Cincinnati, Ohio-based Ampac is a company that builds, not consolidates. Over the last year, Ampac has acquired several new flexible packaging companies, but lest you think that the acquisitions are thoughtlessly thrown into the trunk of the Ampac fold and are just along for the ride, think again.
“There are guiding principals that we’ve stayed disciplined to as we’ve built Ampac Flexibles,” says George Thomas, vice president and general manager, Ampac Flexibles. “We start by looking for well run companies with strong leadership teams willing tostay with the company as we grow.”
Keeping the management team in place says two things, Thomas explains. One, that Ampac respects and trusts their skills to take the business to the next level; and two, that both companies have personal confidence in forward-looking industry growth.
“We make a really clear statement to their customers that we’re going to stay very close to the markets and that those operations and the people who are running them are going to be viable parts of Ampac in the future,” Thomas says.
Ampac, like any company, has certain criteria when buying companies, including significant operating advantages, proprietary products, or major market share of niche segments forecasted to outpace the industry growth.
“We try to carefully pick the spots where we want to participate in the flexible packaging industry,” Thomas says. Most recently, those spots have included Seattle, Wash.-based Mohawk Northern Plastics and Floeter in Elk Grove Village, Ill.
Ampac shies away from “me-too” flexible packaging, focusing efforts on custom solutions for its clients, whether it’s a custom design or proprietary film structure, or a custom service package.
“We don’t take things off the shelf and say to our customers, ‘buy this,’” Thomas says. “We are fully integrated. We start with the film and build our packaging based on specific customer needs from the ground up. It means that frequently there aren’t a lot of common products around Ampac. And, if there are, we try to run them faster with betterquality than available elsewhere from our competitors.”
With more than $300 million in sales for the last 12 months, 11 different facilities under the Ampac umbrella and 1,300 employees in Europe, Asia and North America, Ampac’s direction of custom products hasn’t taken many wrong turns.
“Each site has its own individual world-class quality that it provides, each quite different from the others,” Thomas says. Ampac’s services include global pouching, performance films for food and industrial applications, flexographic and rotogravure printing, high performance laminations and retort pouches, to name a few. “Therein lies the uniqueness of the company, in that we focus on specific niches, with worldclass people and assets,” Thomas notes.
Sal Pellingra, Ampac’s innovation and marketing director, adds a quote from Dan McFarland, president of the former Mohawk Northern Plastics, saying, “Ampac has large-company technology resources with smallcompany relationships.”
Pellingra continues, “That, in a nutshell, really makes us unique. We have the technology that a lot of the larger converters have, but we’re a small company, and we’re made up of small business units. So we can react well to customer demands. Ampac has customer intimacy and responsiveness that a lot of larger companies don’t or can’t have.
“We are competitive [with the larger companies] on an individual basis with individual customers where we choose to do business,” Thomas adds. “You’ll find us, as a result, as innovative, as creative and as good of problem solvers as anybody in the industry, just not on as wide of a spectrum of customers.”
While Ampac continues to grow with its acquisitions, it is also putting to work new technologies, and combining the two to map out a whole new direction for the company. And where does that map lead? Why, down Sustainability Avenue, of course.
It's a green partyInitiatives for companies to “go green” and prove their efforts at sustainability are leaping and bounding to the forefront of the flexible packaging industry, and Ampac is in a driver’s seat.
“From a holistic point of view, we’re implementing an overall sustainable strategy,” Pellingra says. “Part of that is obviously customer- and product-driven, and part of that is going to be an internal driven sustainability as well.”
The company will add a sustainable corporate mission statement to its website, and focus on office and manufacturing recycling throughout all of its sites. Part of this will be a focus on energy efficiency, material efficiency and ensuring employee participation. On the product side, Ampac has gone green by developing and implementing a line of sustainable films, the Apex 3000 SF series. One film is primarily PLA-based (polylactic acid), but is designed and engineered to work more like a polyethylene film. Other films are formulated to degrade over time.
“In that series, we have both renewable products and degradable and compostable products,” Pellingra explains. “We’re also focused on reducing packaging materials.” Headds that part of that focus comes by way of redesigning packaging, for example, to replace multi-layered laminations with fewer layers, or using flexible materials to replace rigid, all the while keeping the same barrier requirements, shelf life requirements and using less material.
“Reducing lamination layers is an area where we’ve done well cooperatively internally,” notes Tricia Reighart, technical marketing director for the performance films division.“We’ve utilized Performance Films’ barrier coexes to replace layers in laminations. Because we have the capabilities in our company, we work well cooperatively to trial and test performance to verify that it’s going to be an equivalent.”
Having such an integrated company is one of the benefits for Ampac’s green initiatives.
“We really have a range of technical expertise in each of the areas,” Pellingrasays. “We can utilize each other and the knowledge to really provide better engineered structures. Some converters can only rely on their suppliers, but Ampac has the benefit of looking at outside suppliers as well as internal technical resources to redesign products.”
“Within my division of performance films,” Reighart says, “it was pretty natural to integrate our films into the lamination side. But only now are we really taking advantage of all their added capabilities for our customers. We used to sell primarily unprintedcoextruded rollstock to be used directly for someone else to laminate, and now we’re starting to take in the printing capabilities at our other plants. And now we’re offering our customers surface printed coex, or a reverseprinted laminate. It’s expanding ourcustomers’ options.”
The green road aheadWhile becoming a more sustainable company with a cache of environmentally-friendly products is du jour, Ampac isn’t green-lighting the green initiatives just to keep pace with other companies. Rather, it’s yet another way the company provides solutions for its customers; it just happens to be good for the environment, to boot.
“As people, and consumers, and employees, we all have a concern for the environment,” Pellingra notes. “And obviously the Wal-Mart scorecard has accelerated some of the efforts toward that. But we are really a solutions-driven company, so a lot of our customers come to us looking for just that: solutions. A lot of the inquiries and a lot of the solutions they’re looking for are in the sustainable area. They’re looking for a competitive advantage in their products and for their customers, and they’re looking for people who can provide that. And we can provide that.”
Over the past year, Ampac has had some great successes with its sustainable products initiatives. One interesting product includes Wet Bone, a flexible pouch that carries water and functions as a drinkable bowl. This replaces having to carry a rigid bottle of water and a bowl as owners walk their pets.
Additionally, the company has employed the use of its barrier technology, ethylene vinyl alcohol (EVOH), with its 7- and 9-layer coextrusion film to combine the heat resistance of nylon, the barrier with the EVOH and also sealant properties to replace the lamination with a thick, multi-layer coextrusion. The technology has been a good fit for products that need a strong oxygen or absorbance barrier.
In its Cary, Ill., plant, Ampac has a solvent-less laminator, giving the company the opportunity to use less energy to drive off volatiles and also losing the need for laminating adhesives with solvents.
Pursuing sustainable products is not only good for the environment all around, but it’s also been good for Ampac as a company. Customers who seek out eco-friendly products, but do not necessarily have the resources to apply to redesigning packaging themselves, turn to their converters for that competitive advantage. And Ampac is ready to step inand provide.
“When you have solutions that can impact [a customer’s] sustainability efforts or the Wal-Mart scorecard, and they don’t have to apply that many resources, it really does offer us a benefit that we can help supply what other converters maybe aren’t able to,” Pellingra says. “We can provide them with opportunities and choices to meet theirsustainable goals.”
Meeting these goals, however, has turned up some roadblocks. To take a company down a more sustainable path takes time and effort, and comes with an inevitable need for tweaks and tune-ups here and there. And while Ampac has had great success with its sustainable products, the company also knows that improvements can and will be made.
“The main challenge is how you can produce a sustainable film that has properties like any other polymer out there,” Pellingra explains. “The next step is figuring out how tocombine that with a barrier, so that you can use it in more applications. Can you create sustainable films that have design properties, or custom properties similar to other materials? There are so many materials out there, it’s hard to replace them all.”
Additionally, the cost of going green factors in to challenges for sustainable products. Pellingra notes that as with any green product consumers might buy, like paper goodsor food products, the end result is a slightly more expensive product because of the alternative materials used. Packaging, he says, falls into that realm as well.
“Another challenge is the amount of time and resources to change a product,” Pellingra continues. “You may have a desire from an end-user to change a package to make it moresustainable. And there may be a potential solution but you have to put resources toward that change, which may outweigh the benefits. Until there is more effort at a corporate level to force the change, it’s going to be hard to continue making inroads.
“It all takes time,” Pellingra adds. “Shelf life, distribution studies, product compatibility studies need to be initiated, which takes time, money and resources. It’s difficult to implement unless there is a real driver. If you can show a cost savings, it will make iteasier to implement.”
As sustainable products jostle for the pole position in the flexible packaging industry, Ampac will continue to drive on toward that end goal. Over the coming year, Pellingrasays, expect to see the launch of three new product lines, along with more innovative applications. That Ampac previously won the Flexible Packaging Association’s highest achievement award for packaging excellence, and garnered another nomination for thisyear, Pellingra continues, is a testament to the creativity and innovation Ampac provides in applications.
And while other companies may break and stutter as the flexible packaging environment shifts into a new gear, Ampac has set itself up for a smooth ride.