The phenolic molding compound business has not been very sweet lately for Valentine Sugars Inc. of Lockport, La. So Valentine has decided to get out of plastics — an industry it entered in 1938 as a way to keep its sugar workers and equipment busy year round.
Competitor Plastics Engineering Co. of Sheboygan, Wis., announced Jan. 26 it bought the Valite phenolic molding compound assets of Valentine, which had been doing business as Lockport Thermosets. Both Valentine and Plenco are privately held.
``The molding compound business began to wane in the 1970s,'' Valentine President Hugh Caffery said. ``Our sales have been declining since 1980. We decided to become captured by another company, so we got nabbed.''
Terms for the sale were not announced. Plenco, the trade name often used for Plastics Engineering Co., is taking over Valentine's entire Valite business, including equipment, formulations and the Valite trademark.
Plenco expects to move Valite production to its Sheboygan plants, said Jeffrey Mohr, Plenco secretary and general counsel. He added that his company will work to minimize the effects of the transition on Valite customers.
Those customers include molders serving the housewares, electrical and automotive industries, Caffery said.
Current Valite business manager Tom Wilczewski will move with the business and become a Plenco employee, Caffery said. The five to 10 other employees engaged in the Valite business will stay with Valentine and work on other product lines, he said.
Valentine's original foray into plastic resins began 60 years ago as a way to turn the large quantities of byproducts from sugar production into profit.
The sugar season also lasted only three months out of the year, and relied on what Caffery called ``itinerant'' chemists. The company searched for a way to keep talented chemists busy 12 months a year.
In 1938, Caffery's grandfather, Will J. Givvens, then president of Valentine, and Givvens' wife's uncle, Will Jay, teamed up with a University of Iowa professor. They discovered that the same resin that holds sugar cane plants together was extractable and could be used as a plastic.
During World War II, Valentine's sugar-derived resins replaced PVC as the materials of choice for phonograph records.
``RCA and Decca became big customers,'' Caffery said.
After the war, vinyl returned to the recording industry, and Valentine turned to other materials and molding compounds —including phenolics.
Business boomed during the 1960s and into the 1970s, he said. But now the company uses little more than a third of its 12 million pounds of annual molding compound capacity.
Valentine left the sugar processing business 20 years ago, Caffery said, but he noted the firm still plants sugar cane on its farm. With the sale of the Valite molding compound business, Valentine will focus on its other business: supplying the wafer-board industry with phenolic adhesives and resins.