GOSHEN, IND. - Rotational molder Agri-Engineering Inc., just 6 years old, has big expansion plans and a parent company - livestock equipment maker Behlen Mfg. Co.-to back those plans up. The company also is expanding into custom molding.
Agri-Engineering reported rotomolding sales of $8 million, good for 31st place in Plastics News' ranking of North American rotomolders. The Goshen-based company, which also does rotomolding in Co-lumbus, Neb., at Behlen headquarters, wants to become a nationwide molder with sales of $25 million to $30 million in the next five to 10 years, said Ron Twedt, manager of special projects.
Agri-Engineering combines entrepreneurial skills of a traditional small rotomolder with the backing of Behlen, with annual sales of $160 million.
Rae Johnston and Carl Van Gilst founded the molder in 1990 in Goshen. Behlen bought the company in 1993.
For the first two years under Behlen, Agri-Engineering's main purpose was to convert standard products made by Universal Livestock Equipment, a Behlen unit, from metal to plastic. Agri-Engineering turns out plastic animal-watering tanks, wading pools and feeding stations.
Behlen still makes plenty of tanks out of metal, a labor-intensive process, at its 400,000-square-foot Goshen complex. The rotomolding area, including four machines from Ferry Industries Inc. of Stow, Ohio, takes up 60,000 square feet of the building. A fifth Ferry machine will begin molding in mid-August.
Of the machines, three have a swing of 131 inches, one has a 160-inch swing and one has a 115-inch swing. The machines run 24 hours a day.
Agri-Engineering will continue carrying Behlen into the age of plastics. But the rotomolder is more than livestock feeders.
``A year-and-a-half ago we expanded to do custom work, too,'' said Twedt. Now custom work accounts for about half of rotomolding sales.
Fueling the custom work are the imaginations of Johnston and Van Gilst.
``They are innovative, idea guys. They thrive on new things, and that's what drives this company,'' Twedt said. ``We're not looking to steal products from other companies. ... What they like to do is run and gun and work on new ideas,'' said Twedt in a July 26 interview in Goshen.
New products include seating for boats, office furniture and parts for floor cleaning equipment. The company also is entering the recreational vehicle market, centered in Indiana, by introducing a foamed polyethylene top for a pop-up camper that replaces a metal top.
Besides the resources, Behlen also has existing plants across the country that can be used for rotomolding. Behlen's Nebraska plant already houses one machine.
Johnston, president of Agri-Engineering, said the company is adding rotomolding at Baker City, Ore., where Behlen has a plant. No details were available on the planned size of the plastics operation.
Behlen also has plants - and future rotomolding sites - in Corsicana, Texas, and Dublin, Ga.
By early 1997, Agri-Engineering also plans to do its own thermoforming with two machines in Goshen, Twedt said.
Twedt has played a key role in finding outside customers for Agri-Engineering. As former general manager of Universal Livestock Equipment, he knew about metal bending and the staid agricultural market. Now he is in plastics, traveling around looking for new applications. Agri-Engineering recently hired two more salespeople.
``We're having a ball,'' Twedt said.