The gray pallet on display at the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Structural Plastics Division meeting didn't looked like much in comparison to the parts surrounding it, but it represented a geographical breakthrough for structural foam processing.
It is the first structural foam part produced in Africa, made by a South African plastics group that teamed up with U.S. processors and suppliers to bring the technology to the continent.
``Structural foaming is brand-new now in South Africa,'' said Kevin Ellis, manufacturing manager for the newly organized Kaymac Structural Foam Ltd. of Pietermaritzburg. ``We're expecting we're going to be in a real growth stage.''
Representatives from Kaymac, part of a South African group of companies that also includes a rotational molder, visited the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Structural Plastics Division conference in Atlanta last year trying to firm up its plans to launch structural foam.
At this year's SPD annual conference, held April 14-16 in Dearborn, Ellis returned with the pallet to show how far the business has come.
The South African plastics industry has a 50-year history, he said. Kaymac's rotational molding unit opened about 30 years ago. Directors believed an infusion of new technology could take the firm even further.
But to succeed, they needed to team up with some experienced companies.
``We've got no resources or backup in South Africa,'' Ellis said. ``If we had a problem, we'd have to go a long way for help.''
Last year the company hooked up with Jim Meinert, director of international sales and marketing for Mequon, Wis.-based Snider Mold Co. Inc., and struck a deal with Uniloy Milicron Inc. of Manchester, Mich., to buy a new 500-ton low-pressure structural foam press.
Meinert also introduced the firm to Ron Ernsberger, president of new structural foam molder 20/20 Custom Molded Plastics Ltd. of Holiday City, Ohio, who could test out molds on his company's press before they and the press traveled 10,000 miles to South Africa.
``It was critical to have everything going right the first time,'' Meinert said.
With the press ordered and alliances in the United States, Kaymac readied a site in Pietermaritzburg, which also is home to the rotational molding operation.
``Everything was new for everybody,'' Ellis said. ``When they set up the chillers, they'd never set up the chillers for structural foam molding. They'd never prepared a nitrogen plant for structural foam.''
Guidance from the key companies in the United States helped direct the preparations, with key people traveling to Pietermaritzburg - near the southeastern coast of South Africa - as needed.
``We weren't just left on our own as if we'd just gone out and bought a used machine,'' he said.
The long months of preparations were worthwhile, Ellis said. The press arrived Nov. 16. Kaymac launched production the first week of December.
Pallets are just the beginning, he said. The company is targeting future growth in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Just looking around at other products on display at Dearborn fueled thoughts for new contracts.
And growth is on the way.
Kaymac has space available and the infrastructure in place for up to four machines. Ellis expects it will order its second press in about 18 months, and a third perhaps 18 months after that.
``This is the start of another business for us,'' he said.