Cascade creates a case for its sustainable future


Cascade Engineering clearly aims to be much more than your basic injection molder/mold manufacturer. Once your standard shoot-and-ship molder, the company now markets its own products and found a strategic partner to help it cruise up the sustainability curve.

Transforming a company from the traditional model of custom molder and mold manufacturer into one that provides a range of products and services built around sustainability and innovation isn’t easy. Knowing that, Cascade (Grand Rapids, MI) has worked diligently over the past 10 years to create and support a multifaceted strategy that gives the company a way forward.



Cascade’s Swift Rooftop Wind Energy System is an example of the company’s leadership in alternative energy through its Cascade Renewable Energy Solutions.

The Cascade family includes a total of 17 business units, each responsible for its own growth and business development, and the parent company has created a new paradigm for the 36-year-old group. Among its features are the creation of proprietary product lines and technology to provide advanced solutions on several levels of business, while at the same time continuing to support the group’s traditional custom injection molding for large OEMs in the furniture, automotive, and truck sectors.

“Some of our legacy business will remain the same in how we provide our OEM customers with the products they require,” explains Lance Tennant, Cascade’s senior VP of new business development. “We want to leverage our manufacturing strengths to increase the direct-to-market opportunities we have captured over the past five to 10 years. This business requires different skill sets, a different business model [than the custom molding business], and we’ve needed to bring the right people on board to help us with this. After more than 30 years of the heavy manufacturing model, we’re trying to get our arms wrapped around this direct-to-market business, which is a totally different animal for us. We have a deep appreciation for what that is.”

Samia Brown, director of marketing for Cascade, adds that even as the company has found new ways to add value to its businesses, it continues to find ways to bring value to the customers in the legacy business. “In the last five years, we really have evolved from just making parts for OEMs to branding, marketing, and selling our own products. It’s all built around sustainability and innovations. That’s our brand,” says Brown. “Any way we can make products more sustainable and innovative is key, and we bring that to all of our business units.”

Tennant says this strategy of sustainability and innovation is being applied in each market across Cascade’s customer base. “Where there’s a meeting to talk about a plastic this or that, we add in the dimension of sustainability,” he says. “That makes Cascade unique. That’s something not being done by our competitors. Sure, we can make a traditional injection molded part, but if we can add in postconsumer resin, for example, we get high marks for that. There are customers out there that are starting to value that.”

While sustainability has become a brand at Cascade, something that the company’s chairman and CEO Fred Keller believes in and is passionate about, sustainability also has to make good business sense.

“Fred has always believed in sustainability,” adds Brown, “but in recent years we’ve had the label to put on it. Business should always do the right thing, but it has to make sense from a business point of view as well.”

New products promote recycling, renewable energy solutions
One example of Cascade’s commitment to sustainability and innovation is its Eco-Cart. In mid-2007, its Container Div. launched this durable solid waste recycling container made with 30%-50% postconsumer recyclate (PCR), meeting the demand from the solid waste and recycling industry for products containing recycled content. The challenge was how to incorporate a high amount of recycled content into the containers, yet make them rugged and durable enough to withstand weekly pickups by automated garbage trucks.

The solution came in the form of the coinjection process, which sandwiched a layer of recycled plastic between two layers of virgin plastic, providing rigid strength in an eco-friendly design.

Another application demonstrates clearly how sustainability drives innovation within the company. The TAP Hybrid line of Targeted Acoustical Performance products is the latest Cascade innovation for the auto market. Traditional acoustical technologies for front-of-dash sound treatment are either traditional barrier/decoupler mats or tuned absorbers. In each case, the performance and mass of the product are trade-offs.

The technology Cascade developed for its TAP Hybrid line offers a savings in mass for the vehicle without compromising acoustical performance. “We were able to take a traditional injection molded dash mat and reduce its weight by 8 lb,” explains Tennant.
 
Cascade Renewable Energy Solutions designs, develops, manufactures, and markets innovative renewable energy systems, such as the company’s Swift Rooftop Wind Energy System. The product was launched in the summer of 2008, and is claimed as the first quiet rooftop wind turbine providing a cost-effective energy source for domestic, community, and industrial use. The turbine is manufactured and assembled in Michigan.

NextLife/Cascade partnership yields new products
Cascade’s dedication to good business and sustainability attracted the attention of NextLife, which helps businesses reduce their impact on the environment. At the recent NPE2009 in Chicago, NextLife announced the formation of a product development partnership with Cascade Engineering. The partnership will bring a new portfolio of sustainable products to leading brands, distributors, and retailers nationwide. The multiyear deal will focus on the development and commercialization of a new line of plastic industrial products, all made in part from PCR.

The manufacturing process will involve the diversion from landfills of thousands of tons of plastic waste—including polybags, stretch wrap, and hangers—and the transformation of these items into durable new merchandise for NextLife customers. The NextLife-branded product line will feature an array of plastic industrial products produced by Cascade that initially will include waste containers of various shapes and sizes and corresponding liners, recycling bins, and pallets. Cascade already produces a line of products under its Decade Products business unit, consisting of its Decade bins and pallets for industrial and agricultural use.
 
“Cascade is a pioneer in sustainable business practices and brings their commitment to the triple bottom line [social, environmental, and economic] to everything they do, making them the perfect partner to bring truly sustainable, high-quality industrial products to market,” said NextLife president Lonnie Chenkin. “This new line represents the next generation of industrial product development, reducing waste and giving plastics their ‘NextLife.’”

The alliance leverages the complementary strengths and assets of both partners, including Cascade’s long history of innovative plastics design, engineering, and manufacturing and NextLife’s well-established relationships with some of America’s leading consumer brands, distributors, and retailers, as well as its strong sales and marketing capabilities. One of the partnership’s particular strengths will be its ability to ensure the sustainable attributes of its product line. Cascade’s ability to manufacture according to NextLife’s strict guidelines for green product development was a key factor underlying the formation of the new alliance. These guidelines will include a life cycle assessment for every product manufactured, and the infusion of at least 25% NextLife-certified PCR resin into each design.

“We have worked diligently over many years to create a business strategy fundamentally focused on driving innovation through sustainability,” says Fred Keller, Cascade’s chairman and CEO, “from the products we bring to market to the partnerships we form.” Clare Goldsberry

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