Mikron Holding AG has sold Axxicon Mould Technology, a large European mold maker with its sights set on U.S. expansion.
The sale, completed June 10, shifts control back to Axxicon executives after three years as a division of publicly held Mikron, which is traded on the Swiss Stock Exchange. With the purchase still fresh, Axxicon Chief Executive Officer Arno Wendrich said the company will renew its pursuit of increasing its U.S. base.
``In the coming half-year, we'll let the dust settle and get our structure right,'' Wendrich said in a June 11 telephone interview from the company's headquarters in Helmond, the Netherlands. ``But beginning next year, we want to look at doing more in the United States. A lot of customers are there. We have more freedom of movement now that we are independent.''
Axxicon managers, backed by capital from private equity firm Gilde Investment Management of Utrecht, the Netherlands, bought the unit for 27.5 million euros ($33.3 million). The deal includes three European plants that employ 270.
Mikron, based in Biel, Switzerland, had purchased Axxicon in 2001 with an eye toward growing its tooling operation. Mikron is a large injection molder of plastic gears and has a molding facility in Rochester, N.Y. The company also has machining and metal-parts segments and recorded sales of 433 million Swiss francs ($348 million) in 2003.
But even with the capital of Mikron backing Axxicon, expansion at the toolmaker did not go according to plan. In 2001, the company had plans to launch a full-service U.S. mold shop. Officials even had entered talks to buy an unspecified U.S.-based mold maker. But Mikron ran into financial difficulties that same year, when sales of cellular telephones slumped.
Axxicon remained profitable, but its growth plans were handcuffed, Wendrich said. ``There were strict rules concerning lots of things.''
Since late last year, Mikron has rebounded and is growing, especially in metal parts and assemblies, Chief Executive Officer Eduard Rikli said June 11. The company also has initiated a plan to make its plants more efficient, he said. Now, however, Mikron officials want to focus on the parts production business, he said.
Axxicon recorded sales of 55 million euros ($66 million) last year. While the unit is growing, Axxicon's most-profitable segment is tooling for DVDs and compact discs. Rikli said that market is maturing, and Mikron does not anticipate as much growth from it in the future.
``We have a lot to do in realigning and restructuring the businesses, and we need to do a better job of focusing on those core areas that we are good at.''
That work at Mikron will include boosting profitability in Rochester, a large gear molding plant that formerly was owned by Axxicon, Rikli said. New acquisitions might be put aside for now until managers can evaluate existing facilities, he said.
Axxicon formerly had tooling operations in the Rochester plant, but that facility now only handles repair and maintenance for its molded parts. Axxicon's only U.S. facility is a three-person sales and service office in Aliso Viejo, Calif.
The mold-making company will look either at acquisitions or partnerships with U.S.-based toolmakers to build its base in North America, Wendrich said.
Axxicon is one of the largest toolmakers in Europe, where it also makes molds for medical and cellular-phone uses. Last year the company recorded one of its best years and is off to another running start in 2004, Wendrich said.
``In the last three years, we did quite well but got hit a little bit by what happened to our mother [company],'' he said. ``Now that we are on our own, we only have to look in the mirror for any answers.''