ITML Horticultural Products Inc. of Brantford, Ontario, has acquired the tooling and manufacturing assets of bankrupt TLC Polyform Inc. for about US$3.4 million.
ITML was the successful bidder at a Feb. 3 auction in Detroit and completed the transaction Feb. 7.
The buyer is incorporating much of TLC's thermoformed plug flats and other tray configurations into compatible lines of ITML horticultural and nursery products.
The acquisition ``adds a dimension to serve our customers and, for us, represents a tremendous opportunity,'' Kleis Hensen, ITML vice president, said in a telephone interview. ``We are getting cooperation from the principals of TLC'' in the transition with customers.
ITML intends to continue development work that TLC helped pioneer in the late 1990s to manufacture and refine plug-tray designs. TLC and TLC Polyform will continue as brand names. In many markets, ITML and TLC have used the same distributors.
Hensen said ITML purchased tools, molds and 18 thermoforming machines ``in varying degrees of vintage.'' ITML is moving some of the equipment and all of the production to Brantford from the facility TLC occupied in Beaverton, Mich.
Some of the tooling and equipment is obsolete, Hensen said. TLC never used some machines after consolidating them in Beaverton from former plants in Plymouth, Minn.; Morrow, Ga.; and Phoenix.
ITML also has operations in Burlington, Ontario; Lugoff, S.C.; and Waco, Texas. ITML has injection molding, blow molding and thermoforming capabilities.
Uninsured creditors filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition Dec. 13 against TLC Polyform, and manufacturing operations ceased Dec. 17. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Bay City, Mich., authorized conversion of the TLC case to Chapter 7 liquidation from Chapter 11 reorganization Jan. 17.
Hensen said he has noted some big changes in the horticultural industry in the past three years.
The transition has required investment in new tooling for plastic products to meet growers' robotic requirements for picking and handling crops. Automation is supplanting some manual work in greenhouses and nurseries, and that requires changes in trays.
``For example, we have tooling back to the 1970s,'' he said. ``That market share is diminishing and being replaced by unique products satisfying retail needs for 2003.''
The European market, particularly in the Netherlands, has driven the automation trend for growers, and ``we are not far behind in North America,'' Hensen said.
Domestic big-box retailers push for products with unique styles and color variations. ``Those we're changing on the fly,'' he said.