Proteus grows with more efficient operations

Consumers may take packaging for granted, but it is used in a wide variety of industries to hold and sell products.

Proteus Packaging in Franklin makes folding carton paperboard packaging for some of the most popular food and consumer product companies in the country. Bayer, Yoplait Yogurt and Carma Laboratories Inc., the Franklin-based maker of Carmex lip balm, are among its customers.

Originally called Beck Carton Corp. and located in several disjointed buildings in the Third Ward, Proteus changed to its current name and moved to its 246,000-square-foot facility in the Franklin Business Park in 2005. The space is about the same total size as its Third Ward operation, but much more efficient.

“Were growing approximately 15 to 20 percent a year, so that’s pretty healthy growth, particulary considering the economy we’ve had over the last few years,” said CEO Tom Wamser, who purchased the business in 1982. “Our new facility really helps a lot in developing new customers, because our capabilities and capacities have greatly improved.”

The company, founded in 1932, has traditionally focused on the Milwaukee industrial base. Recently, it has also targeted cosmetic, pharmaceutical and food companies to continue its growth. These nondiscretionary industries also helped keep business steady during the recession.

“In my view, growth opportunities are probably more evident in those areas, pharmaceutical, food, cosmetic, than they would be in more mature markets and markets that have less change going on,” Wamser said.

In addition, Proteus has invested $12 million in new equipment in the last six years. Wamser also has emphasized education and training, as well as improved data processing and control systems, all of which are aimed to move Proteus to the higher end of the packaging market.

Proteus has about 100 employees, 20 of whom were hired since 2006. Wamser expects to continue hiring.

Employees work with customers to develop packaging, testing different techniques for tough shapes like mops in the research and design area.

Pharmaceutical packaging is about 45 to 50 percent of the business, with orders for packaging on products like diabetic monitoring kits from several major pharmaceutical companies, said Tim Wayman, executive vice president and COO.

Proteus doesn’t often work directly with the customer, but with contract manufacturers, he said.

“We don’t package anything – what we’re making is the piece that gets filled by the customer,” Wayman said.

It has a controlled-environment inventory of large rolls of different sizes and grades of paperboard. There are three grades of paperboard customers can choose from: solid bleach sulphate, solid unbleached sulphate and clay-coated news back. There are subtle differences between each, with varying strengths, finishes and brightness, he said.

The paperboard rolls are trimmed, and then printed on six- or seven-color presses with product information. It is then cut and scored. Proteus has about 2,800 die cuts for different packaging layouts.

“There is no such thing as a stock box – it’s custom,” Wayman said.

Overhead pumps suck waste from the trimming machines to feed balers. Waste and trim is baled and sold back to paper mills for recycling.

Next, the roll is separated into individual packages and moves on to pasting and partial assembly. Most packaging ships partly assembled, so it can lay flat.

Proteus’ gluing machines can paste about 53,000 packages per hour. The PacXtra division also designs and adds custom coupons, special offers, instructions and security tags to the inside or outside of some packaging.

The company is also working with Cosilion in Racine to develop antimicrobial coatings for a range of products, which could be used in medical settings in the future.

On Oct. 1, Proteus started using new software, which includes a barcode capability so customers can check if products are ready to ship online.

The company is always looking for ways to improve its technology and reach, Wamser said.

“The pharmaceutical, cosmetics, food, that’s a constantly changing thing all the time,” he said. “In order to be a viable supplier in those markets, you really have to be on top of your game.”

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