Spokane Journal of Business

Spokane man builds new-era packing machine

Owner says food packaging machines are hard to clean, can lead to contamination

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After more than five years of research and assembly, Mark Holderman, owner and founder of Spokane-based Madpacker Packaging Systems, is ready to sell a new food packaging machine he designed and built.

While working in the packaging industry for about 20 years, Holderman says he observed that the machines he serviced were not designed to be the most efficient or the cleanest.

"People didn't really want or like the equipment," he says.

So about six years ago, Holderman went to different companies that used the machine he has now redeveloped, called a horizontal form fill seal machine, and asked them what could be improved, and devised a checklist of their suggestions. He says he also spoke with inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on what could be improved.

Holderman says the top concerns were for cleanliness of the machines, safety, and ease of use for the operators.

He contends that one of the main causes of E. coli and other bacteria in food products is not because the products are bad, but because the machines they are packaged with are often dirty because they are hard to clean thoroughly, with many small areas that are difficult to see or reach. In his design, he made these difficult areas self-cleaning, he says.

"I set out to design and build a machine that you could wash and was user- and maintenance-friendly," he says.

Holderman has built a single version of his machine, building it in his family's shop in the Five Mile area. It is 5 feet wide, 7 feet tall, and 24 feet long, he says. Horizontal form fill seal machines use two rolls of film to package items such as lunch meat, batteries, and medical products, such as syringes and gloves, he says.

"What I've done is create a totally new and revolutionary piece of equipment. This is a new generation of packing equipment," he says.

Holderman says he invested about $250,000 of his own money for engineering, research and development, the cost of machining parts, and labor for assembly. He says he hopes to sell the machine he completed at the beginning of this year for about $300,000, which would provide enough money to start working on two more machines.

He says he recently received information that a patent he has sought on his machine is pending, which means it could take up to three years to be finalized by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Holderman says he plans to market his machine to companies such as Oscar Meyer, Pillsbury, and Johnson & Johnson.

He says once he has sold the machine and begins working on others, he hopes to have shops in the Spokane area manufacture the parts he needs. He also says he will probably need to hire about 10 workers once orders start coming in.

Holderman has worked for several manufacturers of horizontal form film seal machines, including Hooper Engineering Inc. and VC999 Packaging Systems Inc., where he serviced the machines.

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