Port Erie Plastics Inc. is in the middle of a nearly $8 million expansion - building two new warehouses, buying injection molding presses and putting in new water-chilling and materials-handling equipment at its factory in Harborcreek, Pa.
Officials in Harborcreek Township, Pa., issued a building permit April 3 for the warehouses. Construction was to begin by the end of the week, said Port Erie President John Johnson.
Johnson attributed the growth to major new business from several customers and using ``old-school business techniques'' to win more business from existing customers.
``The consumer product market has been very good to us for the last six to 12 months, as well as housewares,'' Johnson said.
Port Erie has added 25 new injection presses in the past two years, and now runs 63. Last fall, the molder started running 11 new presses from Milacron Inc., including four all-electric machines. For most companies, the U.S. economic downturn was biting down hard by late 2001. Port Erie had a different experience.
``We were slow through July and August, but things picked up last fall for us,'' Johnson said.
Now the company has 600 employees - three times the number of a few years ago. Employment total should be 750-800 six months from now, he said.
And Port Erie remains in a machine-buying mode. Johnson said the company is looking for two high-speed presses with about 500 tons of clamping force, either new machines or late-model equipment from auctions.
``We're committed to be at 80 presses in June,'' Johnson said in an April 3 telephone interview.
With $30 million in 2001 sales, Port Erie is a broad-range custom molder, making everything from wastebaskets and clothing hangers to racks for holding compact discs and pallets.
Company officials are tight-lipped about customer information. Johnson said some of the new customers have placed multiyear commitments, but he declined to say anything about the new business, including customer names or what markets they serve.
Johnson, who joined Port Erie about two years ago, credited a strategy of adding automation to free up workers to handle value-added assembly operations. The company now has 16 robots running on its injection presses.
The vertically integrated molder can make its own molds, and employs seven engineers.
``You take care of the customer. You treat the customer as the No. 1 priority,'' Johnson said. ``Those are old-school techniques, but not everybody practices what they preach. ... Customers these days need communication. They want to know where their product's at, that the product's going to be delivered on time.''
Port Erie needs the two new warehouses, each measuring 100,000 square feet, to free up manufacturing space in its factory. The company may end up building a third warehouse of 75,000 square feet. The company bought 47 acres of ground near its 300,000-square-foot factory for the warehouse construction project. The firm is spending about $4 million for the two warehouses.
Other investments include:
* $1.2 million last year to upgrade the water-chilling system to cool molds to boost pressure and cooling capacity. The work included two cooling towers.
* $1.5 million for infrastructure improvements, including new resin-handling equipment, and boosting the electrical system.
* More than $1 million for the 11 new Milacron presses, which have clamping forces of 130-220 tons.
Jon Connole, sales and marketing manager, said the 11 presses were added to mold parts for one customer, which he did not identify. Port Erie took on a 100-mold package, he said.
The four all-electric Milacrons are Port Erie's first foray into all-electric technology.
``We wanted to dip our toe in the water, and they've performed very, very well,'' he said.
The company plans to try running a variety of parts on the electric machines.
Port Erie also added gas-assisted injection molding last year.