Penda Corp. is thinking outside of the truck box.
The company that built its 20-year-old business on thermoformed liners for pickup trucks now is taking its technology into new markets, including a move to establish a completely new business thermoforming high density polyethylene for water management.
``We're taking these new applications and hoping it's going to be a snowball effect,'' said Ulf Buergel, president and chief executive officer, during a May 10 telephone interview.
Portage, Wis.-based Penda also has new financial backers that will ensure its manufacturing capacity keeps pace with those new markets. Penda has not identified the investors, saying only that it has the support of a consortium of North America-based institutional investors.
Buergel joined Penda in 2004, and the company has been working since then to find new ways to use its experience in large-part thermoforming. Nearly 90 percent of its sales have been in bedliners for trucks.
Its new strategy retains Penda's core business but also expands its automotive focus to consider other uses for thermoformed parts, with new products such as tonneau covers.
Penda Premiere Solutions will seek out sales in key industries including lawn and garden products, golf carts, buses and other specialized vehicles.
The newly formed Penda Water Management unit, meanwhile, will try to build a completely new market for thermoformed plastic - replacing concrete in soil-erosion projects such as ditches.
``It has a tremendous opportunity in areas such as mountains to control mudslides or in agricultural areas for irrigation or water management,'' Buergel said.
The thick HDPE sheet can stand up to weather extremes in an open ditch and is less expensive, lighter and more flexible than concrete, he said. It can go places heavy construction equipment cannot reach.
Penda has a handful of commercial applications for its SmartDitch system so far, and the company expects more sales as customers see what is possible.
It also has been working to help its employees embrace other possibilities beyond bedliners, Buergel said.
``It's definitely a challenge with an organization that has been focused on one product for 20 years,'' he said. ``It's been exciting, getting inside and thinking of new things. We're making an effort to make sure we have the right tools in place, the right technology in place, the right mind-set in place.''
Penda also has hired new marketing specialists who can help it approach customers unfamiliar with what thermoforming could bring.
Buergel estimates it will take about three years to transform the company's outlook fully, but he noted it already has invested two years in the switch. Penda is starting to see a payback, he said.
``We're very convinced that this is going to work,'' he said. ``We've seen great response so far.''