1973 was a year that changed the trucking and packaging industries forever. With Lantech's (Louisville, Ky.) introduction of the first commercially successful pallet stretch-wrapping machine at the American Packaging Industry Association Show (now Pack Expo), unitizing was now practical, affordable and safe for almost any product. It allowed bags, buckets, boxes, building materials, etc., to be secured on a pallet for truck shipment, instead of floor-stacked, strapped to a pallet, or shrink-bagged on a pallet. Based on the one billion pounds of stretch wrap produced worldwide every year, Lantech estimates that nearly 3 billion loads per year are currently shipped using this technology.
Today, Lantech leads the industry with the dominant market share, 175 U.S. and foreign patents, more than 400 employees and continuing independent ownership under CEO Jim Lancaster, son of founder Pat Lancaster, who serves as Chairman and product development consultant to the company.
Brothers Pat and Bill Lancaster founded Lantech in 1972 to help develop and market an infrared system for shrinking the plastic bags used for some pallet loads at the time. Both were familiar with packaging technology and plastic films by virtue of their father's business, Superior Paper Company in Louisville.
Realizing the limitations of shrink bags for pallet unitizing - cost, energy waste, and heating of the load - the two brothers tested ideas for using plastic film to get the containment benefits of shrink bags, without the heat and energy use. They improvised with various films for dry cleaning, meat and poultry packaging.
Conceptually based on stretching a rubber band around a pallet load, their prototype stretch wrapping machines used a brake made for a Ford Falcon and a shock absorber for Harley-Davidson motorcycles because neither of the inventors was yet accustomed to specifying industrial mechanical components.
When the brothers introduced their first production machine at the packaging show in May 1973, it proved a "wildly successful idea," according to company CEO Jim Lancaster. It cut the cost to unitize a pallet to just 75¢-$1.00, compared to $2.00-5.00 for strapping (depending on use of a top frame) or $1.35-$1.40 for shrink bags. It eliminated most of the labor and all the hazards of working with steel strapping, as well as the equipment cost, energy cost, and potential for product damage involved with heating shrink bags.