BARDSTOWN, KY. - When famed songwriter Stephen Foster penned ``My Old Kentucky Home'' in Bardstown, he could not have suspected that it would be the new Kentucky home of a major Japanese foam packaging firm. But Mabex Universal Corp., the packaging wing of Yoko-hama, Japan-based Mabuchi Corp., will make its innovative foam and film for the United States from its new plant in this scenic coal mining and farming region of central Kentucky later this year.
The 64,000-square-foot facility is the company's first in the United States, and will produce Mabex's line of polyethylene and polypropylene foam sheet, laminated foam and sheet, for a variety of industrial applications.
``This is a perfect location for a number of reasons,'' said Steven Wood, director of sales and marketing for the plant, dur-ing a ribbon-cutting ceremony Feb. 23. ``We will be close to the automotive, electronics and furniture industries that are prime customers for our foam material.''
Kenji Suyama, executive vice president of Mabex, said he could not disclose the plant's projected production or the cost of the plant, but confirmed that it will house seven blown film lines when it reaches full pro-duction, which is scheduled for this summer.
Mabuchi came to the foam packaging business through a number of unusual circumstances, according to Wood. The company, founded in Japan in 1909, was originally a construction company, and built some of the docks in Tokyo Bay at which Westerners' ships moored in the years after Commodore Matthew C. Perry opened Japan to western contact in 1854.
``Because of its independence from the traditional governmental connections of Japanese businesses, Mabuchi was also one of the few companies selected by the American occupation leaders to rebuild damaged infrastructure after World War II,'' Wood said.
``The company is one of the largest builders of pre-fabricated homes in Japan, and entered the packaging industry as an off-shoot of its building pallets, crates and other wooden packages,'' he said.
Besides its pre-fab homes, Mabuchi makes steel containers, wood crates for shipment of auto parts for Toyota and other automakers, lumber and plywood packaging materials, high and low density polyethylene film bags and sheets for shipping, shrink and air-cushion wraps, and a number of consumer products.
Customers for Mabex's foam packaging products include electronics giants Sony, RCA, Sanyo, Mitsubishi and Hitachi, as well as agricultural, furniture and construction firms.
Mabex has corporate offices in San Diego, wood trading offices in Seattle, and film and foam manufacturing plants in Tijuana, Mexico, and Singapore.
Wood claimed the company's proprietary laminating process enables Mabex to make the thinnest foam sheet in the industry, without compromising its protective qualities, which he said are valuable with fragile products like electronic keyboards and fine furniture.
``We are always interested in new materials to distribute to our customers,'' said Gary Smith, manager of sales for Yarborough & Co., a High Point, N.C., company that distributes protective and other packaging to furniture makers. ``We are familiar with this product, and we think it could be good for our customers.''
Smith said furniture makers are constantly searching for ways to protect their products that also reduce the weight and cost of shipping. He said many furniture makers use foam sheets to protect parts of furniture that could be damaged in shipping.
The plant will employ about 100 at full production later this year, and has 10 acres and a railhead for future needs, Wood said.