At Central Plastics Co. in Shawnee, injection presses pound out products like electrofusion tapping tees, electrofusion flex restraints and couplings - components used in joining polyethylene pipe. Here, products with names like elbows and branch saddles are the 50-year-old company's lifeblood.
Bob Pourchot is president and chief executive officer, a position he took in the past year. His brother, Phill, is chairman of the company their father, Mel, founded in 1955. Bob Pourchot is unassuming, giving credit for the family-owned company's growth and stability to its employees, which now number 450 in Shawnee alone.
Internationally, the company also employs 100 at a distribution site in New Zealand, a molding operation in Argentina and a nonplastics-related facility in China.
``We've enjoyed a low-key persona,'' he said. ``Practically every time someone new comes into the company, they're shocked at the size.''
The company has employed four generations of local Shawnee families. ``I'm a member of that family,'' he said.
The firm, with its own tool and die shop, now occupies 400,000 square feet in Shawnee. Its first facility was the Pourchot garage, where in 1955, his father started making products like gas meter connections. Central Plastics began work in the 1960s with Oklahoma Natural Gas Co., which essentially acted as the proving ground for PE products. DuPont Co. had a location in Tulsa, and Phillips 66 Co. had its site in Bartlesville, Okla.
``This is where all the science began. We just grew out of that,'' he said.
By 1982, Central was introducing PE pipe to gas companies in South America and the Pacific Rim. Central has been in China for 10 years and New Zealand since the 1980s; its molding operation in Argentina is more than 10 years old.
But its ventures overseas were not without complications. Officials opened a plant in South Korea in the 1980s, which Central sold by the 10th year of operation when local competitors began knocking off its products, Pourchot said.
The firm learned a lesson and applied it to its then-new business in China.
``We were going to take one of our high-tech products over there,'' he said, but without patent assurance and intellectual property guarantees, the company backed off.
Central also has operated plants in Pennsylvania and Texas, but over time it has consolidated U.S. production back to its automated factory in Oklahoma.
``For us to compete on an international scale, we have to be fully automated,'' Pourchot said. Anything less would be inviting European competitors in ``so they can bowl us over.''
``We're always improving efficiencies. There are no laurels to be rested on. That would be foolhardy.''
Future challenges include consolidation in the natural gas industry and taking PE pipe into new applications, including water infrastructure.
``PE will take over the water industry. It will, because it doesn't leak,'' Pourchot said.
``There are always technical challenges that Central is dealing with as it moves into new industries,'' said Rocky Wade, who was named executive vice president in July.
``We're always in the process of evaluating the company and how we need to be organizing and strategizing for growth, because we have a long history of growth.''
Central is not the only fittings manufacturer in Shawnee. USPoly Co., owned by publicly held PW Eagle Inc. of Eugene, Ore., runs an injection molding plant in the city as well. That firm also does its own pipe extrusion at a site in Tulsa.
Despite its name, Central Plastics also has a very significant metals portion to its business, including products like stainless-steel transition fittings. In 1965, it introduced a one-piece steel-to-PE connection, a design still used today.
Central officials declined to reveal the company's annual sales.
During the next year, the company expects to make some acquisitions, but plans to grow primarily through organic channels.
``We've made several minor acquisitions over the last 50 years. We're not trying to be like some of these companies that acquire 10 companies a year, then go public. ... We are bent on staying closely held.
``Where we see an appropriate acquisition that suits us, within our industry, within our product lines, we're going to act on it,'' Pourchot said.