Morton Custom Plastics is expanding in North Carolina and establishing a stronger contract-manufacturing identity for its polymer processing operations. One of the expansion projects is related to an innovative part for customer Outboard Marine Corp. Morton is investing nearly $3 million to increase space and thermoforming capacity to make plastic covers for outboard motors.
Morton thermoforms Aristech Acrylics LLC's Altair Plus, a bonded acrylic-ABS sheet, to the OMC cover shape. In other steps, Morton cuts vents, trims sheet and installs insulation blankets, a baffle, a gasket and latch hardware. OMC's assembly site in Calhoun, Ga., installs the motor and decals on the color-coordinated covers.
"They use the covers across different models," Paul Schmitz, president and chief operating officer, said in a telephone interview. "OMC wants to convert other products to that technology." OMC previously made the covers with sheet molding compound, requiring a full in-house paint operation.
Morton was expecting mid-April delivery of two new thermoformers — a Modern Machinery unit with a 7-foot-by-11-foot bed and a Milacron Vector with a 5-foot-by-8-foot bed. The thermoformers will be mated with two new five-axis computer numerically controlled routers.
Morton was installing secondary equipment near its existing, 168,000-square-foot facility in Harrisburg, N.C. The new, 75,000-square-foot fabrication plant employs about 300 and already has 10 shuttle pressure machines and five rotary pressure machines.
Schmitz projects 2000 sales of $140 million for Morton's plastics operations, which employ 1,170 at four injection molding plants and one thermoforming facility.
The processor aims to use its breadth to do more turnkey work on commercial and industrial plastic products. Parent firm Morton Industrial Group Inc. of Morton, Ill., also has significant metalworking operations.
Meanwhile, Morton Custom Plastics is rolling out a unified identity program for its Midwest division in West Des Moines, Iowa; central division in Lebanon, Ky.; its Southeast division in St. Matthews, S.C., and in Harrisburg; and its thermoforming fabrication division in Harrisburg.
Morton acquired the Iowa site, then Mid-Central Plastics Inc., in June 1998, and the other four from Columbus, Ohio-based Worthington Industries Inc. in April 1999.
The Midwest division employs 170 and has 28 presses of 85-2,200 tons. Morton is raising a portion of the roof to accommodate a new overhead crane. Morton needs to move molds to five large injection molding machines that make body panels, cabs and fenders for off-road, all-terrain vehicles and tractors.
The central division employs more than 300 and operates 45 presses of 110-1,500 tons.
Within the Southeast division, the Harrisburg site employs 285 and operates 44 machines of 90-1,760 tons.
The St. Matthews site employs 120 and operates 28 presses of 150-2,200 tons.
Morton Industrial Group, a Nasdaq-listed stock, reported a loss of $10.9 million on 1999 sales of $219.3 million.
"We responded to a depression in the significant agricultural sector of our customer base" and assimilated several 1998-99 acquisitions, William D. Morton, chairman and chief executive, said in a report to shareholders.
To reduce debt, Morton sold its Carroll George Inc. unit in Northwood, Iowa, on Dec. 31. The fabricator of thermoformed acoustical and aesthetic components for tractor cab interiors now operates as Advanced Component Technologies Inc., a subsidiary of Watertown, S.D.-based Angus Industries Inc.