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Sunday, 22 July 2012 00:39

ITB offers sustainable packaging solution

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ITB offers sustainable packaging solution Courtesy photo
HOLLAND — A West Michigan manufacturing startup has taken the international packaging industry by storm creating an eco-friendly divider that's generating as much buzz in the business as bubble wrap did a half century ago.

ITB Packaging LLC — the original name was The Box Packaging — makes lower cost, flexible package dividers made of paper, fabric and bubble wrap, but not cardboard. The end result is more products can be packed in boxes that weigh less.

Depending on the shipping container, paper dividers can add 10 to 20 percent more product per box and fabric dividers can add up to 40 percent more pieces. The weight of the dividers is also about 50 percent less than with cardboard.

More products and less shipping weight have resulted in big cost savings for Johnson Controls Inc., said North American Packaging Buyer Dave Colclough.

"The biggest draw is the shipping cost savings associated with their new product," he said. "We average 20 to 25 percent. We use them for shipping interior auto parts into the OEM assembly plants. We probably have upwards of a dozen different ITB designs in use."

One might say that's heady praise for a company only 17 months old. Then again, ITB just won a gold award for innovation and cost reduction — one of five winners out of 300 entries — in the 24th annual DuPont Packaging Award competition announced in May. Other entries came from billion-dollar companies with huge development budgets.

"That is pretty impressive," Colclough said. "It is a global award that historically is focused on consumer packaging. So it's pretty significant that ITB was named for an industrial design."

The company says its design allows its customers to be more sustainable in their packaging.

"Because of the way our dividers are made, we use the whole container for our framing," said ITB President Gene McClain, a former quality manager at Haworth Inc.

"This gives us more space to work in. In the same amount of space, a traditional divider gets 12 cells; we get 16. This gives us a very good green story we can tell," he said. "We get better density, less storage space, less transportation cost and a lower environmental footprint."

Another advantage of flexible packaging, said McClain, is that it has "give" so the dividers actually cradle the products and there are no sharp edges to scratch product surfaces. ITB makes both expendable and returnable packaging, while some products are 100-percent recyclable.

In addition, the ITB process requires no tooling. Interior cells are sealed from top to bottom, providing strength, durability, as well as part separation and protection. The dividers also allow customers to ship ITB dividers flat, but ready to simply pop open and drop into a container. The divider frame — used for the "pop and drop" application — can be corrugated paper or plastic, or the divider can be connected directly to the container using a hook/loop application.

ITB Packaging Chairman and CEO Cal Kortman invented the flexible fabric packaging while at Integrated Fabric Resource. Kortman and his founding partners — his wife and office manager, Julie Kortman; McClain and his wife, Mary McClain; Kortman's brother Mark Kortman; and their mother, Joyce Kortman, a former Ottawa County Commissioner — pooled their money to buy the rights to the patents and have one-of-a-kind production equipment built from designs by Kortman.

In February 2011, IBT moved into the former ConAgra Reddi-Wip plant in Holland.

McCain said some later stage investment capital also came from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Michigan Economic Development Corp. The ROI on that public money is 15 new employees, McCain said.

"I've known Cal for a long time and he always impressed me with his inventiveness and when he showed me the flexible designs I went, 'Wow, I think we have something here,'" McCain said.

Mike Brennan is senior technology writer at MiBiz. His day job is editor and publisher of

Read 2652 times Last modified on Sunday, 05 August 2012 22:42

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