Hampered by lack of space, Rehrig International Inc., a leading maker of plastic shopping carts, is moving to a roomier, $10 million facility early next year.
The new site will allow the Richmond, Va., company to double its production volume and surpass 1 million plastic carts made annually, said James Healey, vice president of manufacturing.
Plans include new equipment, including an HPM injection press with 2,000 tons of clamping force and two chrome plating lines. Investment in equipment will exceed $4 million, Healey said.
With plastic shopping carts replacing metal ones at a steady clip, Rehrig has had difficulty keeping up with demand, Healey said. The company is operating at capacity from a 94-year-old former warehouse in downtown Richmond.
``It's way too small, and we have no place to grow,'' Healey said. ``We're landlocked. By moving three or four miles away, we gain a better environment and retain our work force. It's a smart move for us.''
The privately owned company has worked from the 160,000-square-foot site since it was founded in 1975. The new location, in Henrico County, Va., just outside Richmond, gives Rehrig 307,000 square feet of space.
Rehrig produces about 510,000 shopping carts each year, with the baskets and handbaskets injection molded from high density polyethylene. Sales are approaching $50 million annually, and the company's products are used by leading supermarket chains, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and retailers such as Toys R Us Inc. and Home Depot Inc., said Rehrig product manager Matt Coyle.
The company claims to be the largest manufacturer of plastic shopping carts in North America and is among the largest in both wire and plastic carts, Coyle said.
``We invented plastic shopping carts, and it's our main line,'' Coyle said. ``It's taken off because the carts are so lightweight, they don't rust and they're less likely to damage store fixtures or a parking lot. We're growing quickly enough to support this kind of move.''
The new facility will include equipment to strengthen and speed production, Healey said. The new HPM machine, which has a 400-ounce shot size, features robotic equipment to help automate the operation. Rehrig has two other presses with 2,000 tons of clamping force.
The press is scheduled to be installed by February. The firm gradually will transfer its eight other presses, with clamping forces of 350-2,000 tons, to the new building. The plant should be fully operational by June 1999.
The chrome plating lines, including one high-speed machine, make parts for each cart's one-piece tubular chassis and seat back.
Rehrig has two plating lines. A new spray painting booth will put a polyester and nylon coating over the chrome, Healey said.
Rehrig will shift its 425 workers to the new building.
Besides shopping carts, Rehrig also makes a variety of materials-handling products, including dunnage racks, multipurpose carts and plastic display units.
Those products are assembled at a separate, 89,000-square-foot Richmond plant. Parts for the HDPE-based materials-handling products are outsourced from other suppliers using structural foam or rotational molding.
Even with limited space, the company has grown through improved plant efficiency, Healey said. Between August and October, new production techniques alone increased daily production rates by 25 percent.
``We couldn't expand our facility, so we found better, faster ways to make our products.''