Penda Corp. wants to get back to its roots as a custom thermoformer that can make a variety of products.
The Portage, Wis., company - which claims to be the world's largest maker of plastic bedliners and related accessories for pickup trucks - has formed a manufacturing subsidiary, Penda Premier Plastics. Penda Corp. would like to grow that custom thermoforming business to one day be as large as its bedliner operation, Scot Harvey, vice president of operations, said Oct. 7.
``Penda started as a custom extrusion and thermoforming house,'' Harvey said. ``Our roots really were in custom work. But we changed over the years to get very focused on bedliners. Why not take that expertise and apply it to other markets?''
The company potentially could take some custom business away from other thermoformers, due to its size and resources. But Harvey said a more likely proposition would be to convert products now made in metal or sheet molding compound to thermoformed plastic, he said.
The tooling costs for thermoforming are much less than with SMC and significantly lower than the cost of stamping steel, Harvey said. And the surface finish of thermoformed parts, using highly engineered resins, has become more a benefit than a detriment, he added.
``We don't look at this like we're taking a piece of pie from other thermoformers, but that we're helping to grow that portion of the business for everyone,'' Harvey said. ``Other thermoformers will come along and take advantage of that.''
The company, started in 1976, swelled in size in the later 1990s, paralleling the growth of light- and heavy-truck sales in North America. The company makes its own coextruded sheet and tooling, and fabricates fiberglass at several locations. The company recorded thermoforming sales of $77.6 million in 2002, ranking No. 18 on Plastics News' list of North American thermoformers.
The new unit will work from Penda's 200,000-square-foot Portage facilities, borrowing people and resources from other groups within the company for projects. Penda's truck accessories unit will be blended with Penda Premier Plastics, but will maintain a separate sales force.
The company plans to go after applications in tractors and other agricultural products, lawn and garden items, recreational vehicles and nonbedliner automotive applications such as running boards and hoods, Harvey said. The unit also will experiment with different engineered resins and the integration of extrusion and thermoforming technologies, he said.
Penda will not abandon its bedliner business and has no plans to cut production, Harvey said. Yet, Penda and others have been the victims of their own success at converting truck beds from steel to plastics. After years of double-digit growth, the bedliner market has flattened out, Harvey said.
``Truck sales are still growing and penetration rates are growing, and it's enough for us to stay busy,'' Harvey said. ``But bedliners are not growing at the same rates as in the 1990s.''