Uniplast International Inc., a Meadville supplier of dies and vacuum calibration systems used in vinyl window extrusion, has changed its name to Greiner Extrusion U.S. Inc. - reflecting its link to Austrian parent Greiner Extrusionstechnik GmbH as it unifies under a single, global name.
Greiner has plants in Austria, the United States, the Czech Republic and China. The company is refining its vision of global manufacturing of what is ultimately a local product that demands local tweaking to get the finished profile correct.
Uniplast was formed in 1989 as a joint venture between Greiner and Meadville tool and die maker Sipco Inc. Greiner of Nussbach, Austria, bought out Sipco's 30 percent share in 2001, and kept the Uniplast name.
Today the U.S. operation employs 35 and generates about $15 million in sales from the 25,000-square-foot plant.
Greiner hosted 112 customers from two dozen U.S. profile extruders at an open house in Meadville in September. The company ran profiles on four lines. After 16 years, the name Uniplast occasionally slipped out of the mouths of Austrian executives giving speeches at the event.
Window profiles are challenging to extrude because they have thin walls and a complex shape, with many walls both thick and thin. Most of Greiner's dies and calibration equipment - lengthy post-extrusion lines that vacuum-size and cool the profile - are shipped over from Austria, but must be fine-tuned by hand in Meadville before being installed at a customer's factory, said Franz Wimmer, president of Greiner Extrusion. Some of the equipment is shipped from Austria.
Tooling technicians start to run plastic through the line, and check the window or other profile that comes out against the original drawing from the customer.
Wimmer, who also is vice president of new operations at the parent company in Austria, praised the company's loyal U.S. customers.
``We keep our promises. We stand by our failures. We have the guts to say no sometimes,'' Wimmer said at the open house.
Starting the U.S. operation in 1989 was a watershed in Greiner's move to become global. In 1993, the company opened a plant in the Czech Republic city of Trhove Sviny.
Greiner opened a factory in Shanghai, China, in 2002. It was around the time that Chinese profile extruders were eyeing the U.S. window and door market. Wimmer said Greiner started seeing some low-priced Chinese calibration lines coming over.
The family-owned company went on the offensive. ``We wanted to beat them in their own market,'' Wimmer said. ``We haven't succeeded yet. We will be aggressive with patents, and also we want to win China's home market.''
Greiner now employs 140 in China. Today, the China plant builds the same number of tooling sets - 200 - as the U.S. operation, Wimmer said. Greiner's biggest Chinese customer is giant window maker Dalian Shide Plastic Industry Co. Ltd.
One reason Chinese window profiles started entering the U.S. market, according to Wimmer, is that U.S. window extruders seeking cheap tooling got burned after they sent over drawings of their profiles. ``Whenever they ask for tooling quotes from China, they can be sure this profile design is being spread around,'' Wimmer said.
But Wimmer said Chinese-made profile equipment filled a need for less-expensive tooling for certain simple jobs that only run now and then, such as mullions and other components. Window extruders resisted buying $60,000 tooling for those kinds of parts, he said.
Greiner had focused only on high-end calibration equipment for the main window frame, what Wimmer calls the ``bread and butter profile.'' But the Chinese showed officials the company needed to offer a broader line, including less-expensive systems.
Greiner has tried to attack this market with its new Simplex tooling, which is 100 percent made in Meadville. Designed for lower-volume production, Simplex tooling can be delivered in four to six weeks. Wimmer said that quick response is attractive when customers want to make samples of a new window for testing or to display at a trade show.
Window profiles are by far the largest part of Greiner's business, but the company also makes dies and calibration lines for extruded foam, fence, decking and wood-plastic composites.
At the open house, Greiner showed:
* A PCE line (for post coextrusion) that fuses together a rigid component onto a finished profile. One example is adding a nailing fin onto a window profile or length of siding.
* A line extruding a 12-inch-wide foam deck board. By changing the downstream equipment, a customer can use the same extruder that makes rigid profiles and switch to foam, according to Greiner.
* A dual-strand window line cranked out 1,100 pounds of vinyl windows an hour.
* A line with Simplex line tooling turned out a standard window profile.