MARION, OHIO — The first China-built HPM machine — assembled in Foshan by Guangdong Yizumi Precision Machinery Co. Ltd. — is going to a U.S. customer, Pleasant Precision Inc. in Kenton, Ohio.
HPM North America Corp., a Marion operation led by seasoned HPM veteran William Flickinger, is preparing the HST press. The machine, with 220 tons of clamping force, was to ship to Pleasant Precision April 22.
"We're making some small changes to the controller, to make sure it's fully functional," he said in an interview in Marion in late March.
One of the tasks is to change the controller language from Chinese to English.
Yizumi bought the intellectual property of HPM two years ago at an auction held at the closed-down plant in Mount Gilead, Ohio. The Chinese machinery company paid $325,000 for the IP, including the right to use the HPM name, engineering drawings and customer lists.
The HPM injection molding line uses the basic Yizumi design, with input from HPM North America. Yong Li, product development manager in Marion, coordinated the communication with engineers in China.
HPM North America employs 12 people at a 7,500-square-foot headquarters building and a nearby factory of about 18,000 square feet. Additional parts are stored at another building in Marion. The company is selling new presses in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Flickinger said Yizumi wanted to enter North America with the well-known HPM brand name. And the Chinese rely on the expertise of the U.S, employees. Flickinger said eight of the 12 employees in Marion are former HPM people. Flickinger joined HPM in 1968 and was the former president in Mount Gilead. Other longtime HPM experts include Howard Radel, 28 years, Daniel Kane, 25 years and Don Jagger. Randall Clements, the general manager, has about 20 years.
"On injection molding, we are permitted to do any modification required to the machines. In other words, [Yizumi wants] to build more of a standard-type machine," Flickinger said. "It will be stocked here, but we can make modifications. We can add cores, we can add special sequences, things of that sort. They have no problem with us doing that."
HPM's die-casting equipment was a big attraction for Yizumi, which is China's second-largest maker of die-casting machines. Yizumi is building export machines to the HPM design.
"Their philosophy when they came here was, they felt the HPM line of die-casting machines was a higher-level machine than what they were offering in the Asian market, and this gave them an opportunity to get into a higher-technology marketplace machine," Flickinger said.
HPM North America has already sold six die-casting machines, four 2,000-ton presses and two 400-ton machines. That is a big number for the relatively small die-casting machinery market, Flickinger said. HPM North America also will handle sales, parts and service for Yizumi's line of rubber molding machines in North America.
Pleasant Precision, which is buying the first new-HPM plastic injection molding press, is a mold maker that has been expanding its injection molding operations. HPM North America added a Max-brand robot from China to the press before shipping it to Pleasant.
Flickinger said having an actual machine at a customer is a big deal for a new company, even one with a venerable nameplate. HPM was founded in 1877 to make apple presses. The company added injection molding presses in the 1930s, and at one time made a huge range of metal-stamping presses and other forming machinery. Back in the 1960s, HPM once employed 1,000 people in Mount Gilead. Today, the ancient, original factory building is closed down, after withering away for 15 years under a series of owners, a saga that included bankruptcy. The sprawling plant shut for good at the end of 2009.
Meanwhile, Flickinger had started an HPM service business in Marion. Yizumi CEO Richard Yan used his experience when deciding whether to invest in the intellectual property — and Yizumi ended up buying a stake in Flickinger's firm.
Part of Yong Li's job in Marion has been to go through a large room containing records, mechanical drawings, bills of materials and sales literature. Some of it dates to 1900. Much of the newer information also is stored electronically.
Sales manager Matt Yanik is signing up manufacturers' representatives. As of late March, the company had two reps: Plascom Plastic Machinery Inc. of North York, Ontario, and Midwest Plastic Systems Inc. of Piqua, Ohio, covering Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Kentucky. Yanik said HPM is looking for more reps. Flickinger said some reps, just like some potential customers, are waiting to see some actual iron. The wait is over. "That first machine is now here. So we feel we've got something they can look at, and it's for real," he said.
Flickinger has invested much of his working life in HPM. An engineer, he is a plain-spoken Midwesterner. But he has a lot to say about HPM's future.
And the reputation remains. Clements has fielded calls on 1965 HPMs. "Some of the vertical machines from HPM go back into the 40s. And we have documentation for these machines," he said.
Flickinger estimates there are 7,000 to 8,000 HPM injection molding machines still running today. About three-quarters of them are in North America, but older-model workhorse HPMs have filtered down the Middle East, South America and Europe, he said.
Flickinger said the Mexican economy is picking up and companies are restarting equipment. HPM North America is getting service calls from Mexico, and selling new presses there as well. Mexican interest in injection presses and die-casting machines appears to be strong, he said.
Yizumi officials appreciate HPM's 136-year history. At the auction in Mount Gilead, the Chinese company bought a vintage apple press and a 1937 injection molding press. Yizumi will make reproductions of the apple press to display them at company facilities. The 1937 press will go on display at Yizumi headquarters.
"They were delighted, I think, in being able to acquire the HPM intellectual property. It allowed them a good opportunity to enter the North American market," Flickinger said. "They're very good people. They're very good in manufacturing. Very skilled."
Yizumi is developing a two-platen hydromechanical injection press, which should be introduced this fall. And engineers at the Chinese machinery company are starting to look at a high-speed machine. Flickinger said that could expand the product line available for sale in North America. They have to meet U.S. safety standards and electrical requirements.
For Flickinger, Chinese ownership is another step in the long story of HPM.
"We're very proud. We feel we're truly back in the business now," he said. "Obviously from a sales perspective, most of the customers we've been talking to are saying, 'Well we want to see your first one.' Well now we have that first one, so we've very pleased. I think that everybody who has seen the machine, and been involved in it, has said that it's very smooth in operation, and it looks to be a very good machine. So going forward, we think this is a real monumental point in time, that we're truly now offering injection molding machines."