Technology feeds growth at Bemis

Sep. 08, 2013 @ 07:18 AM

Bemis Manufacturing Co. came to Lenoir in 1999 with 50 employees and six machines in a 28,000-square-foot facility. Today, 200 people manufacture top-of-the-line plastic products seven days a week in 330,000 square feet, and the company is still growing.

Jim Chapman, Southeast director of operations for Bemis, said the company is looking for about 20 new employees, trying to draw young people capable of programming and operating robotics and who are familiar with plastics.

An employee working hard at Bemis could earn up to $70,000 a year, Chapman said, but the positions are not easy to get. The last time the company was were hiring, company officials went through 700 applications to find 30 candidates.

Technology is on the forefront at Bemis, whose warehouse features robotic arms delivering pieces to workers, and high-tech machines using infrared light to join plastics. Even the forklifts at Bemis are equipped with computers and scanners, reading bar codes on the boxes they pick up so the workers know exactly what is where.

The company was founded in 1901, making wooden wagons and furniture in Sheboygan, Wis., where it is still headquartered and run by the fourth generation of its founding family. Bemis has become a global company, with locations all over the world, including the U.K., The Netherlands, China and Mexico.

Bemis is most known for its toilet seats, with the tagline “Be seated by Bemis,” but that’s not the case at the Lenoir plant, where everything from trash can lids to bases for rolling umbrellas are made.

Some of the most forward plastics products are chairs made from a combination of recycled bottles and glass fibers, and golf cart exteriors made from the same material as golf balls. Bemis is the only supplier in the country for the front and rear panels for Club Cart golf carts, manufacturing the high-quality plastic that could stand the test of a 3-wood from an angry golfer, Chapman said.

In 1999, looking to expand and create a presence in the Southeast, Bemis purchased its plant in Lenoir from Kelch, a company that manufactured lawn and garden equipment, mainly black propylene steering wheels.

When Bemis started in Lenoir, the operation was all manual. Its first machine, the first one Bemis ever purchased for any plant, came about 1971.

Mostly, raw plastics come into the facility and are fed into large molds, operated robotically. The finished product is then delivered to workers via conveyor belt, who then test for quality and put on the finishing touches.

Honda, Kubota, John Deere, Briggs & Stratton and Caterpillar are just a few of the companies that Bemis contracts that are supplied by the Lenoir plant. It also manufactures parts for Knoll, a high-end office furniture supplier, as well as making parts for Thomas, a school bus manufacturer.