Customanufacturing Inc. has opened a $2 million molding plant in Long Beach, Calif., to make a patented line of plastic pallets. The custom injection molding firm already makes pallets at its Pass Christian, Miss., headquarters operation.
Customanufacturing invested $1.5 million in equipment and $500,000 in the Long Beach building, with financing from CIT Financing. The plant features three Van Dorn Demag presses and a Wittmann robot that work in a unique production cell.
One 1,000-ton press molds the top deck, another 1,000-tonner handles the bottom deck, and a 400-tonner makes the spacers that join the two layers.
The robot, mounted on a beam attached to the two large presses, alternates between the presses, removing and stacking the tops and bottoms onto conveyors.
``We've been told by Van Dorn and Wittmann that this is a one-of-a-kind production cell,'' said Gaylord Hiler, vice president of engineering development.
The pallets, made mainly from high density polyethylene, are used in the food and beverage and pharmaceutical markets. They are made in three sizes: 37 inches by 37 inches, used mainly in the beverage industry; 48 inches by 40 inches, used by most industrial companies; and 45 inches by 45 inches, used by chemical firms.
Tooling and some production of 37-by-37 pallets is done at the 45,000-square-foot Mississippi plant, while most pallet production is done in the 25,000-square-foot California plant.
Hiler said Customanufacturing worked with DuPont Co. to develop the pallet. When the design was submitted to DuPont officials, the firm awarded Cus-tomanufacturing a seed grant of $25,000, which the company used to see if the idea could be patented. He and DuPont signed a technical management agreement in which DuPont agreed to license the product.
``It was worth more if only one of us tried to license it,'' Hiler said.
As a result, a patent was issued Feb. 20 to DuPont, and three parties have licenses to it - Hiler, CCClark Plus and DuPont ConAgra Vision. CCClark, a beverage bottler and distributor, has an exclusive license for the beverage industry.
Customanufacturing boasts that plastic pallets last 10 times longer than wooden pallets. The durability counters the higher initial investment in plastic pallets, which can be three to four times that of wooden pallets. The modular pallet can be repaired by replacing individual parts - an advantage, Hiler said, over one-piece plastic pallets.
Customanufacturing uses waste plastic for the pallets.
The firm's 1993 sales were $3 million. Since then, the company has moved more into the pallet market.
Customanufacturing has 12 employees and last year had sales of $800,000.