When Essel Propack opened in Danville, Virginia, in 2002, its first American headquarters featured a mural called “Journey of Success” that depicts the global company’s past successes. Since then, the company has added several of the Danville’s facility’s own milestones to the painting as it has become a key segment of the world’s leading maker of laminate plastic tubes.
Essel Group is a global tube and specialty packaging supplier based out of Mumbai, India. The company launched U.S. operations, Essel Propack, 14 years ago to fulfill a long-term contract with a global multinational company. The division now serves many national and international clients.
Today, the Essel Group has a 33 percent share of the global market for laminate tubes. Its packaging is used for a wide variety of products, from beauty and cosmetics to pharmaceuticals and food. But the largest section of its business is oral care. Essel Group provides the tubing for between two-thirds and three-fourths of all toothpaste products sold globally, according to James Barton, business unit head for the company.
In 2004, the company set up a sub-business to manufacture caps and closures for its tubes and invested in a number of injection molding lines. Barton says caps and closures are a key value proposition that sets Essel Propack apart from competitors in the packaging field. Having that capability in-house shortens production lead times and allows Essel Propack to work with its clients to design custom enclosures when necessary.
Essel Propack is a vertically integrated manufacturer. Its laminate is made in Asia by its parent company, and the U.S. division produces its own caps and enclosures, does its own printing, has an in-house graphics team and produces the tubing itself. “That allows us to really streamline the supply chain,” says Ted Sojourner, regional vice president, Americas. “We make it really turnkey for our customers, we make it as easy to work with Essel Propack as possible.”
During the company’s first decade, it made about five major investments in its facility – the last coming in 2011 when it doubled the size of its manufacturing plant to 200,000 square feet. Last year was possibly Essel Propack’s strongest in terms of capital investments because the company invested in a state-of-the-art printing line that allows it to print on flexographic silk screen and cold foil, doubling its capacity for high-end printed decoration. In 2015, the company also added capacity for injection molding and a new tubing line specializing in larger-diameter tubes.
The increased size of the facility has allowed Essel Propack to maintain its growth. The Danville facility average 45 complete tool changes and more than 300 product changes every month. Barton likens the fast pace to a racecar team. “We try to be the most efficient pit crew that we can be,” he says.
Having already cornered the market on oral care, Essel Propack is looking to develop other parts of its portfolio. The strategy is to become stronger in beauty and cosmetics, health and home by branching into packaging for products such as adhesives and shoe polish. Many recent investments, like the cold foil printing, target those markets. “This new tubing line we invested in last year is really designed and developed to focus on those other segments,” Sojourner says.
Sojourner credits Essel Propack’s growth in part to its parent company’s global footprint. Essel Group operates 25 facilities among 12 countries. “We’re a global company so we can think globally but also act locally,” he says. Essel Propack has access to the global corporate team in India, which works on componentry, resins and other innovations.
The global corporate team has secured 26 patents in the last year alone for inventions such as Green Maple Leaf, a recyclable eco-friendly laminated tube with a proprietary oxygen-barrier-coated core layer and all-polyethylene film that keeps contents fresh.
In addition to that global resource for design and innovation, Essel Propack has a local team in Danville that works with customers on new product development.
Essel Propack has maintained it position as a market leader because of its ability to follow trends and develop packaging that enhances its customers’ products. The company is developing scented inks that can match the product inside, enabling consumers to smell the beauty product they are buying without having to open the container.
Laminate tubes also have a graphics quality advantage over traditional packaging. While most plastic bottles utilize labels that must be produced separately then adhered to the container, Essel Propack can print directly onto its laminate packages, improving print clarity and reducing cost.
Those advantages are among the reasons more product manufacturers are moving to laminate plastic containers. According to Sojourner, 46 percent of all new products in the beauty and pharmaceutical markets are packaged in laminate tubes.
To take advantage of that trend, Essel Propack last year introduced a 60-millimeter diameter tube, one of the largest laminate packages in the market. Sojourner says that increased size will allow for even more consumer products to make the switch from bottles to laminate tubes. “We’re very well positioned in terms of strategy and investment to focus on those market changes we’re seeing,” Sojourner says.
The latest addition to Essel Propack’s capabilities will continue the company’s tradition of pushing technology. With the help of Switzerland-based PackSys Global, Essel Propack has developed a Super High-Output Tubing Line capable to producing 500 medium-diameter tubes per minute, more than double any existing tubing production line in North America. The equipment is being installed in the Danville facility and is expected to begin operating by early November.
The machine is the culmination of smaller advancements in production technology and efficiency. “Over the last few years of design work with our global partner, we took the best attributes of our machines, eliminated the faults and put [the results] into this one,” Barton explains.
With its continued investment in improving laminate tubing, Essel Propack is poised to maintain its status at the top of the industry. “We continue to learn and adapt and grow,” Sojourner says. “We don’t stay complacent or rest on our laurels.”