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FormTight’s Mile-High Packaging Plan

Thermoforming thin and thick gauge plastics, FormTight produces custom trays, trifolds, clamshells, blisters and packaging inserts with high-speed inline vacuum and pressure forming equipment.

By Chad Sypkens

This sunglass display gets formed on a Brown rotary thermoformer. FormTight forms 50,000 of these displays per year.
FormTight Inc., a Denver-based custom thermoformer of both thin and thick gauge plastics, is in its eighth year of operation producing custom trays, trifolds, clamshells, blisters and packaging inserts for the medical and produce industries.
Co-owners Darren Kidd and Kevin Layne have brought the company from ground zero to $4 million in sales since 1992 delivering quality displays and trays using high-speed inline pressure forming and vacuum forming equipment. FormTight specializes in recycled PET, clear and colored material, but also process high-impact styrene, ABS, PETG, PVC and polyethylene.

Experience Pays off in the west

FormTight relies on nine thermoforming machines to keep up with the influx of jobs it receives, including two Brown inline thermoformers, three tone ARMAC inline thermoformers, one Brown rotary and three single-station Brown machines.
“Our inline pressure formers work mainly with thin-gauge plastics, less then 0.025 thickness,” says Darren Kidd, co-owner of FormTight, who got his start in plastics working on the ground floor of a heavy gauge thermoforming company grinding plastic. “That is where I learned how to thermoform plastics, but grinding plastics is where I initially got my start. After working my way through college and receiving my business degree from the University of Cincinnati, I went to work for Hopple Plastics, a thermoformer of both heavy and thin gauge plastics. The opportunities that I had during college led me to where I am today.”
After graduation, Kidd headed west to Denver taking a plant manager position at one of his current competitors while getting a post-graduate degree in computer-aided drafting to help further his education.
“This allowed me to apply the hands-on experience I had built up in the previous seven years with the technical end of it,” says Kidd. “It has allowed me to be more savvy when it comes to designing and fabricating practices. If a customer comes and explains what they want done, I know what steps need to be taken to do the job.”
After four years at Martin Plastic Converters, Kidd realized that the company was growing quite nicely and figured maybe he should be working for himself, so he branched off to start FormTight.
“I realized that when I came out west the technology just wasn’t at the level that it was in Cincinnati,” says Kidd. “I brought a lot of the technical skills and advice from my previous work in Ohio. Where I started and where I am now are two different ends of the spectrum. The people I learned from in Cincinnati had learned from people who were on the ground floor of what we are doing now as far as thermoforming techniques and equipment. They gave me a good base, knowledge and foundation of the industry. When I came out here, I was surprised to find the industry was 15 years behind.”
Kidd partnered with Layne buying equipment to open their facility and landed a medical thermoforming job right out of the box. “We spent maybe $2,500 on materials and billed the customer $27,000, and we looked at each other and said, ‘We are going to be rich,’” says Kidd. “Then we went about four months without another job and learned first-hand the cyclical activity of this business. Shortly after we landed a $600,000 account and haven’t look back since.”
The following year sales jumped to $1.6 million, serving as a difficult adjustment for Kidd and his partner. “We steadied out for a little bit and then took off. We were getting ahead of ourselves to a certain degree and once we got grasp of the success we were experiencing and got our feet back on the ground, we welcomed it with open arms. Now we are at $4 million a year in sales with growth at about 15%. We expect the growth to continue not just for this year, but for years to come.”
All of this success came without any sort of advertising whatsoever, which speaks highly of the job Kidd and his staff of 24 at FormTight are performing during the two daily shifts.
“We recently got on Thomas Register to help our sales, but other than that, we really haven’t done any advertising at all, mostly word of mouth,” says Kidd. “To get to where we are by strictly word of mouth, well, there is something to be said for that. We haven’t lost any customers to competitors, and the service, quality and price has been good.”

FormTight uses its Brown Machine or ACMAC inline thermoformer to produce eight different sizes of mushroom and tomato packages with 0.030-inch thick styrene or PET.

Displays and Packages Take Form

“Some of our displays and packages business has faded away, especially in the produce end of it, but we still sell a 4- and 6-pack tomato/mushroom tray. Four years ago we had a different style of tray for King Soopers (grocery store chain) until they decided they didn’t want it anymore. A couple of years later they wanted us to bring it back but wanted a new design. We did just that, retooled our molds and are going strong with those trays once again,” Kidd says.
Formed in eight different sizes, the 0.030-inch-thick styrene or PET produce packages are formed on either FormTight’s Brown or ACMAC inline thermoformer and sold to produce companies throughout the United States.
FormTight thermoforms 150,000 blister packages annually for a medical company. The packages hold vials for urine analysis with a soft rubber seal on one side.This allows technicians to pull out samples without having to take the caps off the vials. These vials are used by the state prison systems to conduct random drug testing on inmates.
“Another key job for us is our Sunglass Holders, made from co-extruded styrene with a crystalline cap to give it a shine,” says Kidd. “Spring-time is our hot and heavy time for these and we will make roughly 50,000 displays a year. They include four or six pieces with a crown on top which snaps the display together. Last year we processed 350,000 pounds of styrene into sunglass displays, white and black.”
The sunglass displays are formed off a Brown rotary thermoformer. FormTight uses four different pieces of Brown equipment (2 inline, 1 rotary and 1 single station). “These displays, once formed, get steel roll die cut by our Dake die cutter, which pops out holes so glasses are able to slide into the display,” says Kidd. “Then there are some end pieces that have to be cut off on our Delta bandsaw. It turns out to be a very attractive and popular display.”

CNC Machinery— Not Here — Not Needed
Two employees off-load and inspect the quality of the clamshells being formed on this RMAC inline thermoformer with automatic stacker. Once the excess gets stacked, it is sent back to Spartech Plastics to get recycled.

If FormTight accepts a job which may include CNC work, it will job it out for several reasons. “Some of our jobs call for some three-axis milling. We have a couple of machine shops which we will use for that work. That isn’t our area,” says Kidd. “We know where our boundaries are for now and what to do when we come to that crossroad.”
For example, FormTight thermoforms an ABS cover for a company that makes ice enclosures performing a perimeter rout job with a horizontal cutter, using a saw blade cutter and a hand-held router. It finishes the inside with a flush cutting bit without using any CNC equipment.
“Our competitors might throw that up on a 5-axis CNC router,” says Kidd, “but the truth is, with our forming time, we have time to put one person behind the machine and that operator is able to do all the fabrication manually. Dollar-wise that makes us much more competitive than the guys who put it on a 5-axis CNC router and charge a couple hundred dollars an hour. We have a $129 dollar router and it handles it fine.”
As a custom thermoformer of both thin and thick gauge plastics, FormTight is able to adjust each job to the need of the customer. Having that sense of flexibility to adjust to those needs has been one reason why FormTight has been able to compete against some of its larger competitors.
“We take on a number of the jobs where you can’t justify the cost of buying a router when you can do it manually,“ says Kidd. “There is kind of a niche there between the lo-tech and hi-tech. We make parts that are ±0.0005 of an inch in fabrication and we utilize our sister company, Pacific Tool Corp., to get us the aluminum tooling needed with a shrink factor plan built into it with a good tolerance.
“Thermoforming thick gauge plastics up to 1&Mac218;2-in., we utilize ABS, polyethylene, styrene and polypropylene,” adds Kidd. “The other half of our business is thin gauge, custom inline thermoforming. Doing both thin gauge and heavy gauge thermoforming inside one house sets up apart from most of our competitors, which either do heavy gauge or thin gauge. This allows us to bid on a wide range of jobs.”
The range includes consumer packaging, clam shells, trifolds, blister packs, produce trays and medical packaging with products including toys, medical kit trays for surgery and vegetable packaging.
“Our clam shells are formed to snap into place, with secondary processes including routing, drilling, cutting, gluing and trimming,” says Kidd.
After inline thermoforming, the clam shells move down the line, are die cut, the shells are then removed and stacked leaving a web of plastic to be recycled. That web continues on to a roller at the end of the inline that rolls the excess so that it can be sent back to Spartech Plastics (FormTight’s material supplier) and recycled.
“We thermoform operating room sterilization trays out of PETG for one customer, and we make a lot of sunglass displays, with 15 or 16 parts per display, in several different versions,” says Kidd. “The sterilization trays must meet certain sterility guidelines and we take a number of steps to make sure those are met.”
Although FormTight doesn’t work with CNC equipment, its jobs will incorporate the use of a lathe, manual mill, press, nine forming machines (including three inline thermoformers, two are Brown Machine and an RMach), a Brown rotary thermoformer, a Brown single station, and two urethane foam machines from Decker Industries.
“We make two header inserts for custom vans on our Brown single station and take a fire-rated ABS material, thermoform the part and then our customer wraps it with a cloth or vinyl and these two pieces attach to the inside of the van,” says Kidd.

Material Awareness

FormTight specializes in 100% recycled post-consumer PET material from two -iter Pepsi and Coke bottles for clear packaging, with thicknesses usually 10 or 30,000 of an inch thick to begin with. It also uses high impact styrene ABS as well.
“It really depends on the application,” says Kidd. “We consumed over two million pounds of material last year, all kinds of plastic. Everything that comes off of our lines that we don’t use, we recycle, grind it up, send it back to Spartech and put it back in our own product. The PET that we give back gets turned right back into material for us.”
Kidd stores his materials and inventory in a nearby, off-site 11,000-square-foot warehouse. “We carry a lot of inventory, about $600,000 right now that is in one mode or another,” says Kidd. “We found out that it is better to bring in large quantities of materials, pay a lower price for it and only have to set up our equipment once. It might take six to eight hours to get our inlines ready. So instead of running just what our customer needs for that week, which might only take a few hours to run, we would rather take that eight hour set-up time and run them for six weeks.
“That way, if that company calls for more product, we already have the inventory,” says Kidd, “and we can go ahead and ship it to them without having to waste the time setting up the machines to make a package we just ran a couple of weeks prior. It really cuts down on the costly setups. You are always going to have set-up time, but if you set up four different times a month for one specific product, you’ve set up for roughly 24 hours. We would rather use that time for making parts, rather than setting up machines to make parts.
“Inventory is bad and it is your money sitting there. But if you calculate it out, the cost of saving the 24 hours of run-time over a month’s time more than pays for the interest and warehousing of the product,” continues Kidd. “You might have $500,000 worth of pieces stored away, but that is $500,000 of product that is going to be bought down the road anyway.”

New Home on the Way?

FormTight is looking into buying its own facility in the very near future as it currently leases the one it resides in now.
Any time there are a lot of heaters involved, which is a problem with thermoforming, it will involve huge power requirements,” says Kidd. “We currently use 1,200 amps at 480 volts and are pretty much maxxed out. We have spent a lot of money on improvements in order to work here and if and when we move those things stay here. Space wise, in the next two years, we hope to own a 50,000-square-foot building and keep the warehouse. We are growing and we are a large consumer of plastics and pretty soon we are going to have outgrown our setup.”

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