Digital Magazine

A Winning Bet: Profile Industrial Packaging

Zero to six million in two years. Certainly good odds for the betting individual — all except for the zero part. But that didn't stop Steve Ehmann, his three investment partners, and director of operations Sam Swartz from venturing into the industrial packaging game.

A 1998 startup, Profile Industrial Packaging, Grand Rapids, MI, had no equipment, no facility, no business, yet aspired to be a successful industrial packaging manufacturer. Two years later, the company had six million dollars in business. Today, with its Pillar corona treaters and Hosokawa Alpine film extrusion lines, says Swartz, Profile continues its winning record with a robust production capacity and a service-oriented attitude.

Though today Profile relishes its precarious start, Swartz says it wasn't easy at the beginning. “We were this small company working out of a 20-by-20 office. When I'd request a quote, I know some of the manufacturers were thinking, ‘They want me to quote them 300,000 dollars worth of equipment? Am I going to get paid?’ We didn't have any references; we hadn't been in business long enough for any of that stuff.”

But, says Swartz, a few suppliers were daring enough to spec the company's needs. “Some bought into our vision and trusted we were going to be successful.” Others lost interest, he says. “They really didn't pursue us like we were serious.”

Those that “bought into” Profile's vision were rewarded for their faith, says Swartz. “The companies that did follow through are the ones I gave business to. All of them did a really nice job of getting equipment to us in a timely fashion. They helped us troubleshoot and assemble it so we could start making film as quickly as possible.”

In the Bag Biz
Along with film production and corona treating, Profile Industrial Packaging makes bags. “Our end products are wide-ranging,” Swartz says. “Essentially, we makes industrial packaging bags; we do a lot of stuff other people won't or can't do.”

To keep up with its five Alpine extrusion lines, Profile employs four SamTech in-line bag machines. “All of the off-line equipment is made by Amplas,” notes Swartz. He reports Amplas manufactured the equipment for Profile's various bag types, including a wicketer and side-weld and bottom-seal bagmaking machines. “They've been an excellent supplier,” he reports.

Swartz also mentions Profile's multitude of winders. “We have several SamTech winders, a few from Alpine, and one from Battenfeld Gloucester. We bought edge guides for the first three winders; I went with BST Pro Mark table guides for those. And on the newest, largest line we have a Coast Control table guide.”

The self-described “job shop,” reports Swartz, also prints in-line with two Bell-Mark random repeat printers. “Probably 50 percent of what we make is printed.” He proudly touts the Bell-Mark machines' print quality but notes Profile likely will need more print capacity — and soon. “The two printers I have are way overworked, that's all I can say. That's something we'll be investing in more as we go along,” Swartz explains.

Treating It Right
Before the bag production, must come the film, all of which is treated with five Pillar systems. Swartz was familiar with Pillar from his past employment experience; he explains that his former employer owned a Pillar system.

Swartz admits to using other treaters and being satisfied with performance, but when he had the opportunity to “start from scratch,” as he describes it, he again considered Pillar. “One of the big reasons why I left [my former job] was so I could try something new. When looking at equipment, I tried not to be close-minded. I really opened it up and talked to several corona treating companies.”

During his search, he ran into Pillar. Swartz says Pillar gladly profiled its treating system for the brand new industrial packaging operation. “According to Pillar, the treating systems specified ‘could do everything.’ For instance, I required a double-sided treating system for unique applications, like the foam-in-place packaging market we serve. Pillar's systems also can treat metallized films, which, at first, was very important, since we didn't know where we were going to get business. We just knew we needed to be prepared for anything.”

Swartz says the company began with two Pillar treating units, but it has rapidly expanded into an investment of five treating systems, including power supplies. The fifth Pillar system was purchased this past January, and if all goes according to plan, says Swartz, a sixth line with another Pillar system may be installed by year end.

Because his company is a job shop, says Swartz, it's more efficient to operate with a treating system for each film line. “We need to be able to react and turn things around. I can't wait to schedule something on a line with a treater. Having enough of them, I can be more versatile and react to our customers' needs more quickly.”

Swartz says the flexibility provided by Pillar's treating systems is useful in the company's other packaging production as well. “With our systems, I can treat one side, then the other side. It doesn't matter which side I treat. I can reconfigure it, so if the customer wants only the bottom side of the film treated I can do that. If they want strip treating, I can treat every half inch. I can treat a strip and not treat, and treat it, etc., all because of segmented fingers on the electrodes.”

Swartz notes this strip-treating capability is very handy to have. “The corona sometimes makes it difficult to get a quality seal, so if I'm only treating a space six inches wide, and I'm putting a child caution warning in that area, I don't necessarily want to treat the entire surface. I'll just treat the area I'm going to print.”

Suppliers That Serve
Swartz reiterates the superb service his suppliers provided for Profile at its startup three summers ago. “We placed a purchase order with Hosokawa Alpine in the beginning of May, I believe, and the hauloff for the first machine showed up right around July fifth. They did everything. They were great. They air-freighted this thing in from Germany at their expense; they've been a very key OEM for us to have. I can't say too many good things about them.”

Other film production-related equipment in which the company invested includes AEC blending and vacuum-loading equipment. As for the film itself, reports Swartz, “Primarily, we make high-density polyethylene. We have monolayer lines with four-component blending on the throats of each line. This allows us to produce a lot of different blends using low density, linear low, high density, and colors.”

All this film and bag production occurs in Profile's 42,000-sq-ft operation, which is part of a unique 250,000-sq-ft facility. “It was an abandoned building,” says Swartz. “The company that had worked out of this building had downsized and moved out ten years previously, so at the time we were opening up, the building was empty.”

Swartz says choosing this building was definitely a good bet. “The building has a really great history; it was built in a year by the army corps back in 1942 to extrude aluminum for bomber planes. It's made out of green glass, and the landlord did a beautiful job of retrofitting the building. Consequently, we have 36-foot ceiling heights throughout the entire building with crane rails. It's just a really great place.”

Profile employs 31 and runs seven days a week, 24 hours per day, operating four extrusion shifts and three conversion shifts. Swartz points out that most of his employees are cross-trained, which means the company can interchange operators if necessary.

When asked about expansion, Swartz gives a general overview of the company's plans: “We want to expand in order to meet our customers' needs. We're all very young and energetic. We want to provide a service to our customers, and we always have to stay focused on what we're doing well. Obviously, we can't do everything, but if it's something we can't do, and if it's a large customer, we'll definitely examine it.”

No need to hedge bets on this contract converting operation. From zero to a multi-million-dollar business in two years and still going strong: Profile's a winning bet for sure.

Profile Industrial Packaging Inc., Grand Rapids, MI; 616/245-7260; fax: 616/245-7265

Pillar Technologies, Hartland, WI; 262/367-3060

Hosokawa Alpine American, Natick, MA; ph: 508/655-1123

SamTech, Westin, ON, Canada; 416/742-7093

Battenfeld Gloucester Engineering Co., Gloucester, MA; 978/281-1800.

Amplas Inc., Green Bay, WI; 920/496-0525; 800/553-5222

BST Pro Mark, Elmhurst, IL; 630/833-9900

Coast Controls, Sarasota, FL; 941/355-7555

AEC, Wood Dale, IL; 630/595-1060

Bell-Mark Corp., Pine Brook, NJ; 973/882-0202

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