Poly-Cast Inc., a small family-owned custom molder in Oregon, is taking the plunge into China by opening a factory in Suzhou.
Production is scheduled to begin by the end of May at Poly-Cast Plastics (Suzhou) Co. Ltd., a 22,000-square-foot plant in the Suzhou Industrial Park. Poly-Cast is leasing the space.
President Dan Leedom said Poly-Cast began looking seriously at injection molding in China about 2½ years ago, after bouncing the idea around in planning sessions for several years.
The molder in Tigard, Ore., employs 80 and generates sales of about $10 million, he said.
``There were so many questions about it, so many unknowns about it,'' Leedom said. ``How would a small company like us pull something like this off?''
Several long-term U.S. customers also have factories in China, and wanted Poly-Cast to join them. ``So for us, it was something that really made sense in terms of being able to get a plant established there,'' Leedom said. ``Then after a few exploratory trips over there, it became obvious to us that it was a pretty exciting place to be. There's an emerging market there, that we felt like there's a place for a smaller company like ours to be involved.''
Despite starting out with a reliable, existing customer base in China, officials are moving deliberately. Poly-Cast Plastics (Suzhou) will start small, with about 10 employees and three Arburg injection presses, with clamping forces of 70 tons, 110 tons and 300 tons. The 70-tonner is a vertical press with a rotary table, for insert molding.
``The criteria I had was, I was not willing to risk the Tigard facility. So we were fairly conservative. But I feel strongly enough that this was a good thing for us,'' he said in a telephone interview.
Poly-Cast leaders decided against a joint venture, after hearing what Leedom called ``horror stories'' about such deals. So the China operation is wholly owned by Poly-Cast.
His father, Walter Leedom, founded Poly-Cast in 1972. Markets include transportation, medical, electronics and consumer/industrial. Poly-Cast has 24 injection presses in Oregon, with clamping forces from 28-500 tons. The company does film insert molding, overmolding and turnkey assembly.
Dan Leedom put his son, Jeff, in charge of the Suzhou plant. In an e-mail from China, Jeff Leedom said he has been impressed by China's plastics industry in his year-and-a-half on the ground there.
``There are a large number of injection molders that offer diverse capabilities. It's a very competitive environment here,'' he said.
But Poly-Cast can fill what Jeff Leedom called ``gaps'' in the China market, including problem solving, quality standards, and using scientific molding.
``One of the things that's driving this is that companies that have gone to China haven't had the best results,'' Dan Leedom said.
Starting a plant in China is a challenge. Dan Leedom said that, as a small company, it was harder to get government action on licenses, permits and the logistics of shipping equipment into the plant. Poly-Cast hired a consultant who has contacts in the Suzhou government, to get things moving.
Going direct, without a joint venture, was the right decision, Leedom said. ``It was a leap of faith for us. But we just felt strongly that this was the way to go for us.''