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AKRON, OHIO — Maac Machinery Corp. has acquired the assets of thermoforming equipment maker Comet Industries Inc. of Sanford, Fla.

Paul Alongi, Maac's president, chief executive officer and owner, bought Comet from husband-and-wife team Robert E. and Judy Kostur, who have run the company since its founding in 1955. Terms were undisclosed.

In a Jan. 10 interview at Plastics News' Akron office, Alongi said that Maac had transferred all assets acquired in the Nov. 23 deal to its 25,000-square-foot plant in Itasca, Ill.

``Prints and technical information was the No. 1 purchase, and all of the rights — 40 years of engineering design work,'' Alongi said. ``Some of it is the cornerstone of what this industry is based on.''

Also acquired were patents and trademarks, such as the Comet name. Comet President Robert Kostur — who Alongi called ``the most experienced man in the [thermoforming] industry'' — will continue as a full-time consultant to Maac.

``We're very excited about getting the two companies together,'' Kostur said Jan. 14 by telephone from Itasca. ``We've got some old, long-standing relationships with both companies going back through the years.''

In fact, Kostur founded Comet in the Chicago area, then moved the business to Florida in the late 1970s. Before the 42-year-old company closed the doors of its leased Sanford facility Nov. 29, it employed about 27 workers.

``We're not a new name in the household,'' Kostur said. ``We're an old, old, established company. Comet has over 7,000 machines out in the field.''

With 15 years making thermoforming equipment, Maac's reputation and ability were just as important to the Kosturs, said Judy Kostur, who was Comet's chief executive officer. She added that merging with Maac makes sense for the future, as the thermoforming industry grows larger and more specialized.

For Maac, the purchase expands both its offerings and market for heavy-gauge sheet-fed single-station and rotary thermoforming machines, used to make a variety of plastic products — from luggage to medical equipment housings to tubs.

With more than 40 machine designs between them, Maac and Comet together garner roughly $12 million in sales — or 15 percent of a worldwide sheet-fed equipment market that Maac estimates at $80 million a year, Alongi said. He added that he hopes to grow that global share to more than 30 percent in four years.

The companies have some overlap in business — roughly 25 percent, according to Alongi's numbers. But, with Comet comes a more economical line of equipment than Maac's, and a clientele with lower-volume requirements, he said. To compare, he said, Maac's niche is generally more-expensive customized machines, outfitted with sophisticated technology for faster cycle times and sold to processors and original equipment manufacturers alike. But its equipment can cost from $35,000 to $1 million.

OEMs with captive operations, like luggage maker Samsonite Corp., make up 60 percent of Maac's total sales, with technology-oriented trade formers accounting for the rest, Alongi noted.

Maac's biggest competitor in sheet-fed machines is Brown Machine of Beaverton, Mich., a division of John Brown Plastics Machinery Kvarner USA Inc.

Together Brown and Maac own 70 percent of the U.S. market for sheet-fed machines, according to Alongi. Bill Kent, Brown Machine's vice president, agreed with that estimate; though, neither he nor Alongi would break out his firm's stake.

Unlike Brown—which also makes roll-fed equipment, used for making packaging, cups and other thin-wall products—Maac has opted to stay out of that market. And even though it has acquired rights to Comet's line of roll-fed thermoformers, it will not manufacture them, at least for now, Alongi said.

By midyear Maac, which employs about 50, expects to hire 20-22 more production people at Itasca, both to accommodate Comet's sheet-fed business and anticipated growth for its own machines. The firm already is building more offices for four new sales and engineering workers. Even before Maac bought Comet, it was working to expand market share, especially for large rotary vacuum and pressure forming machines, as part of a long-term strategy.

Last year Maac's business grew 20 percent, and Alongi said he wants to double that rate in 1997. To do that, he is counting on the European market. With a sales office in Telford, England, Maac already draws nearly one-third of its sales from outside the United States.

``I spent over 100 days in 1996 in England and Western Europe ... to identify the marketplace,'' Alongi said. ``It's pretty much the same markets as we have here, [but] they don't use any rotaries, so everything is slower.

``The market we look to create over there is the rotary market — that's the market they don't have.''

Maac said it already has recruited several European thermoformers to be part of a week-long event it will host at the Omni Chicago Ambassador East Hotel during this June's NPE in Chicago.

The company has tagged the site ``World Thermoforming Headquarters,'' and hopes to foster a networking environment for custom thermoformers, OEMs, resin suppliers and auxilliary equipment manufacturers at the show.

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