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Alltrista Corp. plans to expand its large-part thermoforming business by acquiring Viking Industries of El Dorado, Ark.

Muncie, Ind.-based Alltrista thermoforms refrigerator door liners for Whirlpool Corp. at Alltrista's Fort Smith, Ark., plant. The operation, which the firm calls its Industrial Plastics division, also does a small amount of thermoforming for furniture manufacturers, said Alltrista spokesman Larry Miller.

Viking is to become part of the Industrial Plastics division.

Viking's main business is thermoforming tub and shower surrounds, whirlpools, spas and marine and recreational vehicle components, all new markets for Alltrista, Miller said in a telephone interview. Manufactured housing and RVs are attractive markets for Alltrista.

Manufactured housing has been growing at double-digit rates and represents more than 30 percent of new housing starts, according to Thomas Clark, Alltrista president and chief executive officer. He also predicted that RV shipments will grow 5-6 percent in 1997.

Miller said Alltrista is doing due diligence on Viking and hopes to close the deal by early May. Terms were not disclosed.

Miller said it was too early to know if his firm will consolidate or expand Viking operations.

Alltrista's Fort Smith operation had sales of roughly $16.9 million last year, Miller said. Its Muncie plant's sales were $43.9 million and comprised thermoformed food and pet-food containers and high-barrier, coextruded sheet rollstock, sold to food processors that make their own packaging.

Viking's sales for the year ended July 27 were $15.5 million. Fort Smith and Muncie make their own sheet in-house, but Viking buys sheet on the market for its El Dorado and South Whitley, Ind., thermoforming plants.

Alltrista's other plastics business is Unimark Plastics Co., a custom injection molder that sells mainly to medical markets. Unimark also molds shotgun shell wad molding and opened a new plant in Springfield, Mo., about a year ago to make such products. The molder has two plants in Reedsville, Pa., one at its Greenville, S.C., headquarters, and one in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Sales last year were $33 million.

Alltrista was formed four years ago in a spinoff from Ball Corp. Its total sales last year were $230 million.