First Plastics Corp. began its transition about a year ago, shifting to larger injection presses as its work shifted to larger sporting goods and commercial and industrial products. After adding a 1,650-ton Engel press just before Christmas, the firm now is planning to expand its plant.
``We're not a big company, we're not a small company, but we can't set up an operation in China,'' President Ed Mazzaferro said in a Jan. 7 telephone interview from the firm's Leominster, Mass., headquarters. ``We're focused on setting ourselves apart. Not every molder can internationalize their operation. You must remain competitive without moving out of the country.''
The Mazzaferro family started the operation about 50 years ago, making hair combs and brushes, some coat hangers and small consumer products. To survive, it has evolved, now serving several end markets including construction, extreme sports and medical products.
Early last year, officials added an Engel 1,250-ton press and purchased a 20,000-square-foot warehouse across the street from the firm's plant. Officials already have met with Leominster officials a few times to get proper permits for the 30,000-square-foot addition, which will increase plant space to 90,000 square feet.
``We've been in expansion mode. As we replace machines, we usually go up by a couple hundred tons. Our long-range goal is to keep expanding into larger presses,'' he said.
``Maybe 20 years ago, our largest press was a 300-ton. Now the smallest is a 300-ton.''
Automation is part of the enhancements: Robots will be added to each new press. The firm now has 19 injection machines. To its 80-employee base, First Plastics will add about six employees. Its sales have increased 30 percent during the past two years.