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While some processors buy off-the-shelf machinery and design their business model to suit the equipment, George Braddon, an inventor and entrepreneur, decided that his chosen business model needed different machinery.

Clare Goldsberry

August 6, 2012

7 Min Read
Supplier of EPS packaging and machinery now expanding into PP and TPO

While some processors buy off-the-shelf machinery and design their business model to suit the equipment, George Braddon, an inventor and entrepreneur, decided that his chosen business model needed different machinery.  

When he founded Commodore Plastics in 1980, he took $30,000 of his savings to acquire used equipment, according to his son, Brad Braddon, now the company’s president. George had spent the first part of his career working for Mobil Chemical and they had big machines, that was all he’d ever experienced, so he didn’t know the advantages of smaller machines such as greater flexibility and serving niche markets with custom products.

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EPS tooling for plates...


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Thermoforming trays...


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Finished EPS trays in a variety of colors.

“We were making expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) meat trays, foam trays for deli and produce,” says the younger Braddon. George had started out selling only the company’s four highest-volume items. But customers were telling him that what they needed wasn’t what he was selling. Being an innovator, George saw that if the company was going to grow its product lines, he would need to do things differently.

About this time, Commodore Plastics had acquired some EPS foam extrusion equipment from Pepperidge Farm, which was making its own trays for layer cake bottoms. “Typically equipment then was wide-sheet, very large machinery,” explains Brad. “Pepperidge Farm had this little extruder that made narrow sheet and had a small footprint. George took it in trade for supplying trays to Pepperidge Farm.”

That’s when the elder Braddon has his "ah-ha moment." He realized that he could do 80% of the different kinds of smaller jobs by making the equipment more flexible, and do 20% of the larger jobs on a larger machine. “Flexibility is key,” says Brad. “Machines need to be flexible and that’s the genesis of the Commodore Technology division.”

In the late 1980s, a machinery sales rep was at the plant and asked about the small extruding machine. It was a new and different machine that George had designed and manufactured himself to provide greater efficiencies. 

The equipment rep said he knew a company that would buy it. That was the beginning of Commodore Technology LLC, which today builds specialty sheet extrusion equipment to produce EPS trays, plates, hinged-lid deli containers, and cake plates. The extruders are easy to operate, and thanks to a lack of proprietary components, inexpensive to maintain. They also feature quick-change tooling capability that allows tooling to be changed out in a matter of minutes rather than hours.

Commodore Technology (www.commodoresolutions.com) recognizes that flexible equipment is needed to produce EPS sheet, particularly in the niche markets in which it participates, and the footprint that Commodore has developed is unique in the U.S. market compared to the company’s competitors. “It gives us some different strengths than our competitors,” Brad says. “We’re small but we can compete with them and also find some niches, such as custom products. For example, we form custom trays that hold two turkey patties or sausage links in a tray, which gives retail merchandisers some extra flexibility they don’t normally have when dealing with standard products.”

George Braddon was also the first to break the EPS color barrier, his son explains, and introduce the rose and black trays. “We were able to do that because of the manufacturing footprint he developed for our machines,” says Brad. “What makes us different is that we’re the only equipment manufacturer that specializes in this smaller manufacturing footprint, and it works great in smaller markets such as Central and South America where they have to offer lots of different sizes for these very small markets.”

Brad notes that the mindset at Commodore has changed to run in the American market. “We run the equipment we build,” he says. “We employ lean principles that are built into our machines including quick-tool changeovers and fast color changes.” Currently, Commodore Plastics has approximately 400 SKUs for food trays of various types that it makes for a wide variety of customers.

“We designed and began manufacturing equipment for narrow sheet lines with lots of flexibility built in,” Brad says. “Additionally, the tooling got smaller, and our equipment was real efficient for short runs and fast changeovers.” 

Brad says that his father obtained patents on innovative foam cutting technology, and invented methods to make tooling for much less money. He then developed the extrusion machinery and forming equipment. “The drum shuttles provide the ability to change from 22-inch sheet to 30-inch sheet in less than a minute,” he says. “We do all kinds of crazy stuff that our competitors can’t do. The Technology division gets us out there in the marketplace and allows us to see the technology that exists, and get a lot of global knowledge that the average foam extrusion equipment maker doesn’t get.”

Flexibility is Commodore Plastics’ secret to how a small company can compete in a very large market. “We’re up against the big guys like Pactiv, Kryovac, and Genpac,” he notes. “But, in a big market like North America, our equipment allows someone like us to have all the types of EPS trays that our competitors have, plus do a lot of custom work. For the end user that is looking to be more creative, Commodore can provide that.”

The management challenge for Commodore at first was how to be both a supplier of EPS foam trays and an equipment manufacturer without appearing to be a competitor of their customers. While that has been a concern for many companies, particularly among moldmakers who began molding operations that were suddenly in competition with their molder customers, Commodore found a way to overcome that by “niching” itself.

Today, not only does Commodore Plastics use these smaller machines built by Commodore Technology in its own EPS foam processing business, but the company sells its EPS foam equipment around the world. “We have some really nice capabilities in engineering and manufacturing, and a lot of experience over a long period of time. We’re good at building equipment and putting together systems, but currently we’re doing everything for export,” states Brad Braddon.

Currently, Commodore Technology does business in 30 countries and has virtually no competition in its foam extrusion systems market. Its EPS foam extrusion equipment is on all continents except Australia and Antarctica, but they have tooling in New Zealand.  “We sell our equipment throughout South America, in Turkey, Russia, and even Siberia,” Brad says. “However, we want to do more sales in the U.S. We’ve got nothing against exporting—it’s been our livelihood—but it has challenges. It would be nice to do more business in the U.S.”

To expand its technology and material offerings, Commodore recently signed a strategic alliance agreement with MuCell Extrusion LLC of Woburn, MA. In addition to EPS extrusion equipment, the company will offer PP and TPO foams.

“However, even if you don’t want the MuCell process, we’ll offer PP and TPO along with the EPS,” says Brad. “This opens up markets in the U.S. that were effectively closed to us because our competitors might be reluctant to purchase from us. But they would buy a MuCell process for PP and TPO.”

While the company is not especially well known in the extrusion equipment market in the U.S, Commodore Technology has had some commercial success with customers in the U.S. “The relationship with MuCell Extrusion technology offers us another unique niche,” Brad Braddon says. “As commodore builds experience in PP and other TPOs for extrusion, it doesn’t have to be exclusively with MuCell Extrusion. With MuCell Extrusion’s process knowledge, and Commodore’s experience with product development, it’s our goal is to develop a production line and extruder that fits this criteria.”

Commodore Technology’s customers overseas will reap the same benefits, Brad explains. “For them it means more materials other than just EPS; more material opportunities in PP and TPOs. Now that we play in this market with an agreement with MuCell we have more opportunities to develop additional equipment business in the U.S. and expand our markets as well as deepen our customer base,” he adds. “There are a lot of processors out there who aren’t competitors but run EPS foam products, and we’d like to show them what Commodore Technology has to offer.”

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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