ATLANTA — Thermoform Plastics Inc., a major industrial thermoformer, has expanded into captive plastic pallet production by purchasing one of its customers, TransPak-USA of Charlotte, N.C.
``We looked at it as a growth business with a lot of opportunity for vacuum formed pallets,'' said Mark Johnson, director of advanced information systems at the Minnesota-based thermoformer.
Thermoform Plastics acquired TransPak-USA for undisclosed terms May 4. The TransPak-USA system sandwiches a box-shaped sleeve between two thermoformed pallets. Officials of both companies discussed the deal at The Plastics Show and SouthPack, held together May 18-20 in Atlanta. About five major shipping container/pallet makers exhibited at the Georgia World Congress Center.
Plastic pallets are a young, growing part of a gigantic market that consumes millions of pallets a year, reaching into nearly every factory, grocery store and retail establishment in the world. Plastic pallets — usually made by thermoforming, structural foam molding or traditional high-pressure injection molding — account for about 5 percent of the total, estimates Mark Ward, TransPak-USA vice president of sales and marketing.
A long life span is driving plastics into a wood-dominated world. Plastic pallets can be used hundreds of times. Most companies recoup their costs within a year, Ward said.
The acquisition moves Thermoform Plastics in a new direction of proprietary products.
The St. Paul, Minn., firm has focused on custom forming large, heavy-gauge parts such as boat hulls and camper body panels.
Johnson said Thermoform Plastics has been manufacturing pallets for TransPak-USA since mid-1998, at Thermoform's Charlotte factory.
TransPak-USA was founded last year by Ward and Darrell Haywood, who is vice president and general manager. Both men are ex-officials of Bigelow Packaging, a plastic pallet firm.
Ward and Haywood call their products reusable, self-palletized shipping containers.
Pallets, with molded-in legs and ribs, serve as both the top and bottom of each container sleeve. The container portion can be made of traditional cardboard stock, like a box, or from corrugated plastic sheet.
Haywood said pallet buyers want quick delivery, so TransPak-USA keeps a large number of pallets in stock.
The pallets come in five sizes, all molded from high-molecular-weight high density polyethylene. Johnson said Thermoform Plastics wants to offer custom-designed pallets as well.
Johnson said that, initially, Thermoform Plastics is making the pallets at its Charlotte plant, but the company can react to customer demand by ramping up production at its three other factories, in St. Paul, Cleveland and Little Hocking, Ohio.
Thermoform Plastics ranked fifth in Plastics News' 1999 survey of North American industrial thermoformers, with estimated sales of $56.3 million.