apart, putting it back together, and making it right for us."

Unlike his search for the used coater, Hammann's quest for a partner ended without the need for an extensive trek across North America. Dri-Tec, located less than a hundred miles away in Milwaukee, was the only company willing to work with Venture to combine the used coater components with new ones to make it the "right" machine for the operation.

"Most of the `big guys' don't want anything to do with used equipment," says Hammann. "They just want to sell new equipment. But Dri-Tec—they were open to everything, whatever we wanted. If we wanted to combine new and used equipment, it was fine with them. If we wanted to add our own coating head—and that's what we wanted to do—fine. If we wanted to do things the way we wanted to do them, fine."

Putting It Together
The process of designing and assembling the coater/laminator was very much a joint effort of Venture and Dri-Tec, says Hammann. "Dri-Tec makes a great oven, so we decided to use their oven for the coater's drying facilities. For the rest of the machine, basically, we broke it up, and we sold parts we did not use. Then we put the main part of the machine together and added the bells and whistles. One thing led to another, and the next thing you know, we had a new machine."

After all their efforts, Venture and Dri-Tec ended up with a custom-designed slot-die PSA coater/laminator capable of running substrate widths to 65 in. and operating with either solvent- or water-based coatings.

"In the end," notes Hammann, "Dri-Tec manufactured almost the entire coater, with the exception of the coating head and the rewinder." The coating head die was manufactured by EDI.

Because Venture wanted versatility, Hammann notes, the companies designed the coater to be reconfigurable for alternate coating methods.

He adds that the coater's customized impingement dryer was constructed of stainless steel for durability and longevity and incorporates a unique zone-cascading function, and he says the company controls volatile organic compounds with a Huntington thermal oxidizer.

A Coater's Home
Though the cornfield site was picked, and Hammann had found Dri-Tec and even sealed the deal with the company in early July of 1998, he still didn't have an actual facility in which to house the coater/laminator. "That's when the clock started ticking in my mind," he recalls. "So, I raced over here, signed with the city, and designed the building. What was going on, really, was a parallel-path thing: the machine construction at Dri-Tec and the building construction here."

The construction of both the coater and building moved along, though the building construction caused Hammann some anxiety at times. "I was sweating bullets at the end. We broke ground for the building in October of 1998, and I knew we had to be able to accept the coater by early March 1999. We went through winter construction, the whole thing."

But, gradually, the "huge mud hole," as Hammann refers to his original plant site, was transformed into a 20,000-sq-ft coating facility and was able—although "just barely"—to accept the coater on the designated date. "When the coater showed up, basically we had a big shell. We brought it in here, then built the rest of the plant around it. It was funny. The people that worked on [the building] probably will be telling stories for years. You know, we had all the trades in here—from brick layers to carpenters to electricians to dry wallers and plumbers. It was a zoo: the forklift running back and forth, cranes and steel workers. You name it, it was going on."

Time to Test
Though the company could run test trials, it couldn't sell anything until the building permit was issued in July 1999. So Venture spent March to July getting the plant and the coater ready for production. Hammann says Dri-Tec and EDI came in mid-April to train operators on the use of the coating head, and the coater was ready for solvent-based coating applications by mid-May.

"To be ready for solvents, you have to have all of your electrical [work] done. You have to have the incinerator installed, checked in, and tested. We had inspectors in here, and we had most of the construction on the facility completed at that time. So we brought in solvents and did trials."

For almost a year-and-a-half, Venture Coating Technologies has been converting salable product, though, as Hammann noted previously, the company didn't really start coating every day until the onset of 2000. Since that time, Venture has shown no signs of slowing down. "We're just in this growth curve that you'd expect a young company to be on. What is the slope of that curve? I have no idea, but we are definitely on the beginning of the curve."

An expansive production area housed in a brand new facility that's lidded with the breathtaking blue Wisconsin sky; a customized, "state-of-the-art" coater; and on the upward slope of an exciting growth curve...is there any place better to be? Hammann probably can't think of too many.


Supplier Info.
Dri-Tec/Busch
, Milwaukee, WI; 414/354-3540; dri-tec.com

Eastern Fine Paper, Brewer, ME; 800/341-1750

DCP-Lohja, Willowbrook, IL; 630/734-2700

Rexam Release, Bedford Park, IL; 800/637-9908

QC Electronics Inc., Portage, WI; 608/742-1661; 800/366-1988; qcelectronics.com

EDI (Extrusion Dies Inc.), Chippewa Falls, WI; 715/226-2208; extrusiondies.com

Huntington Environmental Systems Inc., Arlington Heights, IL; 847/545-8800



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