CHICAGO (July 17, 1:40 p.m. EDT) — Family-owned and managed Plastics Engineering Co. is creating a facility in Sheboygan, Wis., for its newest product line: polyester bulk molding compounds.
The company´s sales now are dominated by standard and custom-formulated thermoset phenolic molding materials.
"Now we are into BMC, and this is going to be an expanding business for us," Michael Brotz, chairman and president, said in an interview at the firm´s booth during NPE 2000.
The company acquired the assets and technology of a BMC business in Buffalo, N.Y., from Plaslok Corp. on March 27.
Production continues in Buffalo while Plenco prepares for the move to Wisconsin by the end of 2001. Over a decade or more, Plenco has seen significant movement of phenolic applications to BMC.
"(BMC) is a huge market and something we want to become active in," he said. "Up to now, we have been competing with BMC with our pelletized polyester in select markets where there is an advantage to having a good shelf life."
Some customers have gone from phenolics to the PET grade of polyester for molding certain automotive components and electrical connectors. Plenco has marketed PET for a decade and is approaching its fourth-generation PET formula.
Separately, the firm renovated its former corporate office in Sheboygan for a joint venture.
Plenco and Bakelite AG subsidiary Rütgers AG in Iserlohn-Letmathe, Germany, formed the 50-50 venture, Rütgers-Plenco LLC, in March 1998. The venture supplies phenolic resins for friction material binders and abrasive, advanced composite, felt bonding, filter, foundry, laminate and refractory applications. Many of the uses represent new markets for Plenco and rely on Bakelite formulas.
"We brought into the (venture) about 50 percent of our existing industrial (phenolic) resin business at that time," Brotz said.
Plenco, however, retained phenolic resin applications for wood bonding and floral foam.
Rütgers-Plenco contracts with Plenco for administrative and tool-building services and, so far, employs five in Sheboygan.
For years Plenco has viewed phenolic molding compounds as a stable business and has gained market share principally at the expense of others. Now, the main competitor is Occidental Petroleum Corp.´s Durez-brand phenolic molding compounds and resins.
"They are still formidable," Brotz said. "If we grow in phenolic molding materials, it will be because we are gaining more of the existing mature market."
Plenco touts its support and service, but also recognizes market drivers.
"Realistically, it does come down to price and the competitive situation that this mature market is faced with," said Terry Steiner, director of marketing, sales and technical services. "We like to work closely with our customers, get into their programs early on and work on tool design ... so they can be competitive in this country rather than going to China."
Plenco´s sales are divided roughly into thirds for automotive, appliance and electrical-electronics businesses. Phenolic applications range from basic pot-and-pan handles to sophisticated oil-well engine parts.
Plenco has retained some appliance business moving to Mexico but has lost the appliance work that has relocated to China. Sales within Mexico account for about 15 percent of Plenco´s total. About 75 percent goes to U.S. customers. Plenco does not reveal sales.
Five brothers founded the original business in 1934.
Currently, phenolic molding materials account for 62 percent of Plenco sales; phenolic resin, 28 percent; polyester pellets and BMC, 7 percent; melamine-phenolic molding materials, 2 percent; and PET, 1 percent.
Plenco employs 435, occupies more than 600,000 square feet in Sheboygan and is registered under ISO 9001.
In addition to Michael Brotz, current company principals from the founders´ extended family are Frank Brotz, executive vice president; John Brotz, vice president of human resources; and Stuart Brotz, marketing manager. Another family member, Adam Brotz, is technical manager for Rütgers-Plenco.