NASHVILLE, TENN. — Allen Extruders Inc. is in the midst of $6 million growing pangs that will boost space at its Holland, Mich., plant to 76,000 square feet and add a fifth extrusion line.
The new extruder, with capacity for higher production rates and wider sheet, is a necessity for a quick-turnaround outfit like Allen, Kevin Bird, order-fulfillment leader, said by telephone Oct. 2 from the firm's Holland headquarters. Bird stepped into that station, a new one at Allen, in June.
``Why order-fulfillment?'' Bird asked, preempting the question about his title. ``We're custom extrusion ... not a high-volume operation. Our claim to fame is we're going to fill your order in X number of days.''
Part of that formula is making sure its customers can put trim regrind back into their products. The 16,000-square-foot addition gives Allen, which specializes in styrenics, enough space to accommodate an in-house infrastructure for sheet trim management that ensures the material stays clean and uncontaminated, Bird said.
``In this industry, that is a huge step to take, making sure when the material hits the extruder it's good stuff,'' he said.
Allen will be making the $6 million investment over the next three years. The firm first disclosed its expansion plans at the SPE Thermoforming Division conference and exhibition in Nashville, Sept. 19-22.
To grow its core markets and materials, Allen, with $22.5 million in sheet sales, is getting more aggressive at working with resin suppliers, Bird said.
Those associations, heavily focused on research and development, yield new applications, such as a thermoformed engine cover for a forklift truck made with a Noryl modified polyphenylene oxide from GE Plastics.
GE Plastics, of Pittsfield, Mass., worked with Allen and thermoformer Futura Inc. of Euclid, Ohio, on the structural part, which replaces metal. Futura has been producing the cover, which has a 32-inch draw, since May for an undisclosed heavy-truck and equipment manufacturer, Brad Sharp, Allen vice president of sales, said Sept. 21 at the Nashville thermoforming event.
Allen and GE are working on finding other thermoformed uses for Noryl PPO, Sharp said, such as replacing metal or injection molding nylon as pump housings for underground water systems. The modified PPO has good hydrolytic stability, making it a candidate for the housings. That property also means it won't absorb moisture if it sits on a thermoformer's shop floor for a long time, Sharp pointed out.
The high-impact, flame-retardant material typically has been used in nonstructural parts, like escape hatches for mass-transit vehicles or canopies for sun-tanning booths. The structural forklift-truck engine cover is ``a big jump forward'' in thermoformed applications for Noryl PPO, said Dan Kaufman, regional marketing director for GE Plastics' Americas Commercial Division.
At the SPE event, GE announced it has invested in a new four-station, twin-sheet rotary pressure former at its Polymer Processing Development Center in Pittsfield, Mass., to do more thermoforming R&D.
As for Allen's new extrusion line, it should be making sheet by Feb. 1, and will help it reach a sales-growth goal of at least 15 percent over last year's figure, he said. Right now its biggest markets are transportaion, and medical — an area Allen is looking to grow, Sharp said.
Said Bird, ``We don't care about markets if our materials fit your need.'' He said Allen's expansion will add about eight workers to its 76-person production force.
The family-owned firm has been extruding sheet since 1970.