Business

Aspenware ramping up production

Apsenware president Terry Bigsby demonstrates the capabilities of the company
Apsenware president Terry Bigsby demonstrates the capabilities of the company's latest production unit at a grand opening of their new Vernon facility Thursday.
— image credit: Graeme Corbett/Morning Star

The one thing that was always going to prevent Aspenware from competing with the big boys was volume.

With the unveiling of the compostable wooden cutlery manufacturer’s second-generation production line, that is no longer a concern.

Formerly based in Lumby, Aspenware hosted more than 200 people for the grand opening of its 25,000 square-foot production facility on 11th Avenue in Vernon to showcase their newly commissioned production technology Thursday.-

“I don’t know if it’s relief, or excitement or anxiety,” chuckled Terry Bigsby, Aspenware president, of reaching this stage in the company’s evolution.

“I’m hoping it will be another one (world-class company), just like the Kal Tires and the Riversides (Forest Products). I believe Aspenware is on the verge of something here.”

Considering where the company started in 1997 (with Bigsby, a former shop teacher, and a couple colleagues working in his kitchen with a re-tooled waffle iron), Aspenware’s growth has been exponential. Working with several prototypes and production configurations, they went from producing a few pieces of birch cutlery an hour to 35,000 a day by the time they brought their first-generation production unit online.

The Gen 2 unit, which is capable of pushing out 35,000 pieces an hour, gives Aspenware a tenfold increase in volume and will allow them to compete directly with non-renewable disposable plastic cutlery.

“It puts us onto the map and radar of anybody that’s involved in the industry,” said Bigsby, who credits the team of employees, investors, engineers  and marketers for bringing the project to fruition.

“We all had the same vision, we all had the same passion, right down to the original investors,” he said. “The team of people behind me has been fantastic. And that’s from the guys designing and building machines with me, to the guys designing and developing the marketing, to my own staff.”

Aspenware’s product line includes a fork, a knife, a spoon and a soup spoon.  Comparable in size to conventional cutlery, the utensils – comprising two thin layers of birch or aspen veneer, laminated with an edible adhesive – are lightweight and strong. The forks are able to pierce a raw carrot, the spoons can withstand hot liquids, and the knives are able to slice through steak.

As resilient as these products are, perhaps their most impressive attribute is they can be composted in just 49 days. Compared to the estimated 100 billion pieces of disposable plastic cutlery that wind up in landfills each year, Bigsby says Aspenware is an appealing alternative from an ethical, environmental and practical standpoint.

Erin Doucette, Aspenware’s vice-president of operations, is thrilled with the move to the new facility, and already foresees the potential for expansion. When needed, she says the facility has the capacity to accommodate at least three production lines.

“It’s pretty exciting watching it all move,” she said. “The growth over the last couple months has been incredible.”

Rather than scour the globe for partners to build the production line, Aspenware found most of the necessary technology expertise right in their backyard. The unit was built at Imagine Machine Works in Kelowna.

Vernon partners include Adventure Teardrops, Timberstar and >>>>.

Kelowna partners include: Inspired Precision Machining, Artech Machine & Tool (West Kelowna), Okanagan Automation, Okanagan Precision Machine, Altar Metal Fab Co., and Goldammer Cycle Works.

“If it wasn’t for the dedication and the teamwork we have... you see they’re engaged in what they’re doing,” said Doucette. “We wouldn’t be what we are today without them.”

 

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