SINGAPORE — First Engineering Ltd. will boost its plastics processing and mold-making operations with new plants scheduled to be complete in June in Malaysia and China. The latter facility will be a joint venture with Mikron AG.
Entrepreneurial investor S.S. Ong founded First Engineering as a Singapore mold maker in 1980 and continues as managing director. He works to develop Asian contacts, particularly in China. His son, J.R. Ong, sales and marketing director, primarily works the North American market.
Customers encouraged the firm to add molding sites in Singapore, Malaysia and China during the early and mid-1990s, Raymond Toh, sales and marketing manager, said in a March 23 interview during ASEANplas.
The firm is building a 60,000-square-foot facility in Penang, Malaysia, near a plant that Iomega Corp. acquired. Iomega of Roy, Utah, is First Engineering's largest customer.
The joint venture of First Engineering and precision gear-maker Mikron of Biel, Switzerland, is constructing a 180,000-square-foot plant in Suzhou, China, and outfitting it with molding and mold-making equipment.
Asia's economic problems slowed growth but did not derail these projects.
First Engineering had profit of S$3.68 million (US$2.2 million) on sales of S$68 million (US$40.1 million) for the fiscal year ended in March 1998. Molding accounts for about 90 percent of sales, and mold making 10 percent. Before the crisis, the firm generated fiscal 1997 sales of S$71 million (US$49.1 million) with 10 fewer presses in its Singapore sites.
Now, First Engineering operates 70 machines of 30-350 tons at core Singapore plants opened in 1992 and 1996.
Two lower-cost sites opened in 1994. One is a molding-subassembly plant in Johore Bohru, Malaysia, with 29 presses. A joint venture with the Chinese government in Guangzhou operates 13 machines. Initially, First Engineering owned 30 percent of the Guangzhou project. That rose to 51 percent in 1997.
First Engineering and Mikron formed another 50-50 joint venture in Pudong, China, in 1996. That site also operates 13 machines.
Varying humidity and heat challenge operators.
``Singapore and Malaysia are wet and hot, and China is cool and dry,'' Toh said.
In total, the operations employ about 700.
About 75 percent of First Engineering's molding work involves computer peripherals and housings. Other key customers include Seagate Technology Inc., IBM Corp., Maxtor Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp.
Automotive latches, couplings, gears and instrument panels represent another 8 percent.
Engineering resins account for about 80 percent of the material processed.
S.S. Ong owns 85 percent of First Engineering. The other 15 percent has traded on the Singapore stock exchange since 1994.