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As part of a recent expansion blitz, Zehrco Plastics Inc. has added a 550-ton compression molding press dedicated to making roadway lighting components and other custom parts.

The machine is one of four compression presses, ranging from 500-750 tons, that Zehrco has added during the past 15 months at its two plants in Ashtabula, Ohio, said Clint Jackson, sales and marketing manager.

In that time the firm has boosted its work force by about 35, and will add 10-12 more people for the new press, he said. Jackson would not disclose investment costs.

The Ashtabula plants, which have 225,000 square feet of manufacturing space, house about 40 presses total, from 25-2,500 tons, some of which have transfer molding capabilities.

The new press, which has a bed size of 60 inches by 100 inches, came on stream last month to accommodate a job molding housing components for roadway lighting from sheet molding compound for Thomas & Betts Corp. At the Composites Institute's recent International Composites Expo in Nashville, Tenn., those parts won Zehrco Best of Category in the electrical/electronics segment.

The SMC components are replacing die-cast aluminum.

The Thomas & Betts' business will use only about 65 percent of the press's capacity, according to Jackson.

``It also enhances our capacity. We want to keep our plant at a comfortable rate capacity ... so that we can always take new business and grow,'' he said.

Zehrco's services comprise compression and transfer molding of parts from SMC and bulk molding compounds, computer-aided design and engineering, prototyping, assembly, finishing and decorating.

Zehrco's markets are diverse, but products include plumbing fixtures, sinks, utility tubs, residential entry doors and internal parts for high-production copy machines for Xerox Corp., Jackson said.

He estimated the private firm's annual sales at between $16 million and $20 million. It employs about 175.

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