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TORONTO — Conair Group is becoming an integrated equipment supplier as it consolidates its various divisions, officials said at an April 30 news conference.

``Our customers are integrated in manufacturing cells and that's the approach we're taking,'' said Conrad Bessemer, executive vice president for the Franklin, Pa., firm.

Conair will arrange its products in cells at NPE 1997 to demonstrate how its machinery works together (Booths S930, S1130, S1330).

``Processors look for commonality around the world,'' said Dick Christopher, vice president of sales. ``We will provide solutions rather than individual products.''

Conair announced early this year a plan to merge its operations into an expanded Franklin facility and to build a new sales and engineering center near Pittsburgh. Bessemer said construction at Franklin is proceeding on schedule and Conair's divisions will move production there sequentially. Its new technical center will open in November.

Bessemer said synergies from the merger ultimately will benefit customers; it will allow consistent approaches to process controls and help Conair integrate maintenance services. A centralized maintenance staff will be able to service all the firm's machinery, unlike in the past when the divisions had their own maintenance teams, Bessemer added.

Though the consolidation will make machinery production more cost-effective, he stressed that cutting costs is not its purpose.

``We're spending $10 million to $20 million in this merger and we will employ more people,'' he said.

Conair is enjoying record-breaking sales, according to Bessemer. A lot of processors are ``auxiliary equipment-constrained'' and are buying robots, water chillers and other machinery to boost capacity.

Conair aims to double or triple its size within five years, and it will rely on acquisitions and joint ventures for some of that growth. In foreign markets the firm is particularly interested in South America and India. But this year's merger and sales growth probably will command most of the firm's attention for now, Bessemer said.

Its latest acquisition, in early spring, was Metaplast Ltd., a downstream equipment supplier in Lachine, Quebec, near Montreal. Officials said the Metaplast integration has been going well.

Conair held its NPE preview conference in Toronto, while the Society of Plastics Engineers was conducting its 1997 Annual Technical Conference.