Outdoor power equipment producer Stihl Inc. will expand in-house processing during the next two years to keep up with demand.
Stihl makes about 90 percent of its plastic components, Peter Mueller, executive vice president of operations, said in a telephone interview from Stihl's operation in Virginia Beach, Va. That site runs a large injection molding shop and also does its own blow molding and extrusion. Mueller said Stihl and its German parent have a lot of experience making plastic parts and prefer to do it in-house to save costs and ensure quality.
Mueller said Stihl's 43-press operation will gain five machines with clamping forces of 200-400 tons next year and another half dozen presses in 2004. The 2004 program includes entering two-component molding of parts now imported from the parent company. Stihl will try out machines from potential suppliers for several months to compare performance, Mueller said. Such a process recently led to Stihl buying some Milacron all-electric presses over two competitors. Most of Stihl's presses are Engels.
Next year, Stihl will complete a 20,000-square-foot, $2 million addition to house new plastics machinery.
In the blow molding area, Stihl will add a third machine in 2004 for producing fuel tanks and similar products. Mueller did not outline any expansion program for the firm's extrusion operation, where two extruders produce nylon line for grass trimmers and various tubing for Stihl equipment.
Although known best as a chainsaw maker, Stihl supplies a range of outdoor equipment and soon will introduce a multipurpose appliance for tilling, snow blowing and other tasks. Other new products helping to fuel growth are a trimmer and chain saw.
Stihl is running flat out and plans a general expansion at Virginia Beach that will cost about $4.5 million, boost floor space to more than 700,000 square feet and increase employment from its current level of about 900 in Virginia Beach to about 1,400.
The U.S. subsidiary of Andreas Stihl AG & Co. of Walblingen, Germany, was established in 1974. Mueller said the Virginia plastics operation is highly automated, allowing it to compete effectively against outside molders that would like the Stihl work. The parent company also does most of its own plastics work and helps guide the U.S. business in new technology. Virginia Beach also has its own mold shop and an apprentice toolmaker program that now has seven students, Mueller said.