Continental Plastic plays a key role in livestock production

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Monday, November 15, 2010
— You might want to say a small "thank you" to Continental Plastic next week when you slice into that Thanksgiving turkey or spread butter on your mashed potatoes.

That meal and many others got their start in a small business on Second Street in Delavan.

The 39-year-old Continental Plastic doesn't look like it's a major player in international livestock production. You won't find any farm animals running around, and the production floor smells of fork truck exhaust and machinery rather than animals and feed.

But the employees at Continental Plastic work around the clock six days a week making tiny plastic tubes and plastic sheets that make modern meat and milk production possible.

Since 1971, Continental Plastic has made and distributed equipment for the artificial insemination of farm animals. Today, Continental ships to more than 60 countries around the world. The products include tubes used to inseminate cows, pigs and poultry as well as the disposable boots and gloves used by livestock breeders and farm workers, Vice President Becky Feffer-Wolf said.

Continental markets products to veterinarians and commercial livestock breeding companies as well as some retail stores such as Nasco in Jefferson.

The majority of its products are made in Delavan, although the swine insemination tubes are imported. Continental packages its product with its own label as well as the private labels of its customers.

The company is building a 19,000-square-foot expansion to improve its warehousing and shipping systems as well as to allow more room for production.

Continental has been warehousing some product at a second location in Delavan. That could end with the expansion, Feffer-Wolf said.

Construction, which is taking place behind the current office and warehouse, is expected to wrap up in January.

Expanded warehouse space will allow Continental to better serve customers, Feffer-Wolf said. Many customers don't want to hold their own inventory. Continental can stock inventory and fill orders in a few days, she said. That's an important part of keeping the company competitive, she said.

Continental Plastic's biggest competitors are in France and Germany, Feffer-Wolf said. To compete, the company must do what it does best: provide outstanding customer service, Feffer-Wolf said.

"Of course we make a quality product," Feffer-Wolf said. "But if everyone's making a quality product, we have to have a way to stand out. When our customers were looking to consolidate and save costs, they came to us for help."

It also helps that the company specializes in agricultural products, Feffer-Wolf said. Demand continues to increase even as the economy remains stagnant, she said.

"Everybody's got to eat," Feffer-Wolf said.

Continental's products are essential to livestock production.

Turkeys that are bred for American Thanksgiving dinners are physically incapable of breeding naturally, Feffer-Wolf said.

And cows must deliver calves to give milk. It's not practical for many commercial farms to allow bulls to breed cows naturally. Artificial insemination allows cows to be bred safely and efficiently, and allows a farmer a wide variety of genetics to improve his or her herd, Feffer-Wolf said.

The tubes, gloves and boots start as beads of raw plastic resin. A hose sucks the resin into a machine that melts the plastic. The melted plastic is pulled through a dye that shapes it into a tube. Air blows through the tube to hold the shape, and the tube is pulled through a trough full of water to cool.

Workers adjust the speed of the pulling and the temperature of the air or water to change the nature of the tube.

When cooled, the tubes are cut into pieces. The tubes used to breed cattle are longer and more pliable than the tubes used for turkeys. The ends of the cut tubes are shaped and smoothed so they don't hurt the animal.

The process, called profile extrusion, is similar to the one used to make drinking straws, Feffer-Wolf said.

Continental uses the same resin to make disposable gloves and boots by a process called blown-film extrusion, Feffer-Wolf said. Instead of pulling the plastic through a small die, the film is blown 30 feet into the air in long, wavering tube. It looks like a sheer plastic windsock or a very long soap bubble hovering straight in the air.

The bubble is pulled through a series of rollers. At this point it is like a roll of garbage bags before they are separated. The film then is stamped into the shape of gloves or boots.

Scrap material is recycled and reused, Feffer-Wolf said.

The film comes in different thicknesses depending on what it will be used for. Veterinarians and farm workers use different gloves for insemination, examination or delivering calves.

Continental Plastic was founded in 1971 by current company President Elton Feffer, who is Feffer-Wolf's father. At the time, the company had only three or four employees, Feffer said. The company moved in 1982 from Darien to its current location, he said.

Feffer comes from a dairy background, and Feffer-Wolf grew up showing birds and rabbits in 4-H, she said. She appreciates the opportunity to work in the agribusiness industry.

"It's a great industry to work with," Feffer-Wolf said. "Everyone either grew up on a farm or had some connection to a farm. They're great people."

Last updated: 3:35 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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