Mopping Up In The Gulf

Posted on Dec 1, 2010 :: Green Business
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of NPS COrp.

Business was booming for NPS Corp. of Green Bay this past summer. Its Spilfyter line of oil-adsorbent booms played an important role in cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We certainly don’t wish for disasters,” says Andrew Hetzel Jr., president and co-owner of NPS Corp of Green Bay, “but when spills of any size occur, we’re glad that our products help protect the environment.”

Such was the case with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April.

“We’re a boom manufacturer and we’re proud that one of our products played a significant role in keeping damage from the spill somewhat under control,” reflects Hetzel.
A boom is a 10-foot-long “sausage” made from polypropylene resin, which has a natural affinity for oil.

“If you look at it under a microscope, you’ll see that it has strands and pockets between the strands where the adsorbing takes place. The oil does not absorb into the fabric, but rather adsorbs, or sticks to, the substrate,” continues Hetzel. “When you put these in the water, they float and attract oil to their surfaces, but do not take in water. When you remove them, they take the oil with them.”

The booms can then be landfilled or incinerated.
NPS ramped up its operation to meet the demand. Shifts ran 24 hours daily from mid-May to mid-August, shipping up to six truckloads each day.

NPS was originally in the packaging business. Hetzel, a former Kimberly-Clark employee, purchased the KimPak line from K-C in 1996, and called the company National Packaging Service. That line, which he rebranded as Versa-Pak, is a tissue-based alternative to bubble wrap or packing peanuts, made almost entirely of recycled fibers. It conforms to the shape of the item being packed, so is valued by the moving industry and other industries where safety and image are important.

“Another advantage is that this line is absorbent. If there’s a spill or a leak in transit, it will be soaked up,” adds Hetzel.

In 2000 and 2001, NPS diversified into spill control products by acquiring the Spilfyter line. The company also launched its Response brand of toilet tissue and hand towels in 2001.
“The Spilfyter spill control products have become a major focus for us now,” says co-owner Dan Coonan, who is vice president of sales and marketing for NPS. “It’s a niche product line with opportunities for growth.” The line includes pads, rolls, socks and pillows, in addition to booms. The small fibers allow Spilfyter products to absorb up to 20 times their own weight.
The Spilfyter line includes three sub-lines. The universal line absorbs all types of liquids – both water-based and oil-based. The oil-only line is treated to absorb oil, but repel water. The hazmat line is designed to absorb aggressive fluids, such as acids and bases.

“We want to help businesses avoid hazards and other kinds of situations that could cause injury or affect the environment. So, we offer an online tutorial about the Seven Steps to Spill Control,” adds Coonan, who joined the company in 1999. He says NPS is the only company with products to satisfy all seven steps, several of which are available in emergency kit form.
“Having a spill kit is like having a fire extinguisher,” says Coonan. “You hope you never need to use it, but it’s important to have it when you do. We even offer classification strips to help determine the nature of an unknown spill.”

NPS also has a growing international presence, with about 20 percent of its Spilfyter sales going overseas, particularly to Europe and Asia.

Robert Atwell, CEO of Nicolet National Bank, is a fan of company founder Hetzel. “Andy is one of the most remarkable entrepreneurs I’ve had the chance to work with. He put everything on the line, then hit the ground running and has done a great job. He has a great heart, passion, guts, discipline – he’s a total package,” says Atwell.

Atwell also appreciates NPS. “Their development of the production capacity to meet the needs in the Gulf was very helpful to the cleanup effort, and very positive for Green Bay,” he adds.
Paul Jadin, president and CEO of the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, echoes those thoughts. “The company’s growth has been extraordinary, even during this difficult economic time, and Andy Hetzel has become a significant leader in our community.”

Hetzel praises the company’s 150 team members at its two Green Bay facilities. “The work ethic in Northeast Wisconsin is strong. Our people are hard-working, energetic people who care about what they do. They are the backbone of our success.”