After 46 years as a mammoth force in plastic bottles and extrusion blow molding equipment in Europe, Alpla Werke Alwin Lehner KG of Hard, Austria, is building its first U.S. headquarters and a 120,000-square-foot manufacturing operation in the Atlanta suburb of McDonough, Ga.
Alpla Inc., the new U.S. unit, also is building an 80,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Houston.
The Houston location is scheduled to be running by November, and the $10 million McDonough facility in January, said Kurt Berkmann, senior vice president of Alpla Inc.
The Georgia facility initially will employ 68, and Houston will start with 56. Training has begun for new hires at both locations. Each facility will be equipped with four extrusion blow molding lines, and they will process 70 million to 75 million pounds of resin combined, Berkmann said.
Both plants will make high density polyethylene containers for Clorox Products Manufacturing Co., but eventually will expand to supply other customers, Berkmann said.
``We have excellent records for doing business for [U.S.-based customers] in other countries,'' Berkmann said in a July 12 telephone interview from McDonough. ``They want also to have our service in their home markets.''
Within the next two years, he said, Alpla Inc.'s goal is to add injection stretch blow molding and injection molding of caps, closures and preforms.
Another local blow molder said Alpla's presence should make some competitors take notice.
``It should cause anybody in this business some concern,'' said John Sewell, president of Atlanta-based CKS Packaging Inc. ``It's already a tough, tight market and there's not a lot of room for any more [competitors].''
Berkmann said he is well-aware of conditions in the slumping U.S. market, but he said Alpla has come prepared to compete.
``We did very good homework before showing up in the homeland of our biggest international competitors,'' he said. ``In 10 years, we expect to have a share of 15-20 percent [of Alpla's $1.1 billion sales] in North America - mainly in the United States.''
In addition to Clorox, Alpla Werke makes containers for top names including Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo. Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble Co.
Berkmann said Alpla Inc. hopes to generate $15 million to $20 million in sales after the first full year in operation.
Alpla's other North American facilities include six in Mexico and one in Puerto Rico. Eight other Latin American operations are in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela, Berkmann said.
Packaging analyst Tim Burns of Cranial Capital Inc. in Williamstown, N.Y., believes Alpla has a well-thought-out strategy behind its move into the United States.
``The beauty of Alpla is they do have an extraordinary amount of through-the-wall, near or on-site manufacturing capability,'' Burns said. ``They're competent in extrusion blow molding, stretch blow molding, and the uniqueness with them is they provide both bottles and caps and are very design- and engineering-oriented.
``They provided the turnkey-solution approach that many people think will be prevalent in dairy, water and other packaging.''
Burns speculated that Tetra Laval SA, another European packaging giant, may be preparing for a leap into the North American market. Tetra Laval of Laval, Switzerland, already is trying to buy PET bottle machinery manufacturer Groupe Sidel of Le Havre, France.
``Ever since the Tetra Laval-Sidel merger was announced, there was speculation about who [Tetra] might buy to help them provide blow molded bottles,'' Burns said. ``Obviously the two names that come to mind who have specific expertise along these lines are Graham [Packaging Co. LP] and Alpla.''
On the other hand, Burns said, a combination of York, Pa.-based Graham and Alpla could be a force for Tetra and Sidel to reckon with.
``Blackstone Capital Group [Graham's majority owner] is clearly going to be paying attention to this,'' Burns said. ``Graham is so strong in North America; Alpla is so strong in Europe. Could the combined forces have the black box that wins customers and makes profits but keeps the big, bad Tetra Laval at bay? That would be a potent combination.''
Graham officials declined to comment.