Plynetics Express Corp., one of the country's best-known rapid-prototyping service bureaus, has closed its doors less than two years after crafting an industry powerhouse.
The shutdown dashed the San Leandro, Calif., firm's plan to become the world's largest supplier of rapid-prototyping and tooling services.
In 1996, Plynetics bought automotive-based firm Laserform Inc. in Auburn Hills, Mich., and merged its operations with Prototype Express Inc., a consumer-products prototyper in Schaumburg, Ill.
The three firms together were expected to reach 1997 sales of $24 million, said Plynetics President Frost Prioleau.
But Plynetics shuttered its four locations Nov. 24 and now plans to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection to liquidate its assets, industry sources said.
The firm was partly a victim of an increasingly difficult market — with both prices and profit margins steadily falling — and its own internal debt problems, said David Tait, former owner of Laserform and executive vice president with Plynetics Express.
The company was highly leveraged, thwarting any attempts at equipment expansion or further acquisitions, he said.
``Our objective was to really grow by doing a series of acquisitions,'' Tait said. ``But market conditions have changed, and pricing has come down significantly on parts. The company ended up with a lot of excess capacity.''
Plynetics is negotiating to sell its vast holdings of rapid-prototyping machines, including stereolithography and selective laser sintering units.
In early November, the firm shut down its Auburn Hills and Beaverton, Ore., plants. Those plants were to conduct program management and engineering work with customers, Tait said.
But before that could happen, Plynetics' bank called in its loan because of cash-flow problems, sources said. The entire firm was forced to shut down immediately.
Prioleau did not return telephone calls seeking comment.