A Chilean extrusion company that set out to make drinking straws has built a successful business instead manufacturing polyethylene pipes for Chile's thriving copper mining industry. Daniel Jacusiel, owner of Santiago-based Plastecnia SA, just started up his third extrusion line to produce high density PE pipe as large as 14 inches in diameter at an expanded plant in Antofagasta, 800 miles north of the Chilean capital.
The 800-pound-an-hour German line was installed at the 5,000-square-foot plant earlier this year. A smaller, 400-pound-per-hour line capable of producing 5-inch pipe was moved from Jacusiel's Santiago plant to Antofagasta in December.
Plastecnia also operates a 100-pound-per-hour Argentine Rodafeli extrusion line in Santiago, making one-half-inch and three-quarter-inch PE pipe for the domestic agricultural market. But that business rapidly is giving way to the firm's expanding mining sector customers.
``Our mining business has been growing exponentially. Since our first sales in 1991, it has grown by about 100 percent a year,'' said Jacusiel. ``With the new line we'll be in a far better position. It opens a lot of doors.''
Jacusiel, who originally took over his father's Santiago glass business, first saw an opportunity in plastics making PE straws to attach to cartons of fruit and milk drinks. He bought extruding equipment in 1989, but attempts to make the required PE film packs to attach the straws failed.
So Plastecnia began producing thin HDPE irrigation pipe for Chile's growing fruit and agriculture sector around Santiago and in the northern desert regions. In the north, Chile produces fruit and vegetable crops to export during the northern hemisphere's winter months.
However, more recently, new technology developments have seen sophisticated spray and dripper systems replacing standard pipe. The market is dominated by systems imported from an Israeli molder, Plasson.
Even so, Plastecnia already has discovered a market niche in the mining business, which has grown with foreign investment from groups as far away as the United States, Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom.
While the pipe supply market is dominated by several big Chilean molders supplying mining groups with full engineering services, Plastecnia has built up a valuable niche for smaller replacement and upgrade business.
It benefits from its proximity to the mines and its customer service, Jacusiel said. The big pipe producers include Duratec SA of Santiago and Tehmco SA.
Jacusiel invested almost $500,000 at Antofagasta, while he has sunk more than $1.2 million in the plastics business in all. The biggest pipe extruding line should be operating at 50 percent capacity by December, while the 400-pound-an-hour line now runs at 70 percent capacity.
Plastecnia buys its PE from Brazilian supplier Polisul Petroquimica SA of SÃo Paulo and Mobil Chemical Corp. in Pittsford, N.Y.
The Chilean firm also produces welded T and elbow joints and stop-end connections for its pipes. Jacusiel, who employs 33 overall, sees export prospects in Peru, where the mining industry is being privatized.