Top industrial blow molder Flambeau Corp. continues to expand, adding equipment to a recently opened plant in California. The Baraboo, Wis., firm purchased a 78,000-square-foot building in Redlands, Calif., and in April relocated from a smaller leased plant in Riverside, 20 miles away.
A Sterling blow molder with a 70-pound head, the facility's ninth machine, will arrive in December to make parts for a large new Japanese customer. Flambeau uses about half of the available space, knowing that customers with immediate needs dislike waiting for a supplier to add capacity, said Bill Flint Jr., vice president for sales and marketing.
Always looking for acquisitions, Flambeau has positioned a market-development manager in Manilus, N.Y., to call on targeted accounts, analyze the area's potential and see if it makes sense to establish a Northeast facility.
Almost out of space, a 170,000-square-foot former Grace facility in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., operates 29 blow molding machines of 1-50 pounds for custom cases for power tools, medical devices and hand tools and circuit board for electronics.
South of the border, Flambeau is at a crossroads with its 49 percent-owned Duscan SA de CV injection molding operation in Monterrey, Mexico.
``We are taking a look at it again,'' Flint said, ``with the intent of seeing how it fits with our customer needs.''
Problems with Mexico's economy and levels of technical expertise short-circuited the addition of blow molding capability, but the needs of an automotive customer may push Flambeau toward further investment. Duscan employs 40, operates eight machines and provides assembly services.
Flambeau employs about 650 in Baraboo plants, 90 in the Technology Center, 100 in Sun Prairie, Wis., 140 in Georgia, and 500 in the former Grace locations in North Carolina and California.
Flambeau plans to win approval as a QS 9000 supplier to the automotive industry in the next year.
``We don't want to just pass 9000,'' Flint said in a telephone interview from company headquarters in Baraboo. ``We want to use it to focus internally on our continuous improvement programs and help us validate what we say we do.''
Automakers established QS 9000 for firms wanting to remain Tier I and Tier II suppliers. Approval qualifies a company automatically for ISO 9000 registration.
Flambeau blow molds and injection molds parts for Chrysler Corp. and a cadre of Chrysler and General Motors Corp. suppliers including United Technologies Corp.'s automotive operations, Textron Inc. and Lear Corp.
In other markets, Flambeau molds lawn and garden parts for Toro Co., telecommunications units for the cellular telephone division of Motorola Inc., heavy equipment items for Deere & Co. and a range of parts for other industrial customers.
Flambeau has added ``people to the technical core of engineering, tool building and marketing,'' Flint said.
Five years ago, Flambeau employed 1,100. Now, the figure is about 1,500, of whom 675 work in blow molding operations. The numbers include those at the North Carolina and California blow molding operations that Flambeau acquired in April 1994 from W.R. Grace & Co. 's Airmold Division.
``We are privately held, and the investors believe in putting money back into the business and infrastructure,'' Flint said.
Flambeau is a member of the Baraboo-based Nordic Group of Cos.
During the past three years, Flambeau spent about $20 million to add new machines, replace old equipment, upgrade materials-handling capabilities and relocate plants.
For the fiscal year ended June 30, Flambeau reported sales of $153 million with blow molding sales of $79 million and injection molding of $74 million. In the previous fiscal year, Flambeau had blow molding sales of $72.5 million and injection molding sales of $70 million.