French injection press maker Billion SA has new owners, a new attitude and a new market - North America.
Billion is a small company with about 200 employees in Oyonnax in France's ``plastics valley'' region. It generated sales of 34 million euros ($42 million) for fiscal 2005-2006, which ended Sept. 30.
Olivier Crave, general sales manager, said Billion's strongest markets have been France and North Africa.
Billion officials are entering the North American market with a targeted strategy, by focusing on molders of packaging and cosmetics as they tout the company's multicomponent experience. Crave said one-third of the 180 injection presses Billion produces a year have multicomponent technology.
Clamping forces range from 40-2,500 metric tons.
In an interview at Plastics News' offices in Akron, Crave said Billion has no plans to be a broad-line supplier. ``We don't want to sell every type of machine to the U.S.,'' Crave said.
Billion's narrow focus includes geography, as it works with Subodh Sharma, president of Oak Tree Consulting LLC in Dundee, Mich. Sharma said Billion will concentrate on the Northeast and Detroit. In Canada, Billion will be active in Ontario and Montreal.
Sharma, who is Billion's agent in North America, is helping set up third-party service and parts operation. Billion may be a new player in the crowded North American injection press market, but Crave said the Billion name has a good reputation.
``Today, if you're talking about Billion worldwide, a lot of customers, including in the United States, know Billion as a very solid machine, with a lot of experience in multi-injection,'' Crave said.
Billion has two French customers that have cosmetics molding plants in North America. In the past two years, the company has sold machines into Mexico for cosmetics packaging. Billion also is talking to a U.S. cosmetics molder for a complete package of machine, tooling and auxiliary equipment, Crave said. He declined to identify any of the customers.
Korbinian Kiesl, a German executive, bought Billion from the conglomerate Mannesmann Plastics Machinery GmbH in February. The deal, for undisclosed terms, happened a few months before a Chicago investment group bought MPM from Kohlbert Kravis Roberts & Co. of New York.
Kiesl was the sole buyer, using his own money, Crave said, although he added that officials are talking about expanding the ownership to include other managers. Four major French banks that already had financed Billion under MPM ownership have stayed on to provide lines of credit for capital spending, he said.
Management tactics have changed dramatically under independent ownership, Crave said. Billion was a tiny unit of Munich-based MPM, which owns much bigger plastics machinery names: Krauss-Maffei, Demag Plastics Machinery, Netstal and Berstorff. MPM generated total 2005 sales of $1.6 billion.
``When your name is Billion, when you are such a small company in a big group like Krauss-Maffei, Demag and Netstal, the problem is, if you want to invest in new products, you are not the one who will receive money to invest in those,'' Crave said.
Kiesl and Crave worked together in the United States at two units of MPM. Kiesl was the vice president of Berstorff Corp., the compounding extruder company. Crave was sales manager of Krauss-Maffei Corp.'s operation that makes extruders for pipe and profiles.
Crave, who is French, left KM in mid-2005 to join Billion.
Billion was founded in 1949 by Leon Billion. The company patented a two-shot machine in 1961 and introduced a two-shot press in 1968. A three-shot press followed a few years later.
Billion became part of MPM about 10 years ago.
Crave said that, under MPM, Billion was not able to expand into other key European countries, especially Germany-the home country of big players KM and DPG. Billion's new ownership is getting back into Germany, where the company had sold presses years ago.
``We are in there now. We do have all our old customers coming back to us now, and they are very happy to see that we are back,'' Crave said.
German molders are interested in the same thing U.S. molders want-multicomponent molding, in-mold assembly and overmolding soft materials onto hard ones. Billion also is promoting its research with the French plastics institute, Pole European de Plasturgie, to sandwich wood-fiber parts inside a layer of regular plastics so they don't absorb humidity when used outdoors.
In October, Billion made a statement in Germany by running a three-component part at the Fakuma 2006 show in Friedrichshafen. The 200-ton press turned out the part, shaped like an appliance knob with a see-through lens in the middle, on a 15-second cycle.
The mold rotates through four stations. First, an injection unit shoots the lens from polymethyl methacrylate. Then the press injects the main section from ABS. The third injection press, mounted on top of the fixed platen, overmolds a soft covering from black TPE. At the fourth station, the part cools in the closed mold and ejects it.
Crave said Billion leaders now are free to decide what technologies to develop, with a long-term viewpoint. The company already has purchased several new metalworking machines.
The management team is young and enthusiastic, said Crave, 37. Kiesl is 42.
``When you belong to a big group, as the smallest one you can ask for a thousand bucks to invest. You will receive maybe five bucks, because you are the smallest one. So you can ask, but you won't receive,'' Crave said.
``Here, what we do is different. Now we are completely independent, so if we make any money, we invest all the money directly in the machines.''