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PDC International: An Immigrant’s American Dream

Anatole Konstantin’s fascination with machines 50 years ago has evolved into a successful shrink sleeve labeling and tamper evident banding business that uses total vertical integration to control the quality and performance of every system.

(left to right) Mark Meller, VP of Operations; Scott Weissenberg, VP of Finance & Administration; Neal Konstantin, CEO; Gary Tantimonico, President; Bob Purciello, Sr. VP of Technology
(left to right) Mark Meller, VP of Operations; Scott Weissenberg, VP of Finance & Administration; Neal Konstantin, CEO; Gary Tantimonico, President; Bob Purciello, Sr. VP of Technology

If you want to hear an inspiring story about an immigrant living out the American dream, look no further than Anatole Konstantin, the founder of PDC International Corp. Originally from what is now Ukraine, he arrived in the United States after World War II with only the clothes on his back and a degree from the Technical University of Munich in his pocket. He worked his way through various jobs and eventually earned a graduate degree from Columbia University.

Konstantin’s fascination with machines resulted in the start of his company in 1968, called Product Design Corporation (PDC), which offered services ranging from consumer product development to machine design. Within one year, Konstantin moved the growing company out of his home and into a 400 square foot space in an industrial building in Norwalk, CT.

Soon, machine design and automation became the company’s primary focus and has since evolved into the company it is today. PDC is now located in a 27,000 square foot facility in Norwalk with over 60 employees and specializes in shrink sleeve labeling machinery, tamper evident banding machinery, and shrink tunnels for the food, beverage, pharma, dairy, and personal care industries.

Anatole, now 94 years-old, has since retired, and the company is currently led by his son, Neal Konstantin, who is the CEO, as well as Gary Tantimonico, President of PDC.(left to right) Mark Meller, VP of Operations; Scott Weissenberg, VP of Finance & Administration; Neal Konstantin, CEO; Gary Tantimonico, President; Bob Purciello, Sr. VP of Technology(left to right) Mark Meller, VP of Operations; Scott Weissenberg, VP of Finance & Administration; Neal Konstantin, CEO; Gary Tantimonico, President; Bob Purciello, Sr. VP of Technology

Neal Konstantin joined PDC in the early 1980s with a college degree in archeology and history—so he’s not exactly an automation engineer, but he does bring a unique point of view to the business. “Archeology gives perspective on time horizons and keeping things in context, and the sense of history gives good perspective on business as well,” he explains. “It gives you longer term views and separates the immediate fires that need to be put out from more significant long term topics.”

His ability to evaluate a situation for short and long term impact was an important viewpoint when the next generation Konstantin started working at PDC, because it was right at the time that the Tylenol incident in Chicago occurred—when someone poisoned the bottles of pain medicine. Suddenly, there was high demand for tamper evident banding and sleeving machinery. And PDC answered the call.

“We are total vertically integrated as a company, from engineering to machining, sheet metal, welding, and fabrication,” says Tantimonico. PDC does not rely upon subcontractors, so the company controls every aspect of the manufacturing process and can respond quickly in every circumstance. “Companies come to us for our deep knowledge of the science of this technology.  This includes longstanding relationships with major material raw stock and resin suppliers, and label converters, an understanding of film chemistry and performance, as well as the printing process. We collaborate with customers to ensure that container designs are shrink-friendly and compatible with required line speeds to produce a product that meets our customers’ expectations.”Seth Smith, Assembly Technician, wiring an electrical panel.Seth Smith, Assembly Technician, wiring an electrical panel.

Konstantin echoes Tantimonico’s statement, pointing to the history of the organization and its strong automation and engineering background which allows PDC to deliver systems that other OEMs often can’t. “Our automation background enables us to do challenging applications that many of our competitors can’t consider. We are able to design peripheral systems and integrate them,” he says. “And, we do business the old-fashioned way, straight-forward and customer-focused. It means we’ve invested in technical staff, machine tools, and our personnel. It requires an investment over the years that most companies just don’t make anymore.”

Customization and machine innovation

All PDC machines are ruggedly designed for durability, reliability, safety, and ease of maintenance with quick, tool-less changeover of parts. Over the years, PDC machines have been built for higher speeds, zero downtime during film changeovers, and more challenging applications.  Recent developments include steam shrink tunnels with integrated boilers, and zero-downtime unwind stands for use with PDC or other brands of sleevers. Craig Nowell, Sheet metal punch press operatorCraig Nowell, Sheet metal punch press operator

R&D is often tied to custom projects. For example, the PDC StackAlign Multipacker, introduced in 2021, allows a number of individual units to be grouped, or multipacked, by stacking and shrink sleeving them. It takes the individual products from an infeed conveyor, counts, and stacks them, placing them onto fixed pedestals on a servo-controlled indexing conveyor. The product stacks are then centered and aligned prior to the sleeve application, while a dual zone hot air tunnel provides a smooth tightly-fitting finish. “This required heavy development a couple of years ago, and we’ve sold many machines since that time,” Konstantin says, noting that the PDC team listens carefully to clients’ requests to develop machines that meet their specific needs.

The most recent customer requests revolve around sustainability and the need for new films. PDC collaborates with resin and film suppliers, co-developing substrates by testing and vetting new films in the PDC Shrink Lab.

“All films have different performance fingerprints. They shrink at different temperatures and rates. Some are quite different than traditional films, so shrink systems have to be more precise and deliver heat in just the right places on a given package to produce a perfectly sleeved product for the consumer,” Konstantin explains.

For customers rolling out new product and label designs, PDC Shrink Lab conducts free shrink sleeve prototyping tests, and provides videos of the product running through the shrink tunnels. This test helps determine the required label specifications, including shrink percentage and material selection, all of which are critical for successful projects.The PDC Shrink Lab.The PDC Shrink Lab.

Konstantin notes that some PDC machines can handle very small diameters at high speeds, which is a perfect fit for the pharmaceutical industry, in particular. But perhaps the biggest value-add PDC brings to the table is in its cutting systems which have been designed in-house and will last for months between replacement. Most other blades are spinning knives, which dull quickly and requires them to be changed every few weeks or even days. “Our main benefits are vertical integration, technical know-how, and these cutting systems, which are amazing and will last for months,” he says. This results in less downtime and greater productivity.

Efficiency flows through to the factory, as well. When PDC doubled the size of its facility 10 years ago, they brought in lean experts to create an environment that minimized the movement of materials, parts, and people. So, even with more space, they consolidated operations to less square footage that resulted in more efficient operations. This has allowed the company to deliver a Just-In-Time manufacturing approach in the machine shop whereby raw materials are purchased and turned into finished products “just in time” to meet the customer demands.

Overcoming obstacles

Of course, PDC is not immune to the ongoing industry issues that impact all OEMs, such as the skills shortage. But, an optimistic attitude, a family-oriented company culture, and an investment in employees helps with retention while drawing more people into the organization. Tantimonico, who was appointed president in January of 2020, has been with the company for over 30 years. And the average employee tenure is in the 15-to-20-year range.Michael Johnston, Tunnel Testing and Development Technician and Luis Melgar, Machine Shop ManagerMichael Johnston, Tunnel Testing and Development Technician and Luis Melgar, Machine Shop Manager

The company’s work with Vistage, an executive training and development program, has also made a big difference in the leadership, Konstantin says. Vistage includes a peer group that meets once a month to share key information and goals within a circle of business confidants and advisors. “We’ve invested in memberships for six of our employees and I’ve been in a Vistage group for over 20 years. It is a fabulous organization for the ongoing education of executives and key personnel.”

Bringing new folks into the fold is also important. Many new employees were found through referrals, and recently, PDC started an internship program working with local trade schools and colleges. “We have a great new group of energetic and excited employees who are new to the industry,  but are going to be great contributors and leaders as we go forward,” says Konstantin. “The next generation of employees and leaders will provide that infusion of technology and innovation we’ll need to continue to stay at the forefront of our industry.”

50 years of meaning

Four years ago, PDC celebrated its 50th anniversary.  In a video commemorating the company’s five decades, founder Anatole Konstantin—who was also celebrating his 90th birthday at the time—explained his motivation for starting the company: “Fifty years ago, when I started this company, I was hoping I would be able to feed my family, that was my vision at that time. I couldn’t see this far.”

But, oh, how far this company has come. Now, on to the next 50 years.


To learn more about Anatole Konstantin’s life, read his memoirs:  A Red Boyhood – Growing Up Under Stalin, and Through the Eyes of an Immigrant.

 

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