Fuel-tank maker Inca Molded Products Inc. has undergone a leadership and ownership change, with J. Robert Porter Jr., 38, succeeding his father, company founder James R. Porter, 63, who retired.
The Nashville, Tenn., rotational molder is adding engineering staff as part of a diversification effort to build more plastic fuel tanks for lawn and garden, construction, and outdoor power equipment applications. Inca has hired engineers who can ``help convert product from SolidWorks [design software], change it and quote it'' for those markets, Robert Porter said by telephone. ``Before, Dad and I did the engineering.''
Currently, fuel tanks for marine original equipment manufacturers account for about 85 percent of the company's business.
Inca also is pursuing a trend toward larger fuel tanks for powerboats.
In developing lightweight, durable products, Inca seeks to substitute cross-linked polyethylene or other resins for metal, wood and other materials.
``We have a strong foundation in the marine industry and continue to be successful because of custom testing, manufacturing and tooling processes we have developed over the years,'' Porter said. ``That gives us an advantage over a traditional rotomolder.''
Typically, the firm owns custom-built molds as proprietary assets and applies its label to each tank.
``In this business, we have to own the molds,'' he said.
The fuel-tank specialist uses cross-linked PE in molding tanks. Annual throughput is about 2.5 million pounds.
Porter learned many of Inca's disciplines through hands-on work experience as a young man. He graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with a business degree and joined the firm full time in 1991.
He was a manager trainee, then a salesman, and was promoted to sales manager in 1994 and general manager in 1997. He became president and sole owner Dec. 31. He had obtained a minority ownership stake in 1996.
Porter became a board director of the Association of Rotational Molders International in 2006 after 15 years as an ARM member..
``ARM provides tools and solutions to improve efficiency, quality and productivity,'' Porter said. Through the trade groups, he is working with federal and state regulatory agencies on air emission and other environmental issues.
In the late 1970s, his father was managing a Nashville plant for well-known California-based Inca Plastics Molding Inc. The plant rotomolded water and holding tanks for the recreational vehicle industry. The era's gasoline crisis prompted Inca Plastics to consolidate operations and withdraw from the Tennessee manufacturing site.
At the time, Jim Porter was developing a plastic fuel tank for boats, but Inca Plastics did not see enough promise to pursue the project.
In separating from his employer in 1979, Jim Porter took a business gamble. He found a financial partner at a trade show and established his own business in Nashville, initially as Inca Marine Products and, later, Inca Molded Products Inc. Porter bought out his financial partner in 1985.
He used the same first name for his new firm because of Inca's strong reputation in the tank business.
Jim Porter's gamble paid off. His innovation became the first successful plastic fuel tank for the marine industry and, over 27 years, has led to the firm's sales of more than 1.5 million tanks for use in a variety of applications, Robert Porter said.
A pair of Inca Molded Products' two-arm rotomolding machines were built in-house at the earlier Inca Plastics operation.
``One is the biggest machine we have,'', Robert Porter said.
Inca Molded Products also operates a trio of Ferry Rotospeed independent-arm carousel machines with four arms each; two Rotospeeds are 280s, and the other is a 220. In addition, the firm has an FSP Roto-Flow M-80 three-arm, fixed-turret machine.
An in-house tooling department can build, repair and modify fabricated molds. The firm has an inventory of about 800 molds and builds about 85 percent of new molds in-house.
Inca Molded Products employs 40, including four mold makers, at a 60,000-square-foot plant. Annual sales are about $6.5 million.
``We have built a reputation of taking care of our customers,'' Porter said. ``We have the right kind of people to help us grow.''