Lee Container Company: Bottling up
Posted 07 - 16 - 2010


Bottling up “Qua-Lee-tee”



 

Photo: Debra Whitaker works at one of the five rotary blow molds Lee Container operates 24 hours per day, five days per week. Photo by Bruce R. Partain.



 

By Clayton Sullivan

Chamber Intern





Plastic bottles are part of the fabric of modern life.



What may look simple is actually the result of a precision manufacturing process – one that goes on quietly in the southeast corner of Nacogdoches.



Lee Container started in Homerville, Georgia in 1989 and opened a second manufacturing plant in Nacogdoches in August 2005.



The local manufacturing plant began operations in February 2006 with one production line and one shift. Today, the Nacogdoches facility has five operating production lines and runs three shifts, 24 hours a day, five days a week.



The Nacogdoches Economic Development Corporation (NEDCO) played a significant role in Lee choosing Nacogdoches as their new location. NEDCO, assisted by then state representative Roy Blake, Jr., and then state senator Todd Staples, facilitated a $300,000 Texas Enterprise Fund grant for Lee. At the time, it was the smallest project in which the fund had been involved.



“Lee Container was so important to East Texas because they were a new manufacturing company,” said Judy McDonald, President/CEO of NEDCO at that time.



Manufacturing helps the local economy because it creates good jobs and boosts other businesses in the community by bringing in new dollars. Manufacturers also provide utility and tax revenue for the city. “The employees shop at local stores, buy homes and automobiles and pay taxes,” said Bill King,  President/CEO of NEDCO.  “It is estimated a manufacturing paycheck circulates seven times before leaving the economy,” McDonald added.



Lee Container prides itself on producing “the best quality containers in the industry.”   Customers include lubricant and agricultural chemical product manufacturers.



Chevron and ag chemical company Syngenta Crop Protection use Lee’s Nacogdoches-made containers.  Some containers include up to 25 percent post-consumer recycled plastic.



“The top 12 agricultural chemical companies in the country use Lee Container,” said Plant Superintendent Steve Bradford.



Lee Container is one of 30,000 suppliers to the crop protection company, Syngenta. Syngenta ordered 5.3 million bottles from Lee Container last year. Lee Container has received the Partners in Quality Award from Syngenta the past two years.



Regardless of end use, the containers are created with polyethylene plastic resin pellets that are heated into liquid form and forced into rotary blow molds. These pellets resemble those found in a microbead pillow. Lee custom-builds its molding machinery; making it possible to produce a unique container. “If you want a good quality bottle, come to us,” said Vicki Wood, administrative coordinator.



A Lee molding machine can produce several one gallon or 2.5 gallon bottles per minute. After the container is created by the rotary blow mold, an employee removes the excess plastic off the container and sends it down the production line. The excess plastic is placed on a conveyor belt, shredded and recycled to be used again as plastic resin pellets.



A computer programs the machine to produce a bottle that is thinner in some areas and thicker in others.  The container can even include a translucent vertical line to check volume of liquids the wholesale customer will eventually place in the bottle. A smooth-finish heat transfer label is put on the container. The container goes through a leak test where any deformed bottle is mechanically removed from the production line and the plastic recycled back into the process. Good containers pass through a physical inspection conducted by an employee.



During this process, a container is pulled off of the production line to measure the neck dimensions and the thickness of each corner of the container to meet the customer’s and Lee Container’s specifications. After the physical inspection, the container has to pass a drop test.



The container is filled with water and dropped by a machine from three, four, and five feet. If the container passes these tests, the container has passed Lee’s quality standards. The final unit is then electronically scanned to determine how many bottles are on the pallet and where the pallet is being sent.



Lee officials say Nacogdoches is a good location because the company ships containers to customers along the Texas and Louisiana coastline, as well as Dallas and Houston. Hardworking employees and proximity to customers make “the Oldest Town in Texas” an ideal factory location.



“We have anywhere from 50 to 75 employees depending on the time of year,” said Vicki Wood.  While not the biggest container company in the world, Lee Container prides itself on producing quality containers through technology, service and attention to detail.



The company encourages consumers buying lubricant or agricultural chemical products to check the bottom of the bottle for the Lee Container logo.



With just a little tongue in cheek, they also advise that “Qua-Lee-tee is our middle name.”


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