CHICAGO — The plastic wood market has a new contender: Crila Plastic Industries Ltd. is opening a 50,000-square-foot plant in Mississauga, Ontario, with eight NRM extruders to begin making its polystyrene foam-based Extrudawood.
The project is costing the company just less than C$2 million (US$1.4 million), according to President Peter Clark.
Crila unveiled Extrudawood, in the shape of a gazebo and furniture stained to a burnished sheen, at the National Design Engineering Show, held March 16-19 in Chicago. The product's appeal and its edge over other plastic woodlike products is clearly its look, Clark said by telephone from Mississauga headquarters.
``We have a finished wood look,'' he said. ``Other materials have a nice surface finish, but not many of them can be confused for wood.''
One competitor agreed. ``It is as they say, a real replica of wood. It is very attractive stuff. I think it's going to have some applications in niche areas,'' said Chris Burger, general manager for the proprietary products division of Crane Plastics Co.
Clark said Crila already has one customer under wraps—a consumer products firm—and is ramping up for its first production deadline at the end of the month for 5 million feet of ExtrudaWood. That monthly order is being filled from another of Crila's Mississauga plants until the new site—a leased, adjacent facility with capacity for 16 extruders—opens around June 1, he said. It will start with about 50 employees, and will give Crila a three-plant cluster in Mississauga; the company runs another plant 20 minutes away in Bolton.
Together those plants now employ about 350.
Crila licensed the technology from Isle of Wight, England, inventor Geoff House, and is continuing to fine-tune it for targeted applications, Clark said.
Burger said Crane had investigated licensing Extrudawood from House about a year ago. The Columbus, Ohio, extruder ultimately rejected a deal because, Burger said, the PS product did not fit with its existing Timber Tech technology—that wood substitute is extruded from PVC and wood flour and targeted at outdoor uses, like decking.
Decking is one market Clark said Extrudawood plans to snag. But Burger said Crane looked at Extrudawood for indoor use and he questions using PS for decking because its weatherability, including ultraviolet-light resistance, is not as good as PVC.
``If styrene was great outdoors, you'd have PS siding instead of vinyl,'' he said.
Clark insists Extrudawood is resistant to UV, fungi and termites and can compete with both plastic woods and wood in high-end outdoor uses like decking. He also sees potential in traditional construction markets like window lineals and moldings, but the company aggressively is seeking new applications in many industries as a less-pricey replacement for wood components.
Also aggressive is Clark's plan for his company, which he bought in 1989. He said he is scouting for acquisitions, companies—possibly even a competitor—with annual sales of at least $20 million to $30 million, he said.
Observing the consolidations taking place in plastics, Clark said he decided the move would be best for his firm, which did $64 million in profile sales in 1996.
``We felt we would rather be an acquirer than an acquired.''
Perhaps to get ready for that plan, Crila in the next 30 days will become CPI Plastics Group Ltd., shedding the name that originated with its founding in 1972.
Clark stressed that he is not interested in buying into commodity profile extrusion markets, but rather looking to bring the value of Crila's technologies to new industries and new applications—possibly reiterating the strategy he took when he acquired Extrusion Plastics Inc. in 1994.
Crila broadened in both product and process by bringing EPI on board and aiming it straight at the U.S. market, growing EPI's 10 percent share there to more than 80 percent, Clark said. He said Crila married its forte in making decorative trim extrusions through a die and lamination setup with EPI's vacuum calibrated process, used to make much larger, more functional shapes for markets such as office furniture and automotive.
``I want a highly diversified company and not dependent on any one market,'' he said.