Graco and Summit Brewing team up to solve sticky problem

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 15, 2013 - 9:29 PM

Summit Brewing needed a better way to seal its cardboard boxes, so Graco came up with a glue technology that solved its problems.

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Kenny Gunderman, Summit Brewing’s packaging manager, explained how boxes of beer bottles are glued shut by a Graco glue head as they passed underneath while going down the assembly line. Graco has launched a new line of hot glue equipment that dispenses packaging glue more efficiently and eliminates a stench.

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For all its 87 years, Graco Inc.’s bedrock business has been industrial sprayers that paint everything from cars to football fields for the Super Bowl.

But on Friday it entered the sticky business of package glue, with a new machine that promises to take the fuss — and funk — out of sealing boxes.

Minneapolis-based Graco has dashed across the mighty Mississippi to St. Paul, where it is partnering with Summit Brewing on a new “hot melt” dispenser that Graco hopes will revolutionize the packaging industry.

The two Twin Cities companies have never worked together. But a glue clogging problem at one plant and a fledgling idea at the other brought the two firms together to develop InvisiPac, a tankless carton-sealer about the size of a backpack. The system not only prevents clogging glue, but also eliminates the foul odor associated with the so-called glue crockpots now standard in the packaging industry.

Graco, which has $1 billion in annual sales, already makes industrial glue dispensers that seal windshields, mobile homes, and windows and doors. Until now, product packaging has remained untouched turf.

“A few years ago we identified packaging as a growth opportunity for us. And we think we can grow it,” said Nicholas Long, Graco’s global marketing manager. “There is a significant unmet need to apply our hot melt technology to packaging.”

If successful, the new product line could produce millions in fresh reve­nue for Graco, which has recently enjoyed 13 percent sales growth thanks to a key acquisition and a comeback in construction and contractor equipment sales.

But tapping into the $36 billion box-packaging industry will further diversify Graco’s offerings and revenue base, analysts noted.

“They have a great track record of going into a new category, of penetrating it and driving strong growth,” said Michael Halloran, a Robert W. Baird senior research analyst.

Last year, Summit ­Brewing’s boxing equipment in St. Paul kept getting jammed with glue, with backups so bad that production would stop. Meanwhile, Graco was looking for a local partner to test its packaging technology. Graco ended up calling Summit, and from there, a partnership was born.

Graco’s latest experiment offers a unique “tankless” applicator for melted glue. Summit Brewing installed two test machines last spring. Two more lines are expected later this year.

“We like the new system. We want to go all-Graco,” said Summit packaging manager Kenny Gunderman.

On a recent Wednesday, thousands of Summit beer bottles clinked and rattled along overhead conveyor belts, under spouts, and past labeling machines as worker Joe Paul welcomed them to the end of the line. There he stuffed boxes into a packaging machine attached to Graco’s new hot melter.

The machine features two parts: an oversized canister filled with golden glue pellets and a vacuum that continuously sucks just a few beads at a time into a heater. As each case of beer shimmies past, the machine deposits the molten glue on cardboard seams, sealing the box shut.

The process is fast and easily missed with the naked eye. What’s not missed? The smell.

Traditional glue crockpots “stink like old gym shorts,” Gunderman said. “That can’t be good for your brain.”

Paul said he doesn’t miss his old glue crockpot, a seven-liter container that held pungent molten glue. With the pot, “glue got all over the tubes and dries up in the creases so you sometimes couldn’t open the glue drawer” and you have to scrape the whole thing down, Paul said. The Graco line “is dry and is a lot less work. I don’t have to clean up as much.”

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