EL PASO, TEXAS — A persistent Infinity Plastics Inc. landed its first customer in March 1997 and now custom molds large parts for eight well-known players, principally in consumer electronics, household appliances and irrigation products.
``We've come a long way,'' Gene Shukis, vice president of marketing and sales, said in a plant interview. ``We think we are building a model here'' for expansion to regions beyond El Paso and Ciudad Ju rez, Mexico.
``We've got opportunities to go into three different parts of the country,'' said Shukis, who is evaluating sites while looking for investors.
He targets investment banks and equity funds able to commit as much as $10 million including $2 million in equity capital and the balance as a loan.
In May, Infinity began drawing export working capital from Chase Bank of Texas under a new Small Business Administration, 90 percent-guaranteed program. Within SBA's west Texas district, Infinity is the first user of the revolving loan program.
In 1996, owner Bruce Bedwell formed the firm, leased a warehouse in June and began receiving Engel presses in late summer. Upgrading electrical and water services caused delays, and Infinity missed the late fall and winter business-cycle window before capturing its first work.
``We underestimated the amount of time it would take us to start up with a customer,'' Shukis said, adding that Infinity had nine machines but no proof of capability.
``They want to see you running.''
Now, Infinity molds computer housings of fire-retardant ABS for the monitor contract-assembly unit of Philips NV about a dozen miles away in Ciudad Ju rez. Infinity's work for Dutch-owned Philips qualifies for the SBA program.
Also, Infinity makes cosmetic and structural ABS vacuum cleaner parts for Eureka Co. and Hoover Co. and blower and trimmer housings of four resins for Toro Co.
Other output includes Cavalier heating and air conditioning modules for Delphi Harrison Thermal Systems, amplifier backs for Harman International Corp.'s consumer group, automotive speaker components for Foster Electric USA Inc. and RCA television back panels for Thomson Consumer Electronics Inc.
Infinity's first nine Engels have clamping forces of 300-1,000 tons. A 10th Engel of 1,500 tons arrived in May 1997. All have closed-loop controls, and Engel robots operate on four. The equipment costs about $4 million under a lease/ buy program.
``Our niche is larger-machine sizes,'' Shukis said.
Within one building, Infinity started with 48,000 square feet, added 16,000 last fall and has an option on another 16,000.
Long term, Infinity plans to offer value-added assembly.
``We don't want to be just a molder,'' he said.
Infinity formed a partnership with Preferred Mold & Engineering Inc. of Denver for a mold-repair shop in the El Paso facility with six toolmakers. Preferred was to supply Infinity and other molders.
While a good relationship existed, Shukis said, Preferred was ``not able to achieve an effective transplant,'' never exceeded four toolmakers in El Paso and decided in December to end the partnership, Shukis said.
El Paso lacks available skilled help, said Mark Ziemer, Preferred president. Now, Infinity seeks another mold repairer or maker.
Infinity employs 65, producing around the clock, seven days a week.
The company recorded sales of $4 million for April through December and is on track to record more than $9 million for 1998, Shukis said.
In early summer, Infinity will undergo a preassessment audit, seeking to obtain ISO 9002 and QS 9000 registrations.