Single-use Solution

Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg. partners with 99Bridges on a solution to the single-use plastic bag problem


Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg. Inc. is a family-owned and operated manufacturer based in San Jose, Calif., known for offering a full range of HVAC duct and fittings, roofing metals and the ability to produce a variety of custom pieces. Recently, the company partnered with 99Bridges, a technology company providing sustainability solutions, to develop and produce a kiosk that dispenses reusable shopping bags.

Shop Floor Lasers spoke with Michelle Acosta to learn more about the project and Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg.’s involvement. Acosta is vice president of operations. Her accomplishments include being the first Latina named to the board of directors of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), Bay Area Chapter. She was also named one of Silicon Valley Business Journal’s 2022 Women of Influence.

The Bag Drop reusable shopping bag service model offers a solution to remove millions of single-use plastic bags from the environment.

SFL: Describe the role Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg. played in this project. How did the relationship form?

Acosta: Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg. essentially brought the 99Bridges design concept to life. We engineered the specifications to fit the real world and the environment in which the reusable bag kiosks would be placed, which is a high-traffic retail environment that counts on reliability. Our strategic business process and experience meant we also kept in mind the need to produce the kiosks at scale.

So how did a high-tech software company and Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg. cross paths? I never expected that these two worlds would come together, but they did. I joined the 99Bridges team a couple of years ago and the outcome has been a collaborative, engaging partnership that allows our team to flex our creative and expert fabricator muscles.

How does the reusable bag kiosk system work?

With the Bag Drop kiosks, customers rent a bag they can reuse for 30 days and then return it to a participating store for a clean one. The used bag is cleaned, sanitized and put back into circulation. 

At its core, the reusable bag system comes down to the Internet of Things enabling the bags, kiosk and customer to interact with each other and gather data. The kiosk itself is the part of the system that enables the technology to come to life. The guts of the kiosk are a meticulously orchestrated combination of component parts powered by 99Bridges’ technology. Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg.’s engineering expertise allows the parts to work in sync.

The challenges faced in these special projects tend to occur when the design concept goes through the testing phases. There are a lot of moving parts – literally and metaphorically. You can prepare for a lot, but the most effective problem-solving method is to simply test and prototype as much as you can. Then that magical moment hits when it all works together. Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg. has been a creative fabricator on a variety of special projects in our 51 years of business. 99Bridges was astounded that with every challenge we faced, our fabrication team’s technical expertise met it with a simple solution.

Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg. is a family-owned and operated manufacturer that offers a full range of HVAC duct and fittings and roofing metals.

So far, the Bag Drop program has been a great success, and has blown away everyone involved. The pilot program, which included more than a dozen of the kiosks in retail stores like Target and CVS in New Jersey, ended in July 2023. We’re excited to see if the program will be extended or expanded – we’re ready.

What type of equipment was used to make the parts for the kiosks?

The equipment we used to make the kiosks included a Bystronic BySmart Fiber 3015 fiber laser cutter to cut out the pieces and RAS Bending Systems for the forming process. Our skilled fabrication team then assembled everything using a variety of welding and finishing techniques.

We invested in Bystronic fiber laser technology more than 10 years ago. Adding a fiber laser was one of the best, most pivotal investments we have ever made. It was game-changing for us in terms of productivity and efficiency and in fabrication quality. We simply wouldn’t be at the capacity and have the capabilities we do today without it – it’s a necessity.

With the Bag Drop kiosk, customers rent a bag they use for 30 days and then return it to a participating store for a clean one. The used bag is cleaned, sanitized and put back into circulation.

Describe the size and setup of the Acosta facility.

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, the shop floor alone is more than 125,000 sq. ft. We have invested in top-of-the-line equipment that enables us to be incredibly efficient and produce high-quality products. Even our equipment and departments are set up specifically to add to our efficiency because optimizing workflow is key to our success.

For example, our welding department capacity can reach more than 60 hours per day. This is noteworthy for a shop of our size, with as many departments as we have and the incredible stock inventory we have. On top of equipment, our affiliation with Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 104 offers the utilization of a very flexible labor pool. So we can expand any department in our shop at any time.

How did Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg. get its start?

Our founder, Sal Acosta, worked in the sheet metal industry for years. He was well-known for his customer service and positive, can-do attitude, even working late nights to ensure he could always deliver on his promises. After working for more than a decade at another company, he decided to go out on his own and in February 1972, he used the garage of his home in South San Jose to open Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg.

How did you come to be in this position in the family company?

The family business has always been rather inescapable. I started out as a receptionist and eventually focused on areas such as marketing, project management and operations, much out of my interest in solving problems. When I really started becoming involved in the company’s day to day, we were already established for 35-plus years. Almost 15 years after having redesigned our catalog for the first time, I now hold the title of vice president of operations.

My childhood experience heavily influenced my decision to go down this career path. I never expected to stay in the family business, and even though I’ve had other jobs since high school, I never fully left the company. I’m lucky that this career has allowed me to dive into areas that really interest me like marketing and sales and manufacturing operations while building a family legacy.

What do you like best about your position in the company?

I love that I have the ability to make deeply impactful decisions. I’m able to influence and completely change how Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg. moves into the future. I encourage our team to evolve on a daily basis. Being able to represent our niche of the construction industry, as a board member of the Bay Area SMACNA, for example, is a privilege as well.

On the more technical side, I’m obsessed with efficiency and data, which marries perfectly with modern software and technology. With this, I’m aligning our technology and workflows, and the positive ROI is undeniable. The greatest ROI so far has been the direct benefits of incredibly competitive pricing and faster turnaround times to our customers.

Plastic bags affect marine life due to the ingestion and entanglement of hundreds of marine species. They are also a source of pollutants that change marine habitats and pollute the food chain.

As far as the Bag Drop program, it’s exciting to be part of a real, tangible solution to a global environmental crisis. 99Bridges’ solution could be a game-changer for consumer behavior when it comes to eliminating the use of single-use plastic bags. We feel lucky, and a sense of agency, that Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg. can help 99Bridges mobilize its goals and enable everyone to help save the planet.

It seems like something small, but single-use plastic bags add up and cause irreparable harm to our environment. We are proud to be a part of such an innovative answer that lets everyone be a part of saving the environment.

Acosta Sheet Metal Mfg. Inc.


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