It Takes a Heavyweight To Do This With Lightweight Plastics

Priority Plastics Inc.
Written by Pauline Müller

Technological advancements talk. After investing nearly $25 million in its people, products and equipment, Priority Plastics is making a statement in North America by introducing more advanced, recyclable industrial plastics solutions and advanced high-speed continuous-extrusion technology.

Priority Plastics is known for its industry-leading UN-certified PriorityPour tight head containers. By introducing advanced technologies and new options in sustainability in the industrial packaging market, it is no surprise that earlier this year, Manufacturing Technology Insights magazine named the company one of its top ten Manufacturing Packaging Solutions Providers.

The company primarily uses polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) in its packaging operations. With its new investments in equipment and technology, the company is now able to bring more sustainability-focused, multi-layered, post-consumer resin, and lightweighting options to market. The multi-layered PriorityPour Eco tight head containers can incorporate up to 80 percent cleaned and recycled HDPE, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved pellets, per container.

The company’s product line includes tight-head containers; f-style containers; PET retail food and snack packaging; canisters for the nutraceutical powder market; and dry-pack wipes containers and towels used to sanitize, disinfect, and degrease surfaces. Priority Plastics also offers lids with its full line of products and comprehensive labeling solutions to satisfy client needs.

The company manufactures and distributes from three facilities: Portland, Indiana, Grinnell, Iowa and Denver, Colorado. The latter is currently transforming its business strategy to include HDPE and PET technology to fuel its growth. Priority Plastics is further investing in smart, all-electric technology to produce high-density wide-mouth canisters to continue to support the exponential growth and demand being seen in the nutraceutical markets.

The total floor space of the company’s facilities is around 250,000 square feet. “Our flagship [facility] in Portland, Indiana, is also home to the Cyclone, Priority Plastics’ high-speed, four cavity shuttle technology with automated processing, multi-layer manufacturing capabilities and high-tech mold design. This facility arguably has the most diverse capability in the entire network in terms of material usage,” says David Kunkle, Vice President of Manufacturing. This facility also has an in-house UN-certified testing laboratory, needed for important transportation safety testing requirements. Priority Plastics’ equipment and trained technicians routinely perform a full battery of tests: hydro static; impact resistant drop; static compression at elevated temperatures; and vibration.

The Cyclone technology is at the heart of the company’s PriorityPour Eco tight-head container design. These containers deliver a sustainable product with increased integrity and durability. The multilayer and lighter weight options help Priority Plastics achieve its continuous-improvement goal to reduce the business’ overall environmental impact.

The company also assures clients that its “UN-marked tight-head containers meet or exceed all of the testing and manufacturing regulations and standards set by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and specifically by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.”

Thanks to the containers’ optimized weight distribution established through advanced mold sensing technology, it is possible to stack many more of these Cyclone-manufactured tight heads (48) than the popular open head containers (only 36). They can be shipped without any protective casings, saving more resources, time, and money. This means more tight head containers per pallet, which of course translates into further savings when considering precious shipping space and freight costs.

The Cyclone technology has also brought an end to the outdated, heavy plastic manufacturing practices regularly used in the tight-head industry. “You have to have very tight wall-thickness characteristics to be able to meet the UN ratings. Thanks to this advanced technology, we [have more precision] and use less virgin resin, [making it lighter]. But we still maintain the same strength as the older tight head equipment,” explains Kunkle.

Named for its phenomenal, fully automated speed, the Cyclone allows for tri-layer container construction that incorporates recycled resins. This, in turn, results in less virgin resin being used, typically on the outer and inner layers for the sake of aesthetics and food packaging requirements. The entire process is more efficient. In addition, it allows the company to use less dye for coloring while maintaining the same standard hues. “Two years ago, when we started producing PriorityPour tight heads on the Cyclone, it was the highest speed, four-cavity tight head machine in North America,” says Scott Dowrey, President.

Popular with clients seeking either primary or secondary supply partnerships, the company supplies its PriorityPour tight head containers to manufacturers in the chemicals industrial-packaging industry, alongside container markets serving the food, nutraceuticals, and sanitary wipes industries. It also serves wholesale packaging suppliers.

With a solid family-oriented business approach, this plastic packaging leader prides itself on speed, efficiency, and the trustworthy delivery of quality products. Its portfolio offers several lightweight and heavy-duty container solutions complete with an option for tamper-evident closures, with units holding from as little as eight ounces right up to seven gallons. Some ranges, as mentioned, are also stackable.

“[In the past year and a half] the supply chain has been tested. It is important now more than ever to have a reliable and nimble secondary source of supply,” says Nathan Zimmerman, Director of New Business Development.

This is why Priority Plastics’ technological capabilities really make it stand out – for example, as with the high-volume, advanced fabrication equipment that allows it to unceasingly improve on its lightweight plastics offerings. These lightweight plastics naturally consume fewer virgin resins.

“[This also minimizes] the total cost of ownership of our packaging for our customers [without] decreasing the quality of our product. We’re really proud of the initiatives we’ve been taking over the last few years,” says Zimmerman.

Of course, surviving the pressures piled on by COVID-19 also took a lot of initiative. As the country’s need for improved hygiene increased, so too did the demand for sanitizing wipes canisters and lids.

“[We had] very high, record-setting demand earlier in the year,” says Kunkle. “This resulted in accelerating capital investment for tooling and equipment to make these products in a very difficult equipment-supplier market.” The team increased its output with tremendously positive results, meeting present customer demand as well as setting itself up to deal with ever-growing future requirements for sanitizing wipes.

In addition, COVID-19 protocols were followed to the letter, complete down to touchpoint sanitizing equipment throughout the organization. And while the firm saw the interruption of scores of neighbors’ and competitors’ operations through staff illness, the company and its teams soldiered on to achieve what, at times, had seemed impossible.

“We did well throughout COVID, both commercially and operationally. I’d like to recognize the employees of Priority Plastics as they’ve continued to step up throughout this ongoing epidemic. We’re very, very proud of our employees,” he says.

The company’s management is especially grateful to the entire team for the overtime they put in during periods that the company has been short-staffed through labor scarcity and colleagues being out.

To thank its people for their tenacity and dedication, the company introduced incentives like pay premiums to support them during this time of financial and familial pressure. Priority Plastics’ 300 or so employees have also benefited from ongoing recognition and growth opportunities, and other perks like company celebrations.

Priority Plastics came to life when three smaller firms amalgamated twenty years ago. Each company brought a different product to the table, helping the newly founded company position itself in a very strategic way. The objective was to create a sustainable, outcomes-focused organization that was nimble and versatile and could serve several markets at once.

“Although we’re a private equity roll-up, it’s a family-owned company. That’s why we’re twenty years old. What’s important is that [we’ve all grown together],” says Dowrey. He is especially proud of the company’s lateral leadership approach, because this is by no means just another top-down organization. Everyone’s contributions are valued and taken into account as the company expands across ever greater territories.

“Our culture is not stagnant,” Dowrey says. “We’re not done with our vision process. Everyone in the organization is as important as the other. What’s important is that we all grow together. This journey started about five years ago, and the platform was put in place for it to work.”

While the journey may still be unfolding, their mission has already proven greatly effective. This was especially evident in the company’s prowess during the worst of COVID-19. Nobody was laid off and it managed to keep its core strength intact – all while keeping its customers’ needs its main priority.

When it comes to its local communities and its social contract, Priority Plastics takes its main principles of partnership and trust a step further.

Each facility gets to choose its charitable organizations and causes to support from its immediate surroundings. Some of these initiatives include donating money as well as blood, clothing, and other essentials together with supporting organizations like the Red Cross and others that deal with everything from cancer to youth outreach drives.

“What we try to do and what we’re really focused on is creating a people-centric culture,” says Stephanie Oliva, Director of Marketing. The main goal across the board, therefore, is to be as active within each community as possible such that the company can do as much good as it can.

Striving for eminence in a market where lightweighting, the popularity of post-consumer materials, and next-generation technologies are set to revolutionize the plastics industry, Priority Plastics’ lighter impact on the environment and space-saving design are also evolving.

“We see strategy as fluid. Our strategies change based on what our customers’ needs are and how it relates to our aspirations. We feel that our strategies are very strong right now. They’re producing much higher growth than industry averages, which is what we want to accomplish, [alongside] bringing a quality value proposition to our customers,” Dowrey says.

Through operational excellence and by adding value through next-generation technology, the team will continue to lead, creating and investing in the best customer experience possible, ensuring continued organic growth.



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