Vi-Chem Corp.'s compounding business literally is going through the roof.
As part of a $5 million expansion, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based compounder will install a new roof to increase clear space up to 32 feet. This upward move will allow Vi-Chem to stack its compounding equipment more efficiently, according to sales and marketing manager William Greer.
The expansion also will add at least 30,000 square feet to the 100,000-square-foot facility and install at least two new compounding lines, raising Vi-Chem's total annual capacity to between 80 million and 100 million pounds on almost a dozen lines.
The additional floor space will allow Vi-Chem to reconfigure its manufacturing equipment.
``In the past, we've had to put lines in places where we didn't actually want them because of space demands,'' Greer said. ``By reorienting, we can be a lot more efficient.''
About 60 percent of Vi-Chem's business is in PVC compounds, with the remainder in thermoplastic elastomers. The firm, a unit of Nicholas Plastics Inc. of Allendale, Mich., employs about 75.
At least 90 percent of Vi-Chem's PVC compound sales are to the automotive market, where its products are used in window encapsulations, armrests and other interior applications. Most of the firm's TPEs — which include PVC alloys and styrenic block copolymers — also go into automotive products such as fuel-line covers and truck steering wheels.
When the current round of expansion is completed in early 1999, Vi-Chem will have room for only three or four more compounding lines in Grand Rapids, Greer said. After that, the company will look to build another plant, probably in the southeastern United States.
``We've grown at between a 20-35 percent compounded rate in the last five years and we expect that to continue,'' Greer said. ``So in three to five more years we'll probably have to build someplace else. We're looking into areas in the Southeast where the automotive suppliers are going, like Georgia, Kentucky or Tennessee.''