Consumers may not think of Hallmark Cards Inc., Boeing Co. or Kohler Co. as thermoforming companies - but they are. Thermoforming has tackled a variety of markets with products as diverse as shower enclosures, drink cups and lids, burial vault liners and computer housings - and companies continue to find new applications for the process, said John Florian, a Bakersfield, Calif., consultant to the thermoforming industry.
``I don't think thermoforming has reached 50 percent of its potential,'' Florian said.
Thermoforming made many of its early gains by replacing paper in products such as egg cartons, disposable cups, fast-food packaging and blister packages. But Florian said with sufficient research and development, the process could tackle new, sizable markets.
``In my opinion, before the last recession thermoforming was very close to replacing aluminum in pop and beer cans. But the [research and development] money dried up and aluminum cans still exist - although the price of aluminum is a lot higher than plastic,'' he said.
While the largest thermoforming companies in Plastics News' ranking serve the packaging market, some of the fastest-growing firms are in industrial products. In addition to products such as truck bedliners and pallets, many small to midsized firms specialize in heavy-gauge parts that have the look and feel of injection molded or blow molded products.
Plastics News' first ranking of North American thermoformers includes both industrial and packaging specialists, plus some that perform both, such as Alltrista Corp., based in Muncie, Ind. The ranking is based on thermoforming-related annual sales, and it includes data on 134 companies. We mailed 363 surveys in November and printed a blank survey in several issues.
Most of the information is provided by the firms; however, in some cases we include estimates based on data from many sources, including competitors, suppliers and a variety of publicly available documents.
All the numbers drawn from Plastics News and industry sources are labeled clearly as estimates.
The ranking includes sales of custom and stock products, but excludes firms that thermoform solely for internal consumption, including firms such as Boeing, which makes some thermoformed aircraft parts, or Hallmark, which makes some of its own thermoformed packaging.