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Rockline Industries cashes in on wipes: three decades ago, Rockline Industries took a gamble that the wipes market would take off. It did, and so did the company.

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Among the world's largest converters and contract manufacturers of disposable wipes, Rockline Industries took a gamble betting on the consumers' need and want of wipes--and won. A privately-held company, Rockline Industries was started by Ralph Rudolph in 1976. It has grown to be arguably the largest supplier of coffee filters and private label baby wipes in North America. While Rockline continues to focus strongly on the coffee filter and baby wipe segments, the company has also expanded its focus to a number of other private label wipes categories including facial wipes, moist toilet tissue and household cleaning as well as a large and fast-growing contract manufacturing wipes business.

Rockline's Contract Manufacturing Services Group has posted substantial growth in recent years, with this year's sales expected to increase by more than 30%.

"In the past people have spent time to save money," said vice president of the contract manufacturing services group, Will Green. "Now they spend money to save time. Even with the softer economy, 1 am not sure the consumer is ready yet to trade in the convenience of wipes and other products."

Some of Rockline's customers have been on the leading edge of the environmental movement. "They were 'green' before it was cool to be so," said Mr. Green. Among the group's recent customer launches is a wipe made entirely out of bamboo fiber. In its continuing quest to be more environmentally friendly, Rockline and its customer replaced existing household cleaning wipes, which consisted of wood pulp and polyester-based nonwovens packaged in a rigid plastic canister, with a 100% bamboo nonwoven wipes in a flexible package with a custom flip-top. The new product line could feature multiple SKUs with applications through-out the all-purpose cleaning category.

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According to executives, the switch improved the environmental footprint of the products because the bamboo wipes are both compostable and renewable as bamboo matures much more quickly than typical wood pulp sources. Additionally, the new packaging form not only uses 60% less plastic than traditional canisters, it uses 100% polypropylene instead of multiple resin sources, giving it a #5 recycle symbol.

On another front, Rockline developed floor cleaning cloths based on 100% polylactic acid (PLA), or plastic made from corn. Unlike traditional floor cleaning cloths, made from petroleum-based nonwovens, the Rockline cloths are 100% renewable and compostable. Even more interesting, Rockline helped develop and source the packaging which is made from 50% bamboo pulp and 50% recycled paper. Over the next year there will be additional launches for many of Rockline's customers that will further showcase its ability to bring new and innovative products to market. To say that innovation and ecofriendliness is important to Rockline is not an exaggeration, Mr. Green continued.

In addition to projects conducted by the Contract Manufacturing Services Group, Rockline's Nonwovens research and development group formed an alliance with nonwovens producer Strateline Industries, of Rogers, AR, to manufacture sustainable cotton nonwoven substrates for use in wet wipe products. "This relationship brings together unmatched expertise in nonwoven wipes marketing, processing and manufacturing, and the innovative repurposing of post industrial SmartStreams," Mr. Green said. "We will be the first to provide high-content, sustainably regenerated, cotton-based nonwovens to personal and home care wipes consumers."

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"This partnership is a game changer in the nonwovens industry," said Randy Rudolph, president, Rockline Industries. "Our customers seek sustainable nonwovens without sacrificing quality to support their platforms on corporate sustainability while meeting customer expectations. This partnership can provide that solution."

Reducing its packaging footprint is also a part of this philosophy. Because rigid plastic canisters in the past have been inexpensive, and the wipes manufacturing processes using them has been honed, most wipes manufacturers use them as the norm.

"Canister wipes have been around for 30 years and during that time the manufacturing processes have become very efficient reducing the manufacturing costs to the point it's been hard to cost effectively replace them on any large scale," Mr. Green said. Currently, Rockline is working with some of its customers on a wipe system that will incorporate refill cartridges that are 100% polypropylene and recyclable at a cost less than the standard wipes canister. "This product will be a success, because for the first time there is an option that will bring us to the point where we can beat canister material and production costs. 1 believe that this truly is the first disruptive technology that wipes manufacturing has seen in the last decade" says Mr. Green.

With demand for wipes manufacturing increasing it is inevitable that new companies will enter the market. Continuing to stay ahead of the competition requires more than innovation and Rockline continues to push quality as another area of focus at Rockline. "Some of our customers in the medical segment have extremely high standards, found," Mr. Green said. "We've implemented systems that give us the ability to meet these needs. We manufacture to very tight regulatory compliance levels and, when combined with our knowledge of substrates and liquid chemistry, we meet or exceed our customer's desired result."

Rockline first entered the wipes business in 1989 when it purchased Midwest Converting in Springdale AR. As sales grew the plant was expanded to 390,000 square feet in 1997. That same year, Rockline expanded its wipe manufacturing operation further when it acquired the baby wipes assets of Presto Products. The acquisition made Rockline North America's largest supplier to store branded baby wipes.

In 2000, Rockline entered Europe with the acquisition of Heinz Food Company plant Redditch, U.K. This plant was a key addition to Rockline's global strategy and gave both the contract manufacturing services and retail groups a presence in Europe

The next year, Rockline continued its European expansion through the formation of a partnership with Lander Company and started manufacturing wipes in the Netherlands. In 2004, Rockline's Chinese facility in Guangdong opened. This site specializes in niche products and gave Rockline a new found potential for incredible speed-to-market on many different projects.

Rockline's most recent large-scale investment is a new manufacturing and distribution facility in Booneville, AR. This $5 million investment is reportedly the first of three new manufacturing and distribution facilities planned for Rockline's North American expansion program.

The wipes phenomenon is relatively a new one on the consumer market, according to Rockline. The growth is staggering yet Rockline has been preparing itself for this growth early on by investing in equipment whenever possible. "Five or six years ago Randy Rudolph, president of Rockline Industries, said that the wipes business was going to grow 30% a year so we needed to invest in expansion at this rate if we want to continue to be a player and we did," Mr. Green said. Rockline is constantly looking to the future to position itself as the wipes supplier to customers that value innovation, and quality, helping drive consumer loyalty, hence market share.
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Author:McIntyre, Karen
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Article Type:Company overview
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Words:1144
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