Extending its global reach, medium-run custom thermoformer Prent Corp. opened a plant in Yauco, Puerto Rico, southwest of San Juan, in June. The plant is expected to account for 10 percent of the company's production now and even more during the next two years.
``We have the space to more than double'' the 26,000-square-foot plant during the next couple of years, said Joseph Pregont, president and chief executive officer of the Janesville, Wis., firm.
Prent is one of the largest thermoformers of packaging for the medical industry, with almost 250,000 square feet of manufacturing space, one-third of that in Janesville.
Prent designs and manufactures blister packs, pressure formed trays and clamshells. More than 50 percent of its sales come from medical customers, with electronic applications the next-largest segment.
Like its other plants - in Janesville; Flagstaff, Ariz.; Johor, Malaysia; and Shanghai, China - the $8 million Puerto Rican plant will use custom-built thermoforming equipment, designed and built by Prent, that incorporates robotics.
``We expect to be a major supplier to the medical-device and pharmaceutical industry in Puerto Rico very rapidly,'' Pregont said. The plant currently has two thermoforming machines, but will have ``up to six in two years,'' said Walt Walker, executive vice president of operations and vice president of manufacturing.
``The Puerto Rico plant will have all brand-new quick-tool-change equipment,'' Pregont said in an interview at the Medical Design and Manufacturing East show, held June 6-8 in New York. The plant will employ anywhere from 50-100, ``depending on the extent of automation,'' and a second production line is likely to begin operating next month, said Pregont, who took over the reins at the family-owned business in 1984.
Similar to the two other North American plants, the Puerto Rico plant will be heavily medical, with some electronics customers. Walker said the Asian plants are mainly electronic, followed by consumer products and ``a little medical,'' which he expects to grow. He said auto-related packaging can be made in any of the plants.
Pregont foresees ``rapid growth the next 20 years'' in medical and electronics and he expects to continue expanding in the firm's current markets, particularly Southeast Asia and Latin America.
``Global supply has become of bigger interest to our customers,'' Pregont said. ``They are looking at China and not seeing it as a source of inexpensive labor, but as a huge market for their product because there are 250 million middle-class people.''
The Chinese plant opened in 2004 and Prent became sole owner of the Malaysian plant in 2002, buying out a partner in the 8-year-old plant. Altogether, Prent operates nearly 50 thermoforming machines, including 24 in Janesville, nine in Johor, eight in Flagstaff and six in Shanghai. About 500 of its 1,100-person workforce is in Janesville, with the next largest concentration, 300, in Johor. Flagstaff and Shanghai employ about 125 each.
The firm did an estimated $67 million in 2005 sales.
Pregont said two of the largest growth drivers are explosive developments in invasive-surgery and drug-delivery products and the search by medical-device makers for lower-cost products.
Thermoforming products are making inroads in the medical and electronics markets because tooling costs are typically lower than in injection molding.
``That is one of our biggest growth areas and moving us in electronics,'' Pregont said.