When Bill Kushmaul decided in 1999 to form a separate mold-making company by splitting off Tech Mold Inc. from parent Tech Group Inc., he hoped the firms would continue their ``excellent relationship.''
It might have taken five years for that relationship to mature. But, in an April 12 announcement, Tech Group and Tech Mold said they again are joining at the hip in a new partnership.
The companies, both located in the Phoenix area, have agreed to swap assets and combine their strengths. Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Tech Group has acquired Tech Mold's injection molding operations. Those operations will not move from Tech Mold's Tempe, Ariz., facilities, said Tech Group spokeswoman Shari Krusniak
Meanwhile, Tech Mold has bought Tech Group's global mold-making capabilities, which now will report to Kushmaul's staff. In essence, the agreement allows Kushmaul to reclaim a management stake in Tech Group, Krusniak said.
``Nothing is physically moving anywhere right now,'' she said. ``No titles, positions or roles have changed. But [Kushmaul] is considered to be in partnership again with us.''
It is unclear whether Kushmaul also has taken an ownership stake in Tech Group or whether some equipment eventually will be shifted to other locations. Kushmaul declined comment until those specifics are ironed out.
What is certain is that the companies will do more than trade assets. With the move, Tech Mold obtains mold-manufacturing capacity in Europe and can expand its tool building into Tech Group's operations in Asia, according to a news release.
Those operations include two Tech Group plants in China, run under its Singapore-based Tech Group Asia unit.
Tech Group's three tooling facilities now will be under Tech Mold's watch.
In addition, the companies will work jointly on technology for multicomponent molding. Engineering and sales staffs at Tech Mold will combine efforts with those at Tech Group on a global basis. Neither company plans a change in name or operations, according to the release.
Kushmaul and Tech Group founder Steve Uhlmann have a long history, first becoming partners in 1972. That same year, Kushmaul launched Tech Mold as a unit of Tech Group.
In late 1998, Kushmaul decided to buy out his 50 percent interest in Tech Mold and split off the company. The other half of Tech Mold was sold to employees in 1999.
Meanwhile, Tech Group expanded its injection molding base to more than 300 presses in North America, Europe and Asia. Tech Group recorded sales for fiscal 2002 of $120 million, according to Plastics News rankings.
Tech Mold since has expanded its own molding operation, opening Tech Molding Manufacturing not far from its Tempe headquarters. The site installed six new presses in 2003 and now has about 20 presses.
Although Tech Mold grew to $18 million in sales last year, company leaders decided it was stronger when it was part of Tech Group, according to several sources close to the company.
However, Tech Group and Tech Mold have different approaches to the world market. While Tech Group aggressively has expanded overseas, Kushmaul has been an outspoken advocate of the need to preserve U.S.-based manufacturing instead of shifting work offshore.
Both companies also have launched innovative automated processes in recent years. Tech Mold has focused on individual work cells, while Tech Group has tried to duplicate operations at its global tooling sites through what it calls the Super-Cell process.
In general, the partnership between Tech Mold and Tech Group should not make for major upheaval, she said.
``A lot of people still thought Tech Mold was part of our company,'' Krusniak said. ``Plus, they use some of the same processes and procedures.
``It's not that huge of a deal to get together again.''