European bottle leader Alpla Werke Alwin Lehner GmbH & Co. KG will launch its third plant in less than a year in North America and expand its recently opened Georgia facility, as it continues its whirlwind pace on the continent.
The company, based in Hard, Austria, first entered the U.S. market late last year when it built extrusion blow molding facilities in Houston and McDonough, Georgia. Both those plants began operating by early in 2002.
Now the company is looking to add quickly to its presence in the production of high density polyethylene bottles for some of its major customers. The company will open at least two facilities next year, said Kurt Berkmann, senior vice president-North America for Alpla's McDonough-based U.S. unit, Alpla Inc.
``Our total investment this year in the United States is over $40 million,'' said Berkmann in a June 6 telephone interview. ``We see a lot of opportunities with our technology, and we consider ourselves quite a few steps ahead.''
The company - a major bottle player globally with 69 plants in 26 countries and sales last year of $1.2 billion - will start that expansion with a new plant in Iowa City, Iowa. The facility, scheduled to open in the fourth quarter of 2002, initially will use about 70,000 square feet of space, but has room to expand to 200,000 square feet, Berkmann said.
The automated facility will start with 30 employees. The plant will produce HDPE bottles for Procter & Gamble Co. and look for business from other accounts. Alpla plans to use the site as a base for further Midwest expansion, Berkmann said.
P&G has a plant about two miles away in Iowa City, and the Alpla facility will make hair-care and personal-care bottles for the Cincinnati-based consumer-products giant.
Alpla also is making tracks to expand its engineering and production presence in McDonough, located due south of Atlanta. The company plans to add another 50,000 square feet to the site, installing both new blow molding production and a technical center. The latter, focused on the extrusion blow molding process, will allow customers to work with Alpla in product development and bridge the gap between design and manufacturing, Berkmann said.
``To shorten lead times, we did not want our customers to have to travel to Europe,'' Berkmann said. ``Instead, we'd rather be a local player so projects can be running on short notice. We will have full capabilities at the technical center and help develop products from first designs up to ready-to-make mode.''
That center, and increased production, will be available by November, he said. The company plans to add 15 people in McDonough. The expansion will take the facility to 160,000 square feet.
The company's pace of growth also is reflected in the short lead time to launch plants. New employees are given a half-year of training on the sophisticated equipment before a plant opens, so the new location can run efficiently right away, Berkmann said.
Employees in Iowa City already have started upfront training, he said. ``We go our own defined way and attempt to train our employees quickly in our operating philosophy,'' Berkmann said.
That philosophy extends to growth. Instead of looking for packaging acquisitions - at a time when the bottle market has heated up both with purchases and the filing of several initial public offerings - the company prefers to build new plants.
That way, those Alpla facilities and employees immediately fit into the firm's operating culture, Berkmann said. That movement will continue, as Alpla looks for new sites in North America.
Since 1997, Alpla's sales have doubled as the Austrian company has moved to new countries and continents. The company also makes stretch blow molds for PET bottles, injection blow molds and caps and closures on other continents, but has not expanded those processes yet to North America.