Cover Story: Profiling a Film Extruder
In an effort to offer the very best to its customers, NEX has really stepped up its game. Gone are the old Appleton/New England Extrusion days. This is a fresh film company with a leadership team that has created a clear set of goals for the company, its employees and has a fine focus on its customers.
NEX’s CEO Kathy Bolhous offers the breakdown of the company, in her eyes. “We’re unique in our industry because we are a film manufacturer that is large enough ($115 million in sales across 3 plants) diverse enough (broad product portfolio), and yet responsive enough that we can truly help our target customers grow their business. We’re a “pure film” company focused on growth in the support of high performance film applications. We have ownership that has the willingness and ability to invest in our business.”
“When we became NEX Performance Films, the core team stayed intact. With the growth, and our move to an independent company, we’ve been able to add new, talented people with fresh perspectives in our IT, technical, finance, operations, and sales teams. This has proven to be a very effective combination for us and our customers,” says Bolhous.
Steve Kelly, VP of technology and business development, understands that NEX’s customer base has their constraints. “Our customers are under increasing pressure to develop packaging solutions for their customers that will provide measurable improvements in areas like cost reduction, source reduction and product performance. We see continued efforts to drive effective sustainability solutions, continued exploration of economical and more broadly functional bio-resins. The ongoing desire to run thinner films without giving up (or if possible increasing) performance properties will continue.”
Kelly’s comments demonstrate that leadership is key, and the company sees value in all of its employees. “We’re very proud that we have a team approach to innovation that encompasses the entire organization. While the technical/product development and sales teams are heavily involved, we get active support form all areas of the company from the CEO, to the director of purchasing, to the plant managers an operators.”
New Lines, New OfferingsThe NEX team has positioned the company in such a way to address the concerns of its customers. “On the cost reduction side, we’re regularly looking at our product slate on both a macro and an individual customer level to see where we can offer ways to reduce costs. We look at how we can use new materials to allow us to down gauge our films, provide a yield advantage, and yet maintain or improve the performance attributes of the film,” says Kelly.
Kelly explains how innovation is helping to drive the company’s decisions. “It’s also important to stay current with film processing technology, and we’ve done so by investing significantly in our equipment (adding new lines and upgrading existing lines) to provide tighter gauge control, larger roll OD’s to allow the films to be used more efficiently in our customers plants. We’ve invested almost $10 million in capital improvements over the past 18 months to provide our customers with film solutions that will address these major market trends. The addition of our Windmoeller & Hoelscher 3-layer Varex coex blown film line was installed in our Milton, Wisc. plant.”
Kelly explains that the addition of that line alone brings 7 million pounds of film capacity. “This line will allow us to continue to expand our business in high performance blown film products and comes complete with the latest technology in die design, gauge control, blending and winding to ensure our customers will have superior quality film,” adds Kelly.
Current Successes and New FilmsGlenn Harsh, VP of sales for NEX, tells us what the company’s main business is: “Our ‘bread and butter' is in finding creative film solutions that allow business growth. We have the infrastructure in place to provide value to small and mid-sized converters who need a strong technology partner who can provide consistency in supply and diversity in product mix.”
Harsh continues, “With our multiple plants, we offer our larger customers redundancy (security) in their products and our ongoing investments are intended to help us keep our capacity at levels that allow us to provide exceptional service and quality. Our plants are ISO-registered, we have robust quality systems, and we’re able to provide support for the increasing requests for regulatory information. We’ve been involved in the high performance converter sealant film market for many years.”
The company has also come up with new film combinations. “In many cases, we’ve used new resins and our technical expertise to build new film combinations. In some cases, it was bringing existing technology and expertise to new markets,” Kelly says. “We’ve developed some truly unique capabilities with our films that incorporate a layer of PSA in the coex for peel-reseal capabilities, we continue to find applications for our barrier and non-barrier sealant that provide hermetic lap seals to OPP outer layer laminations, and we have had great success with our new microwaveable sealant films.”
The company has positioned itself in such a way to provide platforms of film products in numerous end markets, including cheese, wipes, coffee, lidding, pet food, masking, medical and lawn & garden.
Kelly offers insight into the company’s offerings. “Using new resins and leveraging our knowledge and expertise, mutli-layer barrier coextrusions positively impacted our growth (and our customers’ growth) in the cheese platform this year. Our experience with additives (including our patented Controlled COF technology films) and processing capabilities allowed us to see tremendous growth in our lawn & garden platform.”
Kelly adds, “We’ve had considerable success with our universal lidding films in the lidding platform and we had significant growth in our wipes platform by developing new films that utilized some unique new resins and in some cases, the unique use of existing resins. We regularly and successfully use our full basket of mono, coex, and barrier film options to provide creative solutions to our customers.”
Future PossibilitiesSo, what new film materials will NEX be looking into for the future? “In the film business, the building blocks are the resins and additives we used to make our films. Much of our value proposition is in our ability to successfully develop film solutions for our customers. We are regularly looking at the developments in this area to see if they would bring value to us and our customers through either processing advantages (at our company or our customers), cost advantages or performance advantages. We’ve seen the positive impact that some of these new materials can have on our business,” Kelly says.
Relationships are key to NEX, too. “We have developed good relationships with our resin vendors to make sure we’re on top of the new developments and work with our technical and operations teams to test these resins and to see how they might be incorporated into our film products. We are also open to new vendors that might be able to bring something unique even if they come from ‘non-traditional’ markets. We’re fortunate to have a 5-layer pilot line that allows us to screen many of these products prior to introducing them into our commercial extrusion equipment,” explains Kelly.
The company will continue to review and explore bio-resins for viable films. Kelly tells us, “We’ve tried some of them with mixed results. While the current cost/benefit equation and challenges with availability have slowed potential product development, we keep open to testing new resins as they are available. To date, the use of bio-resins has not made sense for most of our customers and the types of applications/markets in which we participate.”
“We’re disciplined. We understand that we can’t be all things to all customers, and so we work to refine what it is that we do and focus on working with the types of customers with which we fit best. We want to grow, but we don’t want to grow at any cost. We’ve had some significant growth over the past couple of years, but this has not come at the expense of us getting better as an organization,” Bolhous explains.
As for what to expect from NEX in the coming year, Bolhous tells us, “You’re going to see us continue to get better as an organization and to refine our approach to the marketplace. We’ll continue to increase and improve the value we bring to our customers. With the investments we’re making in equipment, people and systems, we’re going to show our customers that we’re committed to bringing them more value.”
NEX Performance Films