Plastic Express provides resin service coast-to-coast
Apr 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Mary Davis
Ray Hufnagel, president of Plastic Express in City of Industry, California, emphasizes the importance of saving customers money wherever and whenever possible.
“We provide custom-tailored logistical solutions to fit the needs of our customers,” says Hufnagel. “Our goal has always been to exceed our customer's expectations — and we can do that by offering a specialized service dedicated to safely and efficiently transporting, transloading, and packaging plastic resins.”
When an uncompromised product is handled on time, the customer's bottom line benefits. To ensure the logistics meet the demand, Plastic Express has a workforce of professional drivers, a fleet of well-maintained vehicles, and a commitment to the latest technology.
“Communication with the customer is essential,” Hufnagel says. “We want to be sure they can focus on their core businesses and not logistical challenges.”
Plastic Express primarily handles plastics and offers nationwide services via distribution facilities located in the western and eastern United States. With the export market for most resins remaining strong for the last seven years, as well as domestic markets, the company experienced double-digit revenue growth that prompted the expansion of two East Coast locations one in Edison, New Jersey, and another in Albany, New York.
“Our customers continue to ask us to help meet their packaging and export demands,” says Hufnagel.
At the same time, the company has expanded its services to businesses in Mexico, South America, Europe, the Pacific Rim, and the Middle East.
Although the lagging economy has caused some concern, Plastic Express is considering diversification to reach out to additional markets. The carrier has begun handling other bulk products with a new dedicated equipment division.
“We are looking forward and continuing on our growth goal,” says Hufnagel. “However, we plan to stay within our core competencies.”
He is projecting a return to international plastics growth with an emphasis on the Asian countries and is mounting major marketing efforts in the area.
Many US plastics manufacturers moved facilities overseas where feedstocks are less expensive. However, mergers among the companies are occurring throughout the globe so that it is becoming a consolidated industry. Although some of the Far East markets may be declining, Hufnagel sees opportunity there for the future.
Hufnagel joined Plastic Express in 2001 after graduating from the Naval Academy and serving nine years in the Navy as an aviator. He reports directly to the company's owner, Ray Kurtz, who founded the company in 1970 in Orange, California, to haul plastic pipe.
By 1975 Kurtz had purchased his first pneumatic trailer and in the early 1980s expanded services to the East Coast. But in 1982, he decided to dedicate all his efforts to bulk plastic trucking. That led eventually to the opening of terminals in Arizona, Nevada, Minnesota, and Illinois.
By the early 1990s, Kurtz recognized a market for plastics packaging and warehousing and opened a facility in Santa Fe Springs, California. Not far behind was a venture with a California polypropylene manufacturer to handle all of that company's railcar loading and switching, bulk trucking, and export packaging activities.
Plastic Express continued on a forward path and the decision was made to relocate headquarters in City of Industry. The move was completed in 1999.
Today, in addition to the locations in New York and New Jersey, there are truck and transloading terminals in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties, California; Phoenix and Kingman, Arizona; Las Vegas, Nevada; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and St Paul, Minnesota. The transloading areas have railcar spots that range from 10 to 500 and are served by CSX Corp, Norfolk Southern Railway Co, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, Union Pacific Railroad Corp, and Canadian National Railway Co. Raritan Central Railroad, a shortline service, also serves the Raritan, New Jersey location.
“This allows us to be well-positioned in the major US plastic resin markets,” says Hufnagel. “Our concept is to establish terminals in about a 350-mile radius of the areas we serve, although most of them are within 50 miles.”
Typical transload service involves transferring product from rail hopper cars to pneumatic bulkers. But plastics also arrive in a variety of bags, including jumbo bags, and in bladders within ISO containers.
At the packaging centers, a full range of plastic resins are managed with state-of-the-art technology. Transfer units are capable of packaging at rates of 65,000 pounds or more per hour. Facilities have fully automated, computerized bag-filling units with robotic palletizing equipment. Automated packaging lines can handle octabins made of thick cardboard with an inner plastic lining, multiple plastic bag choices, and jumbo plastic bags.
The warehouse in City of Industry has over 120,000 square feet of space and Edison has been expanded recently to a capacity of 245,000 square feet for both long-term and short-term storage. Both are rail-served.
The facilities participate in Operation Clean Sweep, a program sponsored by the American Chemistry Council and the Society of the Plastics Industry. The program is designed for plastic pellet containment — and has a goal of zero pellet release. All captured pellets at Plastic Express facilities are recycled, notes Brian Loft, vice-president of warehouse and packaging.
Plastic Express uses an in-house developed software system that interacts with Microsoft programs to track data. The program records the history of all transactions.
On the trucking side of the business, the fleet has grown to 84 pneumatic trailers and 56 power units, 35 company-owned and the remainder belonging to owner-operators. Plastic Express employs 30 drivers and six contract operators provide additional drivers.
The driver recruitment program requires applicants to be at least 23 years old with three years truck driving experience and have no traffic violations for the past three years.
“We only use experienced drivers, and require each one to complete extensive training on the proper handling of bulk plastic materials,” says Tom McKellar, vice-president of transportation and terminals. “We are looking for thoughtful and deliberate drivers who are well-mannered.”
“We actually have a waiting list of drivers,” notes Hufnagel. “We work very hard to find drivers who fit our culture and are proud to be part of our team.”
The driver program requires applicants to ride with a veteran company driver to see what the job entails and to be exposed to the company's culture and expectations before they make a final decision to begin training.
The initial new-hire orientation covers company policies, Department of Transportation regulations, and defensive driving. “Our new hires spend a lot of time with in-cab training and loading and unloading procedures,” McKellar adds.
Once on the job, drivers can qualify for quarterly bonuses for safe and efficient performance. “Our drivers have to think in terms of time rather than miles,” he says. “Most of their driving, especially here in California, is spent in traffic congestion.”
Driver retention (turnover is just 4%) is encouraged by new and well-maintained equipment. Power units are dedicated to individual drivers, which gives the drivers a sense of pride of ownership, says McKellar, adding that tractors typically are traded every four years, another advantage for not only providing drivers with up-to-date equipment, but for ensuring reliable service for customers.
To also make drivers' duties easier, and to maintain product integrity, pneumatic bulkers are dedicated to specific product lines. “That's why we have more trailers than tractors,” Hufnagel points out. “We handle a variety of types of products. Proper stewardship is paramount, so we dedicate the majority of our trailers to specific product families to guard against cross contamination. For quality assurance, we sample every load.”
Plastic Express has standardized its fleet on dry bulkers from J&L Tank supplied by Pneumatic Technology (PneuTech) and tractors from Freightliner. Lonnie Jeffers at PneuTech notes that Plastic Express is a long-time customer and has always specified an aesthetically pleasing bulker with high polish custom Hogebilt fenders, integrated rear frame closure/bumpers with integrated light housings, cover plates, and custom tool/fitting storage boxes.
Bulkers typically have 1,636 cubic feet of capacity and are equipped with PneuTech air-to-air coolers, ZC air inlet filters, six-inch Sure Seal discharge valves, Dixon-Bayco four-inch and Knappco three-inch check valves, Heil MM pressure covers for manholes, and 40-inch filter canisters. Plastic Express uses various proprietary stinger designs (product distribution orifices inside the trailer) to maximize tank loading without the driver having to climb atop the trailer.
The carrier also specifies an all-aluminum frame and Hendrickson Intraax air ride suspension with integrated drop center inverted axles, as well as Michelin X One single tires.
Freightliner tractors have Detroit Diesel 500-horsepower engines and Eaton Fuller AutoShift 10-speed transmissions, Freightliner air ride suspensions, MeritorWabco antilock brake system, and Alcoa aluminum wheels. All new tractors are spec'd with Michelin X One single drive tires. The carrier prefers 170-gallon fuel tanks for a lighter load. Gardner Denver blowers are mounted on the tractors.
Tractor maintenance and minor repairs are handled by outside shops with warranty work provided by Freightliner dealers. Tank trailers are sent out to J&L Tank repair facilities for maintenance and repairs.
With the fleet in good order, a low driver turnover rate, and a growing market, Plastic Express is poised for further expansion.
“The global market is something we will key on,” says Hufnagel. “Developing new customer relationships and maintaining the standards we have with our current customers will continue to be a top priority. We are a company that embraces change. We are always looking for ways that we can improve.
“With our one-stop-shop distribution centers on both the East and West Coasts, we can assure our customers that their resin handling challenges are met every day.”
© 2013 Penton Media Inc.
Acceptable Use Policy blog comments powered by Disqus