No Shortage Of Energy Savings
For Start-Up Coastal Container

November 27, 2007
| By Pete Daly |
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HOLLAND — Smoke is coming from the stack again at the former Sligh Furniture building at 1201 Industrial Ave. in Holland. The smoke indicates the presence of Coastal Container, a new company that makes a long-established product — but using new ideas with far less dependence on fossil fuels.

Coastal Container opened for business in October, designing and manufacturing custom corrugated packaging primarily for automotive and furniture industry suppliers. The company, which also assists its customers with inventory management of their container products, was started by Brent Patterson with a team of experienced packaging industry professionals.

Patterson, 44, is the former president of Holland-based Shoreline Container, which he led for 21 years before selling his interest in the company more than a year ago. His father, William Patterson, founded Shoreline in 1962 and will serve in a consulting role at Coastal Container. Coastal Container has already hired 25 employees, many of whom are seasoned veterans of the packaging industry. Total employment in the new box company is expected to grow to 75 by the end of 2008.

Earlier this year Coastal Container purchased the plant that Sligh had vacated about two years ago. The building offers 235,000 square feet of manufacturing space, which Coastal Container has reconfigured to accommodate best-practices container manufacturing and processing. The planned investment in the facility will total $10 million.

“We have literally started from scratch in the creation of our company, which allowed us to incorporate best practices in every step of our processes,” Patterson said. “We don’t have any bad habits to correct, and that creates big competitive advantages for us in quality, cost and efficiency.”

Patterson is particularly proud of Coastal Container's use of alternative energy sources. The plant has two boilers, one a conventional gas-fired boiler and the other designed to burn bio-fuel — in this case, scrap wood.

“With an operating temperature of around 1,500 degrees, the (bio-fuel) system provides a very clean and efficient alternative to gas or petroleum heat,” said Patterson.

Eventually, said Patterson, "We are going to run and heat our entire building on wood. We aren't going to use any natural gas." The gas-fired boiler will be maintained as a backup. "We're not going to run it," he said.

The 20-acre plant site has silos designed to store 3,000 cubic yards of wood waste, which is obtained from "various wood (product) manufacturers in the West Michigan area." The wood waste in the silos is augered automatically to the wood-burning boiler in the plant.

He noted that currently, "a lot of (industrial wood waste) is going into landfills."

Corrugated box production also generates paper scrap and dust. The waste paper is recycled back to the paper mills, but the dust can be a problem — and there can be as much as several cubic yards of it generated every day, Patterson said. So the air inside the plant is continuously filtered, and dust is also captured at some of the machines. The dust is then fed automatically into the boiler fire, along with the wood scraps. Patterson noted that removing the dust in the plant provides a better environment for workers.

The wood-fired boiler produces steam for heating and for humidification in the plant. Overly dry air inside the plant can cause corrugated materials to crack and tear, which leads to damage and waste. In addition, employees who work in corrugated facilities often have dry, irritated skin — especially on their hands — during the low-humidity winter months.

With humidifying units strategically located throughout the plant, Coastal Container maintains desired humidity levels throughout the dry months, which results in a more comfortable work environment and fewer damaged materials.

But the bio-fuel boiler can produce more steam than the plant needs for heat and humidification, according to Patterson, so next summer the company plans to install a 500-kilowatt electric turbine, which will also be driven by the steam boiler burning waste wood.

"We are going to run our plant without any fossil fuels," said Patterson, adding he is not aware of any other plant in the area that generates its own heat and electrical energy. The facility will still be tied into the public electric grid, however, as a back-up.

The hi-los used in the plant are powered by electric motors and will be recharged with their own "home-grown" electricity.

Patterson said he can recall times when storms caused electrical outages that shut down industrial plants, but he is confident "we are never going to be down."

The federal government also offers grants to qualifying businesses for investing in renewable energy sources. Patterson said Coastal Container does not currently receive any of those grants but the firm is looking into it.

Some of the other advantages in the Coastal Container plant include:

**More than 2,500 square feet of space for product development and testing, which will incorporate a broad range of sophisticated testing equipment.

**An increased number of receiving and shipping docks, including a custom-built indoor receiving facility to permit weather-protected, just-in-time delivery of materials and finished goods.

**Total bar-code control of all incoming materials and outgoing finished goods.

**Straight-line manufacturing layout that allows for reduced product and material handling, storage and damage.

Coastal Container is trying to recruit talented employees with tactics such as a 401k retirement plan that requires zero vesting — there is no minimum length of service to qualify for receiving matching funds from the company.

 “Our goal is to be one of most preferred employers in the lakeshore area,” Patterson said. “We’re building a highly team-based culture, and we need to attract outstanding people who take pride in being part of a great organization.”

Besides Patterson, the management team at Coastal Container includes Tamara Jalving, vice president of corporate operations, and Greg Groh, design manager. William Baumgartner is the president of Coastal Fulfillment, a sister company also located in the plant.    

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