Factory Floor: Custom Thermal Drinkware
A Toast To American Quality
The glasses are more than half-full at supplier HOWW Manufacturing in Barrington, Illinois—they, and the HOWW Line catalog of U.S.-made products, are practically overflowing with American ingenuity.
Of course, there’s more going on under the smooth surface of the company’s popular double-walled drinkware, says Mike Kalamaras, president and owner of HOWW Manufacturing. “There are many steps involved in manufacturing our thermal drinkware,” says Kalamaras. “We have order entry, art department approvals, preproduction samples as needed, bringing the molding product to production, then decoration, assembly, packaging and labeling, and finally shipping.”
Even with a seemingly straightforward production process in place, nothing is foolproof, he says. “There are challenges every day with manufacturing, and if I said that every day went along as planned, I would be lying to you.”
That said, he points out, “Manufacturing is all about having dependable equipment and staff. We have been doing this for 34 years, and when you have a great team to work with, and a set procedure filled with checks and sign-offs, the process becomes fairly simple. To see our production in motion, picture a choreographed dance. Or, picture the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode with the chocolates coming down the conveyor. Things are moving at all times!”
The HOWW Line staff are professionals trained to accomplish a variety of manufacturing tasks; but, says Kalamaras, as with any skilled trade, some techniques are learned only through experience. “A company is only as strong as its weakest link, so we build and grow together.”
The process is applied to every product in HOWW Line’s catalog—it’s all made in the U.S., says Kalamaras. And if HOWW Line is tasked with a challenging order, the team works hard to make sure it is fulfilled on time and to client specifications.
“We had a customer the other day asking for 48,000 lighted glasses to be made in one week,” notes Kalamaras. “Well, my first thought was, somebody goofed in marketing! The next thought was, let’s see how we can satisfy this customer.”
After determining that the customer had a little more wiggle room in their schedule, the team at HOWW Line developed a plan to deliver the glasses as expected. “We can make things happen because we make products here in the USA,” he says.
It’s hard to pinpoint the most popular items among the thousands in HOWW Line’s catalog, says Kalamaras. Each year the orders are different, and he believes it’s important not to rely on repeats of orders or programs. That said, HOWW Line’s drinkware options are popular and include barware, thermal and lighted drinkware lines. The thermal drinkware is a consistent pick among his company’s clients.
HOWW Line’s thermal pieces feature a four-color process, contoured-cut decal insert. After the art is approved, the decal is printed in house and laser cut, then stripped from the print sheet and applied to the inner sleeve of the glass. The cup is then sonically welded and packed out.
“This process is a beautiful way to decorate the cup, providing outstanding detail with a low cost for the consumer,” he says. “Our thermal drinkware line is used for both corporate and retail use, is dishwasher safe and includes a lifetime seal warranty.”
Read on to learn more about HOWW Line’s production process for its thermal drinkware.
1. Thermal drinkware pieces are formed in a mold, then lifted out by a robotic arm, which lowers the pieces onto a conveyor belt.
2. The conveyor belt moves the parts to the operator for inspection, bagging and bulk packaging, and they are sent next to the production department, where decals are printed and laser cut on a specialized printer.
3. Decals are custom cut to fit the shape of the artwork and affixed to the inner wall of the thermal tumblers.
4. The dual-walled tumblers are sonically welded together by a welding machine, and then packed with a straw and information card before the lid is fastened to the top. Finally, the finished tumblers move to packing.
About HOWW Line
Founding date: 1984
Principals: Brothers and co-owners Mike Kalamaras, president, and Jim Kalamaras, vice president
Notable accomplishments: “Other than running a very humble family business for 34 years, one of our largest accomplishments was fulfilling an order for four million mugs. We made a compartment mug for a cigarette company that had a race car inside the bottom, that was sold in convenience stores. It was in our earlier years in this industry, when promoting cigarettes was OK. Being such a large order, there was a lot involved with the timing. Everything had to work: from building tools to setting up production, and not to mention ordering a million dollars’ worth of mini race cars. We made 30,000 mugs a day to fill that order, making 750,000 a month. It was a huge success that we probably were not ready for at the time, but God bless us, things worked out. We have had many other large jobs over the years, but getting that first one under our belt was something to smile about.”
Size of production facility: HOWW Line runs a 35,000-square-foot print operation and more than 200,000 square feet of molding operations.
Number of employees: 45 employees in the print shop (up to 65 or more as needed). The molding plants, which are independently run, employ 80 to 100 staff members at any one time.
Types of specialized equipment: Semi-automatic printers, conveyor-driven welders and robotics, and conveyors to keep the cycle times in line.
Other unique features: “We not only design and build our own products and have patents on items that are truly unique in design, but we have an incredible staff. Some have been with us for over 30 years, many over 20 years, and quite a few at 10 years. It is an honor and a pleasure to be part of this family, as it is a pleasure to serve so many wonderful friends and clients within this industry. As the story goes, what a wonderful life!” — MK
Jen Alexander is associate editor of PPB.