Wisconsin’s Converting industry, with its wide-ranging capabilities, is committed to maintaining production at full capacity to meet challenged created by the COVID-19 pandemic. These typically quiet small-to-midsize companies are often under contract to large buying entities ranging from medical distribution suppliers to retail brand partners.
Converters produce hundreds of specialty products that are used for medical protective equipment and hospital supplies, food packaging, pressure sensitive liners, cosmetic, baby and many other items in home and institutional usage.
The state’s converting industry takes jumbo mill rolls of paper, nonwovens and film, transforming these materials into finished products. “Converting in Wisconsin is the largest lineup in the nation, particularly in the ‘converting corridor’ from Green Bay to Milwaukee,” says Barb LaMue, President of New North, a development organization promoting 18 counties of Northeast Wisconsin.
Wisconsin papermaking tonnage leads the nation, also with its unique specialty capabilities, supporting, contracting and developing substrates for converters. “The regional strengths of all these industries, including paper, nonwovens, plastics, printing, packaging, and converting, makes this state a powerhouse,” says Scott Suder of the Wisconsin Paper Council.
An impressive example of the integration between industries is illustrated by Little Rapids Corporation, headquartered in Green Bay. “Our Shawano Paper Mill supplies needs for specialty paper materials at our Graham Medical and Graham Beauty Divisions,” says Kirk Ryan, CEO and president. “We convert paper, films and nonwovens into patient gowns, O.R. caps, scrubs for medical, EMS and other healthcare settings. Our printing division produces packaging and other applications.” Little Rapids products are distributed nationally.
Especially creative and diverse work of converters is a hallmark of the industry. Biax-Fiberfilm and 5K fibers in the Fox Valley represents high tech materials qualified in N95 mask components. “We are unique with our meltblown and spunbond nonwovens for medical and mask usage,” days Doug Brown, President. “Now, we are expanding capacity beyond our two machines running flat-out in Greenville.”
“The company is the only one known in Wisconsin to meet fabric requirements for the N95 mask and one of the very few in the U.S.,” says Susan Stansbury, industry consultant.
Facilities have taken careful steps to protect both their workforce and their customers from the spread of COVID-19. Many processes are naturally spread out in the industry’s factories. “The industry is automated with operators using touch-screen controls separated from fellow co-workers, only two per lengthy machine, for example,” says Masood Akhtar of CleanTech Partners. “And this industry’s output continues to assure employment, as well as maintaining supply.”
Many of these converted products are in high demand and are medical necessities. In addition, Wisconsin is home to the leading manufacturers in terms of numbers of companies and variety of wet wipes for antibacterial, sanitizing and cleansing usage. Ranging from Top Brass Inc., to Rockline Industries, KleenTest and more than a dozen other manufacturers, this converter-packaging group makes national and healthcare brands. “Like a number of companies in Wisconsin, we make these premoistened wipes in canisters and ‘flat packs’ under contracts,” says Brad McKay of Top Brass Inc. in Wittenberg, WI. Other companies such as American Custom Converting in Green Bay make folded dry wipes and other cleaning and specialty items. “We are known for our ability to adapt our equipment to meet often-urgent needs,” says John Michaud of ACC.