Adding a linear long-stroke blow molding machine is helping Akei Plastic-Machine Mfy. Ltd. win new U.S. customers, processors attracted to solid technology at an assembled-in-China price, according to a company official.
After making only continuous extrusion shuttle and accumulator-head machines, 31-year-old Akei started developing the higher-output long-stroke machines about four years ago, said Simon Tam, director and executive officer. Akei blow molding machines sell for about half the price of European-made units, he said.
``We don't have the bells and whistles, but we get the job done,'' Tam said at Akei's booth during the China Dongguan International Machinery, Materials & Mould Exhibition, held Nov. 9-12.
Akei will show the long-stroke blow molding machine at NPE 2006, in Chicago. Tam said Akei will put a parts and service facility in the Chicago area, to be centrally located to the U.S. market.
Although still not a household name in North America, Akei has sold more than 60 blow molding machines in the United States, most of them shuttle machines, said Roger Eddy, a New Castle, Pa., consultant who has sold Akei machines since 1984.
The Hong Kong-based company builds machines at a 1,000-employee Akei Industrial Park in Kaiping, China. The low price gets Akei in the door. But Tam said machine performance is critical to expanding Akei's market share. Adding the long-stroke machine - where up to 20 cavities zip back and forth under the parisons - has taken the firm to a higher level of technology, he said.
``The company's mission is to provide quality blow molding machinery to customers,'' Tam said at the show.
Akei sources components from around the world, including Vickers hydraulics, Barber-Colman controllers, rail and slide bearings from Bosch Rexroth and Allen-Bradley relays, Eddy said later by telephone.
``The only thing Chinese on them is the frame, the paint and the labor,'' he said. ``This new linear machine, it's very fast and smooth.''
For extrusion blow molding units it sells in the United States, Akei uses screws from Advanced Feedscrews Inc. of New Castle.
Simon Tam said Akei sold 283 blow molding machines in 2004. He declined to give sales.
Akei has a long history. Banny Tam, Simon's father, started Akei in 1974 in Hong Kong. Back then, blow molders used manual machines, where workers cut the parison and laid it into the mold, using a foot pump to blow the bottle, according to Simon Tam.
``We were the first one in Hong Kong that manufactured automatic blow molding machines,'' he said.
In 1991, Akei moved production to China, starting out in Shenzhen, in southeast China near Hong Kong. Then in 1998, Akei moved to Kaiping, steadily expanding the site. Today the huge complex covers 250 acres. Employees assemble blow molding machinery, machine components and make molds for both blow molding and injection molding.
Banny Tam is chairman and chief executive officer of Akei Holdings Co. Ltd.
Akei also does some custom blow molding at the Kaiping campus and at plants in Hong Kong and Shenzhen under the business unit called Mars Line Industrial Ltd. Akei displayed some of the products at the Dongguan trade show. Tam said the company is careful not to compete against its core machinery customers.
Akei also injection molds parts for the blow molded products, and does assembly work. Tam said the company ships some finished products to Asian retailers such as Wal-Mart.
In-house molding helps Akei understand how blow molders think about new equipment. ``It gives us the insight of how the processors calculate the costs. And a major part of the cost is to justify the actual capital investment on equipment,'' Tam said. ``If you're selling equipment for one-and-a-half million dollars, you're not going to have a very competitive price.''
Akei machines sold in the United States meet ANSI safety standards. Tam said Akei is getting CE safety certification, required to sell machines to the European Union. Akei also has sales agents in Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, India, Iran, Russia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Argentina.
Simon Tam said the long-stroke machine will help Akei get more attention in the United States. Akei beefed up its sales efforts by adding Bob Milne of CanQuip Machine Sales LLC of Perrysburg, Ohio, two years ago.
Patrick Plastics Inc. of Leipsic, Ohio, was the first U.S. blow molder to buy an Akei long-stroke machine. The company has purchased four of them over the last two years, said DeWayne Utrup, plant engineer.
Patrick Plastics now has 15 Akei machines, including the long-stroke model and shuttle machines, he said.
Last year, Akei sold three of the long-stroke machines to Madras Packaging LLC's factory in Argos, Ind., which molds bottles for personal-care products and other markets.
``I feel the technology has evolved a good deal, and it's a good value. I saw how far they had come along with their product development, using U.S.-available components,'' said Joe Carr, chief operating officer at Madras Packaging, which is based in Charlottesville, Va.
Back in Hong Kong, Banny Tam has become an elder statesman of plastics machinery.
The Akei founder is active in Hong Kong civic circles, working in government and industry groups.
``It's a way to give back to the community. Society gave me the platform of success,'' Tam said at the trade show in China.