KAPCO hits grand slam in pursuing custom markets

Baseball player Joe Carter invents a converted product that now replaces what for generations has been a down-and-dirty - but mostly sticky - situation. Kent Adhesive Products Co. manufactures the custom product with an assist from ITW Dynatec.

Even if you're the Toronto Blue Jay slugger Joe Carter, you can find something to complain about regarding your job. For Carter it was the pine-tar-covered rag everyone in the sport has always used to get a sticky grip on the bat. Granted, it's not a common dilemma, but the implications for a successful replacement product could give major league standing to the inventor and his manufacturing team. Called the Tack Tube[TM], the Joe Carter invention is effective and definitely more "user-friendly."

"Having a good feel of the bat is vital when trying to make contact with 90-mile-per-hour fastballs," says Carter. Necessity is the mother of invention, as the adage says, so Carter set to work to find a replacement for the rag. With the help of Bill Hildenbrand, president of Joe Carter Enterprises, Carter developed a flexible foam/felt tube that could be internally coated with a suitable tacky substance. The tacky substance could then be transferred to the bat by simply placing the tube around the handle and squeezing it.

Hildenbrand, who previously learned during development of a golfing product that there was ample polymer expertise in northeast Ohio, suggested that Carter pursue the idea through the Applied Polymer Research Laboratory at the Univ. of Akron. The cooperating chemists recommended to Carter and Hildenbrand several suitable tacky compounds with which prototypes were made. Carter then tested the tube during spring training. With his feedback, the lab optimized transfer properties and the polymer's performance at various ambient temperatures.

The resulting proprietary replacement is colorless and cleaner than pine tar, it works better in the cool weather of a pennant drive, and it's suitable for both wood and aluminum bats. The laboratory then put Joe Carter Enterprises in touch with the Edison Polymer Innovation Corp. (EPIC), a nonprofit polymer research consortium that is a partner with the Univ. of Akron. EPIC, in turn, put Joe Carter Enterprises in touch with Kent, OH-based Kent Adhesive Products Co. (KAPCO), an EPIC industry member. (KAPCO, through a member agreement, utilizes EPIC - along with other dues-paying members - for research and development, technical activities, business assistance and educational training programs). The result was the patented Tack Tube, which is now distributed nationwide.

Hot Melt Adds to Range of Capabilities

It was KAPCO's manufacturing capabilities, as well as its attraction to unusual and unique pressure-sensitive converting applications, that allowed the project to reach fruition. KAPCO's recently expanded converting capabilities include a Pace (Cleveland, OH) rotary die-cutter for materials up to 18 in. wide and 60-in. custom emulsion-coating capabilities. With the new die-cutting equipment, KAPCO will expand into custom constructions for medical applications. The emulsion coater allows them entrance into the p-s electronic imaging market for ink jet-receptive paper, vinyl and polyester materials.

In addition, new ITW Dynatec (Hendersonville, TN) hot melt equipment has added enormously to KAPCO's capabilities, according to Phil Zavracky, VP-operations, for servicing new sports-related markets such as the Joe Carter Tack Tube and other custom-manufactured constructions, including point-of-purchase hang tabs and book dust jackets (see photo). The Dynatec equipment provides several important advantages for KAPCO: a greater potential for combining operations to save material costs by eliminating the need for double-faced tapes and the ability to make and apply KAPCO's own p-s or heat-activated coating(s) in-line for certain applications. The unit is also extremely versatile and portable.

Conversion Process

The conversion process of the Tack Tube starts with the lamination of a 54-in.-wide web of felt material, supplied by KAPCO, with a roll of Avery Dennison (Painesville, OH) p-s adhesive-coated liner, using the KAPCO-designed and -built 60-in. laminator. The laminated felt/p-s adhesive/liner construction is slit on a Dusenbery (Randolph, NJ) Model 635 shear cut slitter to a width of 5 3/4 in. The laminated felt is then moved to a 7-in., three-color, central-impression Mark Andy (Chesterfield, MO) Model 810 press for application of the patented Joe Carter heat-activated polymer tack substance. It's on this press and for this application that the portable Dynapro hot melt unit from ITW Dynatec is used.

The Joe Carter application employs an ITW Dynatec ModPlus Marathon slot die head that's positioned after the third color station between two die-cutters, which, for this application, are not used. Off-line, the felt and foam (supplied by Joe Carter Enterprises in 7-8-ft. lengths) are then laminated together on a 36-in.-wide, custom-designed and -built laminator. Then, explains, Zavracky, after laminating, the structure is die-cut to 4 3/8-in. lengths on a Preco press (Lenexa, KS), using dies from Ameri-Die (Wadsworth, OH), followed by one-color, heat-transfer printing on equipment from George Knights & Co. (Brockton, MA).

Zavracky explains that in order to maintain consistency of heat-activated polymer laydown, the controlling factor is a shim mechanism for the gap within the ModPlus Marathon slot die head, which is easily replaced to simplify pattern changes. A microprocessor temperature control closely controls the temperature of the polymer. Temperature values are operator-programmable, and the system automatically provides warnings and alarms for operator errors and system malfunctions.

Each valve on the ModPlus Marathon slot die adhesive applicator head opens and closes by air pressure (the valve opening is assisted by adhesive pressure). The rate of adhesive flow from the coater extruder head is determined by the adhesive pressure applied by the adhesive supply unit pump, and the thickness and width are determined by the pattern insert located in the extruder head.

After KAPCO has completed the Tack Tube manufacturing process, the tube is inserted in a hinged, self-locking thermoformed package with a paperboard color-printed "billboard" insert, all of which are supplied by Joe Carter Enterprises. Accumulated packaged product is then packed in master cartons and shipped to the warehouse for subsequent distribution.

For KAPCO, says Zavracky, "the most appealing features of the Dynapro unit are its versatility and portability, making it suitable for use in a job-shop environment." (The Dynapro equipment can also interface with an ITW Dynatec screen print hot melt unit that KAPCO has permanently installed on another 16-in. Mark Andy, as well as on other equipment.)

In the games converters play, flexibility is key. With the addition of versatile equipment, KAPCO believes it is distancing itself from its competitors in a big way.


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