Thermoform Plastics Inc. is sticking with the game plan. A five-year strategy to boost business has panned out for the Minnesota thermoformer, which has seen sales grow 40 percent since 1993. Looking forward to more of the same, last month TPI broke ground on a 100,000-square-foot addition to its White Bear plant, already roomy at 200,000 square feet.
Dan Sweet, manufacturing director, puts the price tag for the new building at roughly $3 million. White Bear Township is near St. Paul.
In mid-May, the company installed its first twin-sheet thermoformer, a four-station rotary press with four ovens, custom-made by Brown Machine Division of Beaverton, Mich. At 38 feet high by 46 feet wide, the machine is the largest of its kind, according to Sweet.
A 12-foot pit dug under its belly allows for a full 50-inch draw, he said in a Sept. 25 telephone interview.
TPI paid $1 million for the Brown twin-sheet rotary machine, and probably will buy another of the same size or larger after the add-on is completed Jan. 31, Sweet said.
Equipment also is on order for a second plant, at Little Hocking, Ohio, which is branching into custom thermoforming. The 67,000-square-foot facility thus far has been dedicated to making proprietary products for parent Wilbert Inc. of Chicago. Privately held Wilbert markets polystyrene burial vault liners, cremation urns, and caskets for children and pets.
Part of Wilbert's game plan is to acquire another plastics processor, Sweet said, and it has been looking for a company with an established customer base that would give it a foothold on the East Coast or in the South. As the firm approaches the fifth year of that plan, time is growing tight to make that move.
TPI garners its custom jobs from the recreation, marine, agriculture and automotive markets, among others. For now the new twin-sheet former is busy producing truck bedliners, refrigerator liners, shield crop covers for the egg industry and oversize portable chemical toilets that permit wheelchair access.
Other TPI products include belly pans for snowmobiles, enclosures for blood analyzers, tractor and combine roofs and dunnage trays.
Sweet said his firm processes about 34 million pounds of cut sheet a year - polyethylene, ABS and PS supplied by Spar-tech Plastics, Primex Plastics Corp. and Portage Industries Corp.
That figure is ``obviously growing,'' he said, right along with sales.
Sales for fiscal 1995, ended April 30, were about $35 million. He projected next year's sales at roughly $40 million.
Sweet attributes TPI's growth to on-time product delivery; a beefed-up sales staff; and an engineering team that can design deep draws with big machines, and movable undercut areas in the mold that eliminate parting lines yet keep product features intact.
In June, Curt Zamec became TPI president.
Six years ago Zamec appointed Sweet to head manufacturing at White Bear. A recent promotion also has put Sweet in charge of engineering and tooling.
The plant's 22-person tool shop offers full service, including computer-aided design.
Sweet noted the modern facilities at White Bear. The machines line the center of the building, where the ceiling is raised, for better heat dispersion and draft control, he said. In winter, heat from the thermoformers is recirculated to warm the plant; in summer, exhaust fans suck it outside.
The plant employs about 205 and operates 12 three- and four-station vacuum formers, 10 five-axis, computer numerically controlled robotic trimmers and a single-station former, used for runs of 25-50 parts and prototyping.
The Little Hocking plant runs three multistation machines, with another three-station rotary due in December. Other new equipment that will help the plant take on custom molding jobs includes a five-axis CNC robotic trimmer, new vacuum pumps and compressors.
The facility currently employs 25, but according to Sweet, both plants will add workers within the next six months - about 10 in Ohio and 20 in Minnesota.
Another Wilbert subsidiary, American Industrial Technologies Inc. located in Addison, Ill., makes adhesives, which Wilbert licenses to the burial vault industry.