Kintz Plastics Inc. has built what it touts as one of the largest thermoforming machines on the East Coast, an investment that the company hopes will boost business for larger parts.
The machine is capable of forming parts up to 9 feet wide by 13 feet long from a single sheet of plastic. The machine is the linchpin of Kintz's new, 30,000-square-foot technical center, dedicated to larger parts and due to open in the fourth quarter.
But while the meaty rotary unit has brought amazed looks at the privately owned company, it also has brought some unexpected challenges, said Wynn Kintz, president of the Howes Cave, N.Y., processor.
Originally, thermoforming equipment maker Vector Machinery Inc. was tapped to build the four-station rotary machine at its Asheville, N.C., facility. But Vector went out of business in early 2002, midway through manufacturing the machine. That left Kintz to finish what Vector started.
``We completed the machine here and customized it,'' Wynn Kintz said. ``That worked out fine and gave us control over what we needed. We had the framework of the machine here for six months and we've added the pins and wiring. We were committed to it.''
The machine and technical center are part of Kintz's commitment to expand its business. The 110-employee custom thermoformer had been hampered by equipment and space limitations, Kintz said.
At the time the tech center was started, the company - and the U.S. thermoforming sector - was in the middle of a rough stretch, Kintz said. Now, work and capacity have increased, justifying the need for the company to make larger parts, he said.
``We took a bit of a risk by starting this in the middle of a downturn,'' he said. ``Thank goodness we did it. As the economy has bounced back, our capacity has increased.''
The company is finding a variety of new uses for the massive unit. The firm is exploring the market for large automotive and off-road-vehicle parts, bathtubs and showers, swimming pool components and vending machine enclosures, Kintz said.
The equipment will be housed in the tech center, adjacent to Kintz's 75,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that makes smaller components. The center will include another rotary thermoforming unit, already in use, that makes panels as large as 5 feet wide by 8 feet long. The company's engineering department also will relocate to the tech center early next year.
Kintz is not certain, but said he believes the new machine, dubbed ``jumbo,'' is the biggest on the East Coast and one of the largest machines he has ever seen. The unit is Kintz's sixth rotary machine. The thermoformer also has 12 single-station units at its plant.
The company had a slight down year in 2002, with sales dropping to $12 million from $13.5 million in 2001, according to a Plastics News' ranking. But that hiccup was typical for many thermoformers as they weathered an off year, Kintz said. Now, the tide is turning, he said.
``Building a new building and new machine was not just gratuitous,'' he said. ``The timing seems to be right to do this.''