Aircraft and train interiors molder Magee Plastics Co. is flying high again, after seeing its business world virtually disintegrate following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
``Six million dollars in orders [from aircraft makers] dropped to $800,000 in one day after 9-11,'' said Sheridan Kelly, vice president of sales and marketing for the 37-year-old Warrendale, Pa., company. Kelly, interviewed at the recent AmCon American Contract Manufacturers show in Indianapolis, said things got very tough for a while, especially during the 18 months after the attacks.
But ``we pulled through, and we're doing real well.'' He said the firm has registered record sales and billings in each of the last three quarters, with sales averaging $1.4 million a month since late last year. Monthly sales traditionally have averaged $800,000, but Magee racked up $3 million months both in December and January, he said.
``Delta Airlines is going through a big retrofit now, and they're throwing a lot of work our way,'' Kelly said.
As a result, Magee is looking at investing in a five-axis router [to complement its current four-axis model], making some building improvements, and recently gave bonuses to its workers, who had endured a wage freeze since 9-11.
Magee does vacuum forming, compression molding and some pressure forming at its 100,000-square-foot headquarters plant about 20 miles north of Pittsburgh. Kelly said the 54-employee firm runs one shift, ``with a lot of overtime,'' makes much of its own tooling and subcontracts about $250,000 worth of injection molding work monthly to outside suppliers.
The company currently does about 30 percent of its sales internationally, with Europe accounting for about 15 percent of total sales, Latin America 10 percent and Asia 5 percent. But Asia - specifically Japan and China - is the firm's fastest-growing market.
``We're doing business there, and we're buying a lot, too, from Asia - a lot of tooling,'' Kelly said. ``We do as much in-house as possible, but in the past year we've started sourcing offshore,'' mostly buying single-cavity injection molds for use in 400-ton presses.
``The tools are fantastic,'' he said, referring to their quality as well as their price. ``We bought 10 tools in the past six months, with maybe four more to come.''
Magee makes all its own vacuum and pressure forming tools, in a 15,000-square-foot area designated for epoxy and wood patterns.
The firm prides itself on being an innovator. A company brochure claims Magee in the 1960s developed the thermoplastic composites now widely used in the thin-profile, lightweight panels that make up the interior cabin walls in commercial aircraft. It also said the company invented the patented, one-part, ``self-coiling'' window-shade assembly used in those same aircraft. These products use the thermoplastic's own ``memory'' to hold the shade open or closed.
Magee, which boasts a portfolio of 15,000 products, also developed TEMA 65+, a panel made of layers of thermoplastic sandwiched around a fibrous reinforcement and topped with a stain-resistant decorative finish. The company said the panel responds well to pressure forming at up to 100 pounds per square inch, to yield ``crisp, sculpted contours on a panel that's strong, lightweight and much less expensive than any injection molded alternative could ever be.''
More recently, the molder has been working with Ensinger Inc.'s Penn Fibre division to develop formable grades of nylon and polyphenylene sulfide, with the latter targeting some military applications. It also created a patented method for marking and decorating plastic panels by blasting the panels with ceramic-based metal oxide pigments mixed with a silica-carrying agent. This medium carries the pigment into the surface, then bounces off, leaving only the color. The process can replace the silk-screen processes currently used to decorate interior aircraft sidewall panels.
Magee said the major North American locomotive manufacturers use its panels, and that it now is pushing its products into the passenger rail cars, as well. It's not stopping there. The company already molds for some industrial/commercial applications, such as the in-floor boxes at convention centers that house utility wires and connections.
``We're also looking at medical,'' he said, referring to a cover Magee makes for a DNA testing machine.
Kelly firmly believes in further market diversification. ``That's why we're here,'' he said of the AmCon show, which was collocated with the Plastics Encounter Midwest trade show in late May. Why? ``Because,'' he noted, ``we're just one incident away from being where we were three years ago.''