American injection molder grows from 'crawl' to 'run' in China

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Rebecca Kanthor/File photo Poly-Cast Plastics (Suzhou) Co. Ltd.'s Jeff Leedom in a 2014 photo.

Steady growth is prompting Poly-Cast Plastics (Suzhou) Co. Ltd., a U.S.-owned injection molding company in China, to plan a sizable expansion.

The company, which started in the Chinese city of Suzhou in 2006, plans to open a new 43,000-square-foot (4,000-square-meter) facility in April that will double the size of its current factory, said General Manager Jeff Leedom.

The new facility will allow the company to add more and bigger machines, he said, with the capacity to eventually house 30 injection molding presses, up from its current 10, which range from 55 to 330 tons of clamping force.

In the short term, Leedom said three new machines are planned for this year. Another two or three are planned for 2018, including equipment to expand processes into vertical rotary insert molding, larger tonnage machines, more value-added assembly and potential clean room systems.

“It’s a big, bold step for our company,” he said.

The expansion is driven by general business growth in the country, and by increasing technical capabilities in its China offices, he said. To keep its current Chinese staff, the new location is only a five-minute walk away.

“We expect to retain 100 percent of our work force in the relocation process,” Leedom said.

The operation, which began in 2006 as an offshoot of Tigard, Ore.-based injection molding company Poly-Cast Inc. with three employees and two molding machines in China, has steadily expanded its local capabilities, Leedom said.

“[Back then] we were very dependent on U.S. technical resources,” he said. “Today, our China team collaborates with our U.S. teams [rather than] looking to them for direction.”

With the larger facility, Leedom said the company will be able to take advantage of new opportunities, but emphasized that growth would continue to be pursued in a measured manner.

“We’re still going to take time to make the right decisions,” he said. “There are a ton of opportunities in China for new customers and new business growth, but we want to take the time to vet those opportunities to make sure they’re long term win-win relationships.

“We still hold that ‘crawl-walk-run’ philosophy that we started the company with. But we’re moving at a faster pace [now],” he said.

Today, the company is a joint venture equally owned by Poly-Cast and two other U.S. injection molding companies — Viking Plastics Inc. in Corry, Pa. and Falcon Plastics Inc. in Brookings, S.D., with Viking investing in 2008 and Falcon joining in 2011.

About 35 percent of its business in China is automotive; 25 percent is heavy-duty truck and off-road vehicles; 25 percent is electronics; and about 10 percent medical. Electronics is becoming more important, but all of the markets are more mature than when the company started in China a decade ago, he said.

“Over the years, we’ve gained a lot of confidence in the clients and markets we serve here,” Leedom said. “That track record certainly had an impact on our decision to expand.”