Bob Jackson, blow molding machine guru

Feb. 1, 2021
Bob Jackson of Jackson Machinery brings a half-century of industry experience to the table, whether he's refurbishing old blow molding machines or developing new technologies.

If blow molding machine needs refurbishing or you are looking for a new modelBob Jackson is your guy. The plastics industry veteran started out working in his father’s restaurant as a teenager, but his career path veered into plastics machinery after graduating from college with three majors — none of which were related to the industry 

In 1968, Jackson began his plastics career at Peninsular Machinery Co. in Detroit, where he sold metalworking tools and plastics processing equipment. After holding various positions in the industry, including at Davis-Standard Sterling and Hayssen Manufacturing, Jackson founded Jackson Machinery Inc. in 1986 in Port Washington, Wis., where he sells new and used blow molding equipment and refurbishes older machines. 

Jackson Machinery’s new units include the FlexiMatic line of large accumulator head machines and the smaller VersaMatic bottle machines. The company also is the U.S. representative for Alphamac, an Italian manufacturer of all-electric blow molding machines. 

Jackson received the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Plastics Engineers Blow Molding Division and also is a past president of the division. 

Jackson discussed his career, his unusual and numerous collections and the future of the industry with Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing senior reporter Bruce Geiselman. 

Where did you go to college? 

Jackson: I started at the University of Michigan and graduated from Olivet College in Michigan. I went on to Wayne State University for graduate school. My degree is in accounting, public speaking and philosophy. The accounting was my father’s idea. I do not like accounting at all. 

You didn’t have three majors, did you? 

Jackson: Well, actually, I did. It’s a matter of what you were interested in versus what your father was directing you to do. 

What was your first job out of college? 

Jackson: My first job was not out of college. I started by working at my father’s restaurant. I did that from a very young age on, and my first real job outside in the real world was as a tour guide at Ford Motor Co. We would guide tours through the Ford River Rouge plant. You would get a busload of people, and this was during the summertime, and you would show them through the steel mills and the glass plants and the assembly buildings. don’t know if you’ve ever been on a tour of Ford, but it was pretty interesting. You learn a lot.  

After the tour guide experienceI think it was about 1968, I went to work for a company called Peninsular Machinery Co. It was a machine tool distributor in Detroit, and I ended up going back and selling to Ford Motor Co. and General Motors and all the automotive companies. I became a salesman to the automotive industry in Michigan. I had two bags  machine tools and plastic [equipment]. I became very active in the plastic side and began to enjoy it, and finally I became the guy that was doing all the plastic sales: injection, blow, extrusion, anything that was plastic. If you look at that, I have been in plastics for 52 years. The first injection machines were in the 60s, and all of the plastic development was going on right there, and it was all going into the automotive industry. It was a natural fit. I was there probably five or six years.  

I ended up working, selling, as a distributor for Davis-Standard Sterling, and that was blow molding specific. Then it was Hayssen Manufacturing [where he was the sales manager].  

In the meantime, I spent 10 years wandering in and out of China. I was looking at blow molding machines and plastic equipment and the importation of those. We brought injection machines in from Taiwan for a couple of years, and that was kind of interesting. So, I got to learn about traveling the world as well as getting into plastics. 

Who were you working for when you were in China? 

Jackson: I was a distributor, and I was beginning to work for myself and I was sent over there one time by Hayssen to look around. Some of it was just for fun. I really enjoyed the travel, and while I was distributing the Sterlings, whad an account in Australia that I went over to, so I got to see them, too. 

Why did you decide to found Jackson Machinery? 

Jackson: I was working for Hayssen, and Hayssen decided to move South. I was living in Wisconsin at the time and I did not wish to move to the South. When Hayssen moved, I stayed home and pondered my nose for a couple of weeks, and that’s when I founded Jackson Machinery. That would have been in 1986, I think.  

What prompted you to build your own machines? 

Jackson: I think the selling out of Hayssen to Cincinnati Milacron … Cincy took all of their designs and completely changed them. They did the Autoblow, which was a Hayssen machine, for a little bit, and then they quit doing that as well. That left all the little machines at Hayssen for us to build, so we did. We had all of the conceptual knowledge to be able to do that 

One of the fellows that worked at Hayssen with me, a fellow named Dave Larson, was instrumental in helping us to get the new designs done, and then Jeff Krueger joined us. He was another engineer that had been with Hayssen. So, all in all, we had most of the skill sets, all of the people that we had worked with before, and it worked out very well. Jeff was with me as vice president of engineering for probably 21 years and was a very talented engineer who helped us conceive of the FlexiMatics and the VersaMatics that we still build. 

So, you saw an opportunity to build small blow molding machines because Hayssen left that market? 

Jackson: Yes, Cincy kind of eliminated most of the teenier machines and went on into the bigger accumulators, which we subsequently did too, and we still make the little ones. 

Can you describe the history of Jackson Machinery? 

Jackson: Well, when we started, I think we had two or three people  Dave, myself and Jeff and a couple of fellows working in the shop — and we had rented a building next door to where we are today. It grew rather quickly just because of the needs of the industry and the machines. It was a good time. Within a couple of years of renting, we purchased the building that we’re in today and added an addition to it and added more people and we’re still at it.  

What is the size of the company today? 

Jackson: We do anywhere from $2 million to $3 million a year. Our industry has changed quite a lot in the last bunch of years. In the year 2000, there were approximately 325 blow molding machines sold in North America, not counting the Chinese. According to the PIA or the SPI, there used to be 200 bottle machines [per year], and there were 110 last year. There used to be 125 accumulator-head machines, and there were 17 last year. You can see that the unit volume has changed dramatically and something has to fill in that unit volume. I think we have been a reasonably large part of that because we take the old machines, put on new, modern controls, put on new hydraulics, clean them up, paint them, put a big ribbon around their necks and send them off to do good. 

In terms of a rebuild vs. a new cost  a big dual 15 Sterling is somewhere between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, and a nicely rebuilt Sterling with all of the modern controls and hydraulics is somewhere less than half of that, so it makes sense to recoup the old machine, replace everything, and go on down the road rather than buying new, which is probably why the new accumulator sales are off so far. 

What percentage of your sales is new equipment? 

Jackson: I would say less than 10 percent of it is new and the rest of it today, because of the circumstances of everything going on, 90 percent of it is rebuilding.  

Because of the economics? 

Jackson: Yes. 

What are the most significant changes to blow molding equipment over 52 years? 

Jackson: We had the first reciprocating screws in injection molding machines, and that was developed within two years of me joining Peninsular Machinery. We were excited about having not plungers but recip screw units, so that was the first plastic injection molding development that happened. 

On the blow molding side, there had been steady little changes until about five years ago. All of a sudden, bang, a German company that we represented [Hesta] developed an all-electric machine that was demonstrated at the K show four years ago. As I walked through that K show looking at all of the machines, I got back to the Hesta booth, and I said, “There’s nothing here but electrics and semi-electrics” (meaning they are half hydraulic and half electric), and they said, “Yeah? I said, “Why are we doing this? The guy says, “Come here. He says, I am going to do something unusual. I am going to change all the following parts and I am going to do it in 2½ hours on this machine, but we obviously can’t do it here at the show. I said, OK, what are you going to do? I am going to change molds — and it’s a double-sided machine with four cavities on each side. I am going to change head centers. I am going to change the blow-pin centers. I am going to change the material. I am going to change everything you could imagine about what the machine has been set at, and I am going to do all of that in 2½ hours. [Compared to up to 2½ days for a hydraulic machine.] 

I said, “You’re crazy; you can’t do that. He says, “You want to bet dinner? I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Save your money; I won three dinners so far. 

So, that’s the beginning of the most massive change in bottle machinery that we’ve ever seen. 

You now have servos instead of cylinders. You have all-electrics instead of hydraulics. They don’t leak. Their changeover times are wonderful. Their flexibility is extremely exciting, and the Alphamac is the one we ended up with. 

Electrics are where it’s at. Hybrids  that’s the accumulators that are part electric  that’s coming, but at this point we don’t have servos large enough to push out large-head accumulators. As the servo technology continues, even accumulator heads will become electric. 

In the early years, who was your mentor? 

Jackson: It was Bob Bloch. He was my boss at Peninsular Machinery, and he is the one that sent me everywhere to get it done. He had been in automotive all his life, selling to the automotive market, and it was just a great education. 

What was the biggest challenge that you faced in your career? 

Jackson: Probably the decision to start my own business out of frustration, if nothing else. It’s a big decision when you haven’t got an endless supply of money and figuring out how you get that done is quite interesting. 

How does Jackson Machinery’s equipment portfolio differentiate it from its competition? 

Jackson: We have one of everything someplace, and whether it’s 50-pounders or it’s quarter-pounders [accumulator heads], we have a rather diverse inventory and continue to buy and sell it as well as building new ones. Then, finally, we’ve taken on representation of the electrics out of Italy [Alphamac]. That’s working out well. It’s continuing to grow, and I think it will continue to replace the hydraulic machines. 

To what do you attribute your company’s success? 

Jackson: Work. If you want to get a little pragmatic about it, it is the people that you know out in the industry that you have met. Your clients trust you. They call you and say, “Have you got this and that? And you go, “Yes. Or “Can you fix this? Yes, sir, and you have the part to fix that. You just learn to help people. 

A salesman is supposed to be talking somebody into something, and I disagree completely. A salesman is supposed to be helping the customer to get done what he needs to get done. That’s the real way you do this. 

What is Jackson Machinery working to develop? 

Jackson: More sales for electrics is probably a nice goal, and I think I am close to getting our first several orders for those. 

We’re going to be building new machines now. We stopped building new machines around 2008. That was a bad year. We’re now getting ready  we have the designs  and we’re going to be making new machines of the large accumulator size. 

What are your hobbies? 

Jackson: I collect antiques. I am one. I collect guns. I collect old cars. I collect damn near everything. The most fun one, I think, is that I collect rare maps. I have a map here in my office that was printed in 1571. It’s a map of the northern hemisphere, and there are all kinds of errors  there are no Great Lakes on itI have a zillion hobbies, all of which are fun. 

How would you like to be remembered? 

Jackson: If you need help with blow molding, call Bob, he’ll help you. Truly, that’s what it’s all about. If we can help one another to go down the road a little more easilythat’s what I’m here for. 

Just the Facts 

Who is he: Bob Jackson, president of Jackson Machinery Inc. 

Headquarters: Port Washington, Wis. 

Founded: 1986 

Employees: 15 

Age: 77 

About the Author

Bruce Geiselman | Senior Staff Reporter

Senior Staff Reporter Bruce Geiselman covers extrusion, blow molding, additive manufacturing, automation and end markets including automotive and packaging. He also writes features, including In Other Words and Problem Solved, for Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Plastics Recycling and The Journal of Blow Molding. He has extensive experience in daily and magazine journalism.