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Hamrick Packaging Systems 2.0

The addition of robotics and integration services diversifies the OEM’s offerings and positions this family-owned business for the future of packaging.

Hamrick Packaging's 2021 groundbreaking ceremony for its new 65,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility.
Hamrick Packaging's 2021 groundbreaking ceremony for its new 65,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility.
Hamrick Packaging Systems

Established in 1975 as Hamrick Manufacturing & Service, Inc., this Ohio-based company had humble beginnings as a re-builder and parts supplier of Meyer case packers and uncasers. The founders—and brothers— Luther “Red” Hamrick and Gene Hamrick, quickly evolved the business into a manufacturer of its own end-of-line case and tray packers. And for decades the company ran “comfortably” as it sold its quality equipment.

Fast-forward to 2010, when Jordan Hamrick, a young graduate from Kent State University who majored in business management and marketing, joined the family business. With fresh eyes on the organization, Jordan quickly realized that operations were antiquated and equipment had not been updated in decades.   

“My grandfather and great uncle still ran [the business] at the time and it was like pulling teeth to get changes made,” Hamrick says, noting that even the equipment hadn’t changed in over 20 years. “We took the same pneumatic case packer to every trade show where customers would ask what was new. They were really asking to replace their 25 year-old machinery with a newer design.”

Jordan encouraged his elders to adopt more technology and diversify the offerings. But Red and Gene ran a tight ship. “The ownership was quite comfortable with the life they had built and didn’t want to rock the boat,” Hamrick remembers. “But I wanted to flip the boat on its head.”

In 2016, Jordan and his father, Phil, inherited ownership of the company when his great uncle Gene,  grandfather Red, and uncle Tom sadly passed away within four years of each other.  But now, as president of the company, it was Jordan’s chance to make a change. “I told my dad, ‘you sent me to school to figure this out, let me figure it out.’ And he did, he trusted me to make decisions,” he says. “My dad ran our company with both hands tied behind his back for years. One of the things I’ve been most proud of is helping him build this company to what it should have been. He’s a very hands-on CEO, and still works on a lot of equipment on the floor. We have two very different skillsets, but they complement each other well, and are a big reason we make such a good team.”Brian Ebie, COO; Jordan Hamrick, President; Phil Hamrick, CEO, standing in the machine shop of Hamrick's new facility in Kent, OHBrian Ebie, COO; Jordan Hamrick, President; Phil Hamrick, CEO, standing in the machine shop of Hamrick's new facility in Kent, OHLaura Ebie Photography

The father and son team started to invest in people, redesign the lineup of equipment, and move into robotics by becoming a system integrator for Fanuc America Corp. In 2020, the company rebranded as Hamrick Packaging Systems. And in 2021, they broke ground on a new 65,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Kent, Ohio to accommodate its expanding equipment options.

The executive team also includes COO Brian Ebie. “Brian has been integral on the operations side of our business,” adds Hamrick. “He helped navigate through many uncertainties with COVID, implementing policies and procedures to keep our staff safe and healthy. He also did the majority of the planning on the new manufacturing site, which has helped me focus on sales.

Historically, Hamrick Packaging has offered only two case packer models, which was the company’s bread and butter—and still is, because even though the industry was trending to more robotic pick and place, Hamrick recognized how important drop packing still is because it can run faster and is operator friendly, so it’s easier to maintain. “I decided if we’re going to stick with drop packing, let’s build the best drop packer on the market.” So they redesigned what they had and made it an entirely servo drop packer. The company has sold over 100 of those specific machines since its release in 2020. “It’s a good model for us. It’s been our cash cow and allowed us to take those margins and reinvest in growing areas of the company, which is robotics and system integration.”

To that end, in the last few years, the OEM has re-designed the entire portfolio of secondary packaging equipment, including: case erecting (tape), robotic partition inserting, servo drop packing, gantry pick & place case packing, robotic case packing, case sealing (tape, glue, combo), robotic palletizing, and custom robotic applications.  In 2021, Hamrick Packaging developed its first case packer with auto-changeover, installed its first robotic palletizer for bags, and installed its first robotic palletizer for regular slotted container (RSC) boxes.

“We sold over 120 machines in 2021 and eclipsed $25 million in revenue,” Hamrick says, noting a tenfold increase in new machinery sales since 2012.  And that is due not only to diversifying the equipment, but adding system integration to its service offerings.

“We wanted to take the average purchase model, which in 2009 was probably $75,000, and get more pieces of that puzzle by being responsible for more and managing projects internally,” Hamrick explains. “And as we add people  to our Systems Group, it helps us to not only sell case packers, but erectors, packers, sealers, palletizers, conveyors, and line controls. So the [purchase order] goes from $75,000 to $100,000 in 2009 to $500,000 to over $1 million in 2022.”

Obstacles and opportunities

Among its achievements in the past year, Hamrick Packaging Systems reached Tier 4 status with Fanuc within two years of entering the authorized system integrator (ASI) program. “We’re closing in on 50  arms sold in the first 30 months in the Fanuc ASI program, and are forecasted to hit 100 arms sold by mid-2024.”A dual-robot case packing cell being staged to run 1,000 cans per minuteA dual-robot case packing cell being staged to run 1,000 cans per minuteLaura Ebie Photography

Offering robotics gives Hamrick Packaging the ability to present options to customers. As does the expanded product portfolio. But it comes with a cost to the OEM due to recent industry events.

All of the Hamrick Packaging machines use Allen-Bradley controls from Rockwell Automation, but the supply chain disaster and the dearth of controllers and components have caused the company to turn to alternate options—often buying controls on eBay—just to get machines out the door for the customer. But that comes with a hefty price tag. “We are buying them at 400% to 1,000% markup, but we won’t charge the customer that,” Hamrick says. “We are taking less margin on some machines, but doing what we can to assist customers. We want to keep them as happy as we can until the start-up while ensuring the machine will do its job.”

As a result of the supply chain shortage, specifically their reliance on Allen-Bradley, they’ve proactively developed an alternate controls package through Mitsubishi Electric, Weintek, and Weidmuller, as well as Banner Engineering for the machine safety platform, while maintaining the Allen-Bradley PLCs when possible.

“Our backlog went from 25 machines to over 90 within a matter of months,” Hamrick explains. “The busiest time in our history was unfortunately paired with the time when we became the least efficient. A machine would sit on the floor for weeks, sometimes months waiting for components to arrive. We’ve purchased almost 50 PLCs on eBay in the last year. And it seems like we have meetings every day to discuss a new challenge that is preventing us from pleasing our customers. For me, that’s been the most frustrating part. Customer satisfaction is all that matters here, and it’s hard to do that when you’re constantly getting hit with bad news.”

The company also has had struggles finding labor. Hamrick Packaging has hired over 15 individuals for new positions since COVID hit, but they are always looking for more talent. The hope is that the move in September to the new 65,000 sq. ft. facility will help.  It is a wide open area to provide space to place a dozen pre-built servo case packers and to pre-build standard erectors and sealers, as well as pick & place equipment, robotic case packers and palletizers, while leaving roughly 20,000 square feet to set up turnkey systems.A bird's-eye view of Hamrick Packaging Systems' new 65,000 sq. ft. facility in Ohio.A bird's-eye view of Hamrick Packaging Systems' new 65,000 sq. ft. facility in Ohio.

“But we also planned for the future so we can add 90,000 sq. ft. more within the eight and a half acres we purchased for this site,” says Hamrick. “We’ve added on to our existing building 12 times over 47 years, and it’s really hindered our growth opportunities. The new site will give us the space to shoot for our end goal – which is to become a $100 million a year company.

It’s exciting for the employees to have a new facility to work in, and it’s in a strategic location that puts the company in a good position for future recruiting programs.  “Our facility is right off the highway between Kent and Akron, two schools we have partnered with for internship programs. That plan will start in 2023, and we hope to attract younger talent with an eagerness to learn everything automation has to offer,” Hamrick says.

All in the family

As a third generation owner of Hamrick Packaging Systems, Jordan does not lose sight of what’s important. In fact, in an article in Family Business magazine in which Jordan was named one of the “2021 NextGens to Watch,” he commented: “Family is everything. My passion is leaving my children with a better situation than we inherited if they want to continue building our legacy. I know the statistics on family-owned businesses, and I was determined to be an exception to that rule. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish as a family-owned and operated business for the last 46 years, and even prouder that we’re doing it in the right way.”Jordan Hamrick, President, next to a custom dual-robot case packer.Jordan Hamrick, President, next to a custom dual-robot case packer.Laura Ebie Photography

In fact, there were many times that Jordan and his father entertained an acquisition of the company, but ultimately felt that the money couldn’t replace the good things they could do if they remained a family-run company. For example, they recently donated $100,000 to Jordan’s old high school to rebuild the football stadium after the bleachers had been condemned. “We felt it was something we could do to help out the community, which we likely couldn’t have done without having ownership here,” he explains.

And employees become an extension of that family. “Our people are the reason we’re thriving nearly a half-century after we were founded. They kept us going through the tough years, and have helped us blossom through the good ones,” Hamrick says, noting that everyone at the company is focused on customer satisfaction, which ultimately secures long term business and trust with those customers. “What makes us shine is that we don’t base our success off of sales or EBITDA, but by how we continue to leverage the successes of our staff and our customers.”Carlos Gaiter, electrical engineer, wiring a panel on a servo drop packer.Carlos Gaiter, electrical engineer, wiring a panel on a servo drop packer.Laura Ebie Photography

Hamrick takes it personally, as well. Taking calls from customers any time of day or night, or making customer visits to provide on-the-spot-decisions. “My last name is on every piece of equipment we build so it really gives you some incentive to put out a quality product and take care of those customers.”

As for the future, Hamrick says he is still taking it one day at a time in this decade-long plan that is playing itself out. “We’re in the second five year plan for our company and the future for us is continued expansion and investment in robotics, continued addition of resources for system integration, controls engineering, robotics technicians, sales engineers, application engineers, and project managers. That is the plan heading forward.”

And the start of the company’s next five year plan really launches in October in Chicago. “PACK EXPO International will be sort of our coming out party,” Hamrick says. “Working with the Kondracki Group, we bought a 3,400 sq. ft. booth in the south hall. To go from a 10x10 ft. booth a decade ago with just my father and I working it, to 3,400 sq. ft.,  six or seven machines, a brand new  display with a dozen employees there, it’s special for us.”

Hamrick’s vision of incorporating more technology, diversifying the portfolio, and growing the business is coming to fruition. And, despite the early resistance to his big ideas back in 2010, there’s no doubt Jordan has made his father, grandfather, and great uncle very proud.

But he’s not stopping now. “It’s an exciting time for us, but there are still a lot of goals for us to be chasing as we make this transition into Hamrick 2.0.”

 

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