Thermoforming equipment manufacturer Kiefel Technologies Inc. has decided to move forward alone, freeing itself from a joint venture with sheet supplier O'Sullivan Corp.
The companies, under the name KTI, had formed the unusual partnership in December 1995 to produce and sell vacuum forming and radio-frequency welding equipment.
The equipment was to be married to O'Sullivan's line of flexible PVC and olefin sheeting to present a self-contained package to automakers, their suppliers and other end users. The PVC roll stock frequently is used for cover skins on instrument panels and various interior components.
The firms launched a jointly run, 55,000-square-foot plant in Hampton, N.H., and landed several major contracts, including one to Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co., said O'Sullivan President John Campbell. The Ford contract calls for new vacuum forming technology to make PVC instrument-panel skins on the redesigned 1999 Taurus and Mercury Sable models.
But Kiefel, a unit of Kiefel Co. of Freilassing, Germany, found its growth restricted by working with a single material supplier, said new KTI President Harald Pessl.
``We want to increase our market share,'' Pessl said. ``And to do that, we cannot be constrained to having only one material processor with us. The company doesn't want to be limited, and so we needed our independence.''
In September, KTI asked to buy back the 49 percent ownership share from O'Sullivan, a publicly traded company based in Winchester, Va. On Dec. 16, the companies agreed to a sale of the shares to O'Sullivan.
The transaction's terms and number of shares purchased were not disclosed.
As part of the shift, Pessl replaced O'Sullivan head Campbell as KTI president. Pessl had worked in marketing positions with Austria-based machinery maker Engel Vertriebsgesellschaft mbH before joining Kiefel six months ago.
KTI, which expects to record sales of $15 million this year, will operate as a wholly owned Kiefel subsidiary, Pessl said. The New Hampshire operation employs about 60.
The two companies will continue to work together even after the parting, Campbell said. Under a joint technical agreement, new vacuum forming equipment and other technologies will be developed together, he said.
The companies also will market their products jointly where appropriate, Campbell said.
``We provided start-up help for [KTI] in the states, and we have a good relationship with them,'' Campbell said. ``But KTI also makes a lot of other equipment that [Kiefel] wanted to consolidate in North America. That equipment didn't involve our company.''
Future plans for KTI include stepping up sales of thermoforming and welding equipment for applications in the packaging and medical markets, Pessl said. Currently, about 95 percent of KTI's business is with the auto industry, he added.
In Germany, the company also makes extruders and blown-film equipment for markets outside automotive.
Those markets also could be tapped in North America, Pessl said.
Eventually, the company plans to expand the New Hampshire plant and add other Kiefel product lines, Pessl said. But the timing will depend on future business.
KTI, which primarily makes laminating machines at its plant, plans to set up a lamination laboratory in Detroit within the next four months, Pessl said. The facility would allow auto-industry customers to sample materials or prototype tools on a Kiefel laminator.
Kiefel is owned by the Renolite Group GmbH of Worms, Germany. The privately held company does not disclose its sales.