made its name on polypropylene compounds but now has big plans to move beyond those products. The Fowlerville, Mich.-based firm plans to double the size of its 100,000-square-foot site by 2003 through an expansion focused on engineering resins such as nylon 6/6, acetal and polyphenylene ether.
The expansion represents a big change in strategy for Thermofil, which was acquired last year by Asahi Chemical Industry Co. Ltd. of Tokyo for $92 million. Thermofil, founded in Brighton, Mich., in 1967, had been owned by Nippon Steel Chemical Co. Ltd. of Tokyo since 1989.
``There are a lot of opportunities out there in the marketplace,'' Thermofil President Randy Rudisill said in a recent telephone interview. ``By virtue of this acquisition, we now have a really unique portfolio; it's not just polypropylene and some engineered materials.''
The change in ownership gives Thermofil access to a broader range of plastics Asahi makes. The firm produces high and low density polyethylene, ABS, acetal, nylon, polystyrene and polycarbonate either on its own or through joint ventures. Globally, about $4 billion of Asahi's $11 billion sales total comes from plastics.
Asahi also is marketing these materials in North America through Asahi Kasei Plastics America Inc., a business unit that opened shortly after the deal closed. Asahi initially will market its nylon 6/6 and acetal resins, as well as Xyron, a compounded polyphenylene ether resin that's designed to compete with GE Plastics' Noryl material.
More immediately, Thermofil is boosting its Fowlerville annual capacity by 25 million pounds by opening its sixth twin-screw extrusion line in late July. When the new line opens, Thermofil will have annual capacity of 225 million pounds in Fowlerville.
The new line will be focused on making color grades of glass-reinforced PP for nonautomotive markets. When the engineering resin expansion opens, the original Fowlerville site will be completely dedicated to making PP compounds, Rudisill said. Rudisill said he is unsure how many new jobs the expansion will create.
Thermofil's sales were flat last year at about $105 million, $56 million of which came from the U.S. Thermofil also operates compounding plants in Hampshire, England, and Marseilles, France, as well as a recycling plant in Dalton, Ga.
Thermofil opened the $25 million Fowlerville plant in 1999, a year after half of its original plant in Brighton was destroyed by fire.
Like many compounders, Thermofil is struggling through a slow 2001, with sales down about 5-10 percent.
The company, which employs 120 in the United States and 170 in Europe, had averaged 10-15 percent annual sales growth from 1995-99.
``We're toughing it out this year and looking for better things in the second half and in 2002,'' Rudisill said.