Hi-Tech Molding & Tooling first contacted Asian toolmakers in the late 1990s, looking for a new business angle.
Less than six years later, the injection molder and mold maker has seen its sales explode, has expanded into a larger facility and is bringing in new work - including contracts to make parts previously produced in China.
``We're starting to see that [happen], just because of the logistical factors of working in China,'' said Randy Hales, owner and chief executive officer. ``Everything is done on a much broader window there; you're locked in for 90 days. If you suddenly need 50,000 more widgets, you're stuck, because you've got that 90-day window to deal with.''
Hi-Tech completed a 100-mile move to Pendleton, S.C., from the Atlanta suburb of Lilburn, Ga., along with 26 injection molding presses. Another two new Mitsubishi presses - a 610-ton standard machine and a 400-ton all-electric press - are set for delivery Feb. 8, Hales said in a Feb. 1 telephone interview.
The company is investing $5.6 million in the new site and now employs more than 100 people, including 40 who made the move from Georgia.
Executives may buy another three presses and have space at the new site for 50 machines, he said. Four new robots also are on the way.
The firm injection molds decorative components for electronic equipment as well as parts for credit card readers, refrigerators and systems for the aviation industry.
Previous growth had forced Hi-Tech into using two separate buildings in Lilburn. Low ceilings limited use of automated systems such as cranes and robots.
The South Carolina district also provided job credits, a 49,000-square-foot building already set up for plastics processing and incentives from the regional electric power provider that cut its power bill by 45 percent, he said.
Hi-Tech's growth comes on the heels of expansions into toolmaking in Asia. The firm made its first business connection with a Taiwan mold maker in 1999 and since has advanced its network to another two businesses there and one in Hong Kong.
The firm oversees engineering, design and customer service in the United States and has worked closely with its Asian partners to create high-speed turnaround that allows the firm to design, build and deliver an Asian-made tool within 45 days.
Hi-Tech focused its Asian-made tooling capabilities on its own customer base until 2002, when it began offering them to a wider client base.
In 2003, it saw its sales double, Hales said. Business climbed by another 70 percent in 2004 to finish at slightly more than $8 million, Hales said. He anticipates sales of $13 million this year. About 35 percent of its sales come from mold making.
The company has been very careful in building its Asian connections, he said. It works closely with its partners and has a manager on its own staff who speaks Mandarin and Cantonese dialects.
Hales said he has seen other ventures into Asia fall apart as businesses learn how difficult the international connections can be.
Executives attracted by the low wages in China fail to understand how much time and money they will have to spend to send staff there to oversee programs, he said, and fail to take into account the long production and shipping delays. Last year, Hi-Tech has shipped all but one of its 230 Asian-made molds by air to improve delivery time.