Mid-South Industries Inc. is rebuilding its injection molding operation in Annville, Ky., after a January fire gutted the 240,000-square-foot facility and left the company scrambling to fill orders.
A plant worker, Leroy Hubbard, was arrested April 12 and charged with arson and wanton endangerment for allegedly starting the fire. Hubbard was arraigned April 13 in Jackson County Circuit Court in McKee, Ky.
The employee had been under investigation and was arrested at the plant, said Mid-South Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Harold Weaver. Hubbard had worked permanently at the plant for several months but had been a temporary employee before that.
The fire started about 10:30 p.m. Jan. 15, when 21 workers were inside the plant. None of those employees were injured, but the fire quickly spread from the inventory room to the rest of the facility. The inventory room houses large crates of parts and boxes of resin.
Weaver said he drove all night from the company's headquarters in Gadsden, Ala., when he first heard news of the fire. By the time he arrived in Kentucky in the pre-dawn hours, he knew the plant was a total loss.
``The fire department followed procedures all the way, but there was nothing they could do,'' he said. All that was left standing were some side walls.
All equipment but the mainframe computer in the front office was destroyed, Weaver said. The plant had housed about 20 injection presses, with clamping forces of 85-1,000 tons, and made parts for appliances and printed telecommunications circuit boards. The facility was the site of the company's Mid-South Electronics subsidiary.
Within days of the fire, Mid-South already had made some decisions. It moved a supplier of wiring components located in the same office park to a smaller, off-site facility and took over its 35,000-square-foot building, Weaver said.
A Mid-South facility in London, Ky., about 25 miles away from Annville, became the company's command center. By Jan. 17, customers started visiting, and the company discussed contingency plans for future parts. One large customer, Electrolux Home Care Products, closed its nearby plant temporarily but was back in production a few days later.
Mid-South also set up operations at some customer sites, including one in Greenville, Mich., Weaver said. Employees, hand-picked for specific skills, have been testing Mid-South's temperature-control and ice-making systems at those plants, he said.
The London plant also started an assembly and warehousing operation to serve the appliance business.
The firm has purchased a building for a potential plant in the office park with about 35,000-40,000 square feet of space and will perform injection molding there. Eventually, all the presses destroyed in the fire will be replaced, a process that could take several months, he said.
Weaver said that because his firm reacted quickly, it will not lose much in sales this year. The firm had 2004 injection molding sales of $35 million. Mid-South, which also makes plastic and metal parts in Gadsden, expects to record total sales this year of $210 million to $220 million - close to 2004 sales, he said.
``We've rolled with the punches,'' he said. ``There's no doubt that we'll survive it. I'm thankful not to be riding around in an unarmored Humvee right now [in Iraq]; we can manage this work.''
The firm is continuing with expansion plans in Alabama. In Gadsden, Mid-South has a 50-50 venture with toolmaker M2M International Ltd. of Wallaceburg, Ontario. The companies set up a center last year on Mid-South's campus to repair tools and perform other services. Several other vendors are at the campus.
The companies will open a new production tooling facility this summer on the campus. The 18,500-square-foot facility will make injection molds for Mid-South and automotive customers in the region, said M2M President Richard Myers.
The companies have signed a technology agreement with mold maker Marusun Suruga Group of Tokyo to make tools for its customers from the new facility.
The site will start with 12 employees and should have 20 within the next year, Myers said.