DEAL COULD CREATE STRUCTURAL FOAM MOLDING GIANT

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Milhous Corp.'s Carson Industries unit has reached a preliminary agreement to acquire custom molder Vision Molded Plastics Ltd.

Guy Marge, Milhous president and chief executive officer and Carson's acting president, will head the operation from a base in Glendora, Calif.

Ronald Ernsberger, Vision founder and president, will continue to operate Vision as a wholly owned subsidiary. The deal is expected to close in May.

Together, the operations ``expect to be the leading independent structural foam molder in the world'' with 35 multinozzle machines, Dale Harnish, Carson's vice president of marketing and sales, said in a telephone interview. In 1996, Vision recorded sales of $10 million, and Carson was several times larger.

That projection was confirmed by a plastics industry consultant.

``The deal would project this combination to a No. 1 position in the world for dedicated structural foam capability,'' said David Anderson of Anderson & Associates in Somers, Conn.

Carson has bigger plans.

``We expect to expand to Southeast Asia in 1998 or 1999,'' Harnish said.

Carson employs 260 and has operations in La Verne and Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.;

Flora, Miss.; and Roscommon, Ireland.

Carson has wanted the capability to manufacture in the Northeast. The combination will ``offer enormous marketing and manufacturing opportunities,'' Marge said in a news release.

Vision has been looking at sites in the West and Southwest for two years, Ernsberger said, but the cost was prohibitive.

Vision employs 85 and operates a 48,000-square-foot facility in Napoleon, Ohio.

Last May, Vision took delivery of its largest horizontal structural foam molding machine, an 800-ton behemoth with a 300-pound shot size, two-color capability and a platen of 16 feet by 10 4/5 feet.

Vision uses the Uniloy-Springfield-brand machine to custom mold casket liners, storage systems, pallets and vaults for in-ground water filtration systems.

Vision operates seven multinozzle machines with clamping forces of 120-800 tons and shot sizes of 20-300 pounds, and two single-nozzle machines.

More than 55 percent of Carson's volume involves proprietary enclosures and vaults of high density polyethylene for irrigation, water meter, cable, electrical, telephone and fiber-optic applications. Another 28 percent involves condenser pads under heating, ventilation and air conditioning units and materials-handling equipment.

Carson operates 28 multinozzle structural foam machines, with clamping forces of 20-1,000 tons and shot sizes of 20-200 pounds.

Jack Carson opened the La Verne plant in 1968 and sold the business to Milhous in 1986. Milhous obtained the Rancho Cucamonga and Flora facilities in its 1992 acquisition of Brooks Polyplastics operations, and Carson started a grass-roots operation in Roscommon in August 1993. Total space is about 120,000 square feet.

Last year, Carson Industries Ltd., the operation in Ireland, commercialized its development of a concrete replacement technology known as Railduct 2000 for the railroad industry.

The system of ducts, underground enclosures and profile interlocking channels are used for trackside signaling, and fiber-optic and telecommunications cable systems for railroad and light rail projects. Carson has installed Railduct systems in Australia, Switzerland, Germany and Ireland and plans to make the components at plants in the United States and, eventually, Southeast Asia.

The combination of Carson and Vision will compete principally with Cookson Group's EPC/ Loudon unit in Mora, Minn., Structural Foam Plastics Inc. of Somerville, N.J., and Xytec Inc. of Tacoma, Wash.

Other significant structural foam molders include Contico Manufacturing Co. in St. Louis and Rubbermaid Corp. in Wooster, Ohio, both of which run large, captive molding operations, and FM Corp. of Rogers, Ark.