KENTWOOD, MICH. — When most of its laptop business went to Japan, Plastic-Plate Inc. also went elsewhere.
The Kentwood-based molder of electronic components faced a situation out of its control in the early 1990s. Laptop computers, once the partial domain of U.S. companies, began to be shipped almost exclusively from the Pacific Rim. That forced Plastic-Plate — which drew on laptops for much of its plastic housing work—to seek new markets as it cut back its laptop housing business, said Plastic-Plate General Manager Daniel Savickas.
The company had entered the business by molding some of the first enclosures for an updated version of IBM's PC Jr. personal computer in 1986.
``There was nothing we could do but develop new product areas,'' he said. ``The Japanese companies were relying on their own processors there to do some of the work. We found some new market niches to help us move forward.''
The company, a subsidiary of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Lacks Enterprises Inc., turned to cellular telephones, computer network hardware and hand-held electronic devices. Plastic-Plate saw sales climb back up to around $30 million last year.
The shift has helped the firm build on its reputation as a turnkey supplier.
Besides molding parts, the company performs shielding, which involves applying a conductive metal coating on a plastic substrate to prevent the permeation of radio-frequency emissions.
Such emissions could interfere with radio frequencies if the electronics enclosure is not protected, Savickas said. Plastic-Plate's electroless shielding work is conducted at a 52,000-square-foot plant near its molding facility.
The company also conducts electrolytic shielding, which involves placing chrome, nickel or copper plating on the part, at another 70,000-square-foot Kentwood plant. In addition, The firm has three pad-printing machines for graphics work.
``We've gone through what I would call an evolution,'' Savickas said. ``Inevitably, it's going to be good for the company's growth.''