Rubber extruder Rice-Chadwick Rubber Co. will resurrect an idle manufacturing plant in three to six months as it strives to move into plastics and shake off the effects of the slumping economy.
The Killbuck, Ohio-based company will open its 42,000-square-foot facility in nearby Loudonville to house a continuous salt-bath cure line and increase its extrusion capacity, said President William Buntin. The line is new and during the next few weeks will be ``debugged'' and used for product samples, he said.
The announcement comes almost exactly two years after Rice-Chadwick unveiled a $2 million business expansion plan, including the purchase of the Loudonville plant, machinery, vehicles and office equipment. But when the economy sagged throughout 2001, demand fell and the plan was put on hold.
The new facility was operated for limited trial runs, but never for production, according to Buntin.
Now, 57-year-old Rice-Chadwick is looking to brighter days and is ready to ``reinvent itself,'' he said. First, the company is adapting the principles of lean manufacturing, and is using the Loudonville site to train employees, he said.
``We're bringing in 16 people at a time for an intensive week of learning the lean manufacturing process,'' Buntin said. ``Everyone - from staff to supervisors to management - is going through it.''
The firm is about halfway through training, he said.
Second, Rice-Chadwick has an eye toward expanding into the plastics market, Buntin said. That was not the goal when the company acquired the Loudonville plant two years ago, and the firm plans to have rubber extrusion at the factory when it opens later this year.
But down the road - ``as soon as possible,'' Buntin said - the company plans to house all of its rubber lines in its 100,000-square-foot Killbuck facility and have plastic extrusion, molding and assembly operations in Loudonville, about 17 miles away.
``In this industry, as old and mature as it is, sometimes you have to do something different,'' he said. ``We're going through a paradigm shift, and we believe the timing is right.''
The changes are backed by Rice-Chadwick's parent firm, Valley Forge, Pa.-based Alco Industries Inc., Buntin said. Alco has been supportive of its subsidiary through many difficult months, including keeping its work force intact, he said. Two years ago, Rice-Chadwick employed about 200, and today it stands at 185.
``The people here have been very cooperative and have made my time here gratifying,'' said Buntin, who joined the company last fall after serving as vice president of engineering and technology with Cooper-Standard Automotive Group. ``They're our most important asset.''
When the Loudonville site officially reopens, it will be staffed with people from Killbuck. It is too early to predict how many workers will be needed at the plant, Buntin said.
In addition to rubber extrusion, Rice-Chadwick makes molded rubber parts and provides fabricating and finishing services. Its extruded products include seals, gaskets, hose and tubing for a variety of markets, including original equipment appliance and automotive, heavy truck, railway, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.