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Heritage Packaging
A customer's machine or part that requires a shipping container gets individual attention from this Massachusetts company.

By Diane Calabrese
Date Posted: 7/9/2001

LAWRENCE, Mass. — At Heritage Packaging Inc., a customer’s machine or part that requires a shipping container gets individual attention and the integrated coverings necessary to get it safely from one place to another.

"Our forte is packaging," said Philip DeFusco, who owns Heritage Packaging along with his brother, Steve. Heritage will do everything from make containers for a customer to spec or manage the entire process, from design to finished container.

In addition to supplying containers of wood or corrugated, Heritage provides related packaging services, such as covering an item in vacuum-sealed plastic. The company makes a diverse range of containers of various sizes. Some are as small as 6x6x1 inches. One container to ship a roll for a paper mill was 45x4x4 feet.

Phil serves as the company's president, and Steve is the treasurer. The company, which has 18 employees, including 15 in the shop, has annual sales of about $1.5 million. The building that houses Heritage is a 100-year-old wood post and beam structure with 28,000 square feet of space. Heritage occupies 20,000 square feet and leases the remainder to a packaging broker.

Heritage is based in Lawrence, Mass., a city of 70,000 that has historic roots in the textiles industry but whose economic base now is built on high technology companies. Although Heritage Packaging has customers in a variety of industries, it does a great deal of work for aerospace and high-tech companies. Most customers are in its geographic region, which is a high tech corridor along Route 128, an artery that makes a circular route around Boston and stretches to the New Hampshire border. Heritage has continued to service some customers that relocated to other parts of the country.

Heritage uses various types of raw material, including pull-to-length, kiln-dried dimension lumber, timbers, and plywood. The mix allows Heritage to take advantage of favorable market conditions and prices. The company mainly uses softwood. For example, its pulled-to-length material is Canadian spruce and timbers are spruce or hemlock.

Heritage buys about 10,000 board feet of 4x4 or 4x6 timbers at a time. The timbers are resawn on a Stetson-Ross model 280 XL gang-rip that was purchased in 1960. The machine — the brand is now owned by Smithway — is a real workhorse, according to Phil.

Buying timbers and processing them on the gang-rip gives Heritage the ability to remanufacture a wide range of lumber — reducing the need to purchase and store cut stock. "We're in the inner city," said Phil, and the company has limited space.

Heritage keeps very little inventory or raw material or stock. Instead, the company evaluates its orders on Thursday and contacts its suppliers on Friday, arranging for deliveries at the beginning of the next week. Thursday can be quite a day, however; Phil described it as "funky."

Plywood is commonly used in the company’s containers. "Most of the boxes are made with sheathing,” said Phil, with cleats on the sides for added strength. “We use a lot of sheathing, standard size half-inch and three-eighths inch."

Heritage has two Morgan machines for nailing cleats to plywood; both are decades old. The company gets occasional technical assistance and parts from Morgan Gage, which specializes in pallet and cable reel machinery and supplies parts and service for old Morgan, Doig and FMC nailing equipment. "We make our own parts" if they are no longer available, said Phil.

The process of making a container begins with a visit to the client company to determine the specifications. After Phil designs the container, he gets approval from the customer on the structure and price.

Phil uses AutoSketch, computer software for two-dimensional drawing, to produce the plans for a container. He considers each step — from analyzing a customer's requirements to placing their product into the finished crate or box — to be crucial.

Two essential pieces of equipment in the Heritage shop are a Whirlwind I-12 cut-off saw and a vintage A&A model R8 panel saw. The company added the Whirlwind seven years ago. Phil likes it for its safety, efficiency, and low maintenance. It also is versatile. "It will cut a 2x12 or a 4x6," said Phil. The A&A panel saw, which Phil said is "totally manual" and "very old," was purchased in 1970. It also gets good marks. "It is extremely easy to maintain...run...and set-up," he said, and change-overs are quick.

In addition to Heritage’s cut-up and container assembly operations, the company is engaged in other activities related to corrugated manufacturing, remanufacturing foam, and other packaging services. Employees generally are involved in only one area of operations for greater efficiency but can switch to other activities if required.

What really defines the Heritage niche, explained Phil, is building a container that can "take a shock." The interior of the container is designed and built to cushion the shipment against impacts. For example, a foam-lined interior can reduces a shock of 100 Gs to only 40 Gs, said Phil.

For manufacturing corrugated containers, Heritage uses a BMC54 Right-Size Box Maker. The company buys liner board from Georgia Pacific and International Paper.

Heritage also can cover shipments and containers in plastic for additional protection; it normally uses plastic shrink-wrap.

All of the company’s various products and services ultimately are tied together. Foam cushioning may be beyond some pallet and container companies, but for Heritage, it is a normal part of the business of meeting customer requirements. "It all works into each other,” said Phil. “It’s all for packaging the item."

Heritage also provides on-site crating services in the event that customers have shipments that are so large that it would be impractical to move to Heritage’s facilities.

The company minimizes scrap material. "We pride ourselves on getting blood from a stone," said Phil. Like other pallet and container companies, though, Heritage generates a significant volume of wood waste — about eight cubic yards per week. The company contracts for disposal with a local recycling business.

Owning a grinder "would make things a little easier" said Phil. He has considered adding a "state-of-the-art grinder" but estimates it would take five or six years for the machine to pay for itself — an investment that is too large to justify, he believes.

Conveyors that move material around the shop and connect various work stations are all shop-made, as is a 14-foot crane that is used for off-loading. The company also is equipped with two trucks, a 350 Ford Super Duty and a 27-foot Freightliner box truck.

Phil described himself as a “very novice surfer,” and he enjoys vacationing and surfing in the Caribbean and South America. Steve enjoys the surfing excursions, too, and playing golf.

Phil came into the wood products industry through serendipity. Heritage Packaging had been in business — under other names — since the late 1800s when his father bought it at a bankruptcy auction in 1983 on Phil's recommendation. Phil was working in the financial sector at the time, having earned a bachelor's degree in financial management. His father planned to build up equity in the company and then sell it, but when the economy softened, a sale had to be postponed. One year after Phil's father bought the company, Phil and Steve took it over. The brothers quickly decided to do whatever it took to make a go of the business over the long term.

Phil faced several big challenges when he came to Heritage. One, he had to make the business profitable as quickly as possible. Two, he had no experience with wood products.

He set out to learn everything he could — fast. "At the time, the federal government was offering (continuing education) courses," he said. He took a number of correspondence courses, many of them through an Army facility in Aberdeen, Md., that has expertise in packaging, including testing containers under exceptional conditions.

Ironically, Heritage has come full-circle, and the military now is one of its customers. "We do a lot of packaging for the military," said Phil. All containers made for the military are bar-coded. Heritage uses a Datamax 430 bar-coding system in combination with Loftware computer software.

The military is an exacting customer, requiring containers to conform to detailed specifications to ensure the safe, secure transport of military hardware and other cargo. Providing that high level of quality in design, construction and service for military contracts has put Heritage in a position to provide the same kind of quality containers for other customers.

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