Phillips Plastics Corp., a Wisconsin injection molder, has joined forces with Eastek International to launch a mold-making joint venture called WahTsun Far East Ltd. at Eastek's campus in Dongguan, China.
Brad Wucherpfennig, Phillips' president and chief operating officer, announced the joint venture during a May 8 injection molding forum in Cincinnati at Antec 2007, the Society of Plastics Engineers' annual conference. The company issued more details after Antec.
During the Antec forum on trends in management, technology and international collaborations, Phillips officials also discussed three far-flung initiatives that go far behind plastics - ceramic filters, a foaming additive for wood-plastic deck board and a new collaboration with a biomedical company called BioE Inc. that is working to use the Phillips ceramics materials as a ``scaffold'' to grow stem cells.
Phillips Plastics, under founder Robert Cervenka, has not been afraid to invest in new ideas outside of plastics and helped pioneer metal injection molding.
``We've been involved in a variety of different businesses outside of making metal and plastic injection molded parts,'' Bill Hickey, business initiatives director, said during Antec.
Phillips, based in Hudson, Wis., will own a 25 percent stake in the China tooling operation. Eastek is based in Buffalo Grove, Ill., but all of its production is in Dongguan, at a complex of buildings totaling 465,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
Eastek is a contract manufacturer and a plastic injection molder that makes its own molds. For the past three years, Eastek has made molds for Phillips. WahTsun Far East will continue making molds for both companies.
Phillips said the agreement gives it access to high-quality, low-cost tooling as well as a partner for low-cost assembly in China.
``The joint venture with Eastek will expand our reach by providing lower-cost alternatives to our customers without compromising'' quality, Wucherpfennig said.
Eastek made about 350 molds last year for itself and Phillips Plastics, said Robert Wiegand, vice president of sales and marketing. The operation employs 60 mold makers in Dongguan.
At Antec, Wucherpfennig said the company exports about $60 million worth of goods each year, including shipments to Mexico, Europe and China. That works out to one-fourth of Phillips Plastics' 2006 sales of $240 million.
Wucherpfennig stressed the molder will remain a strong U.S. manufacturer by emphasizing ``innovation, quality and total lower cost.'' Phillips Plastics has 14 facilities - all but one of them in Wisconsin - and he said the strategic international moves are designed to strengthen those plants.
``I think we're not standard. We have not rushed to low-cost countries,'' Wucherpfennig said.
He said the new China tooling joint venture exemplifies the company's philosophy.
``Our strategy is clearly an `in addition to' strategy, and not an `at the expense of' strategy,'' he said. ``I think frequently, particularly in the United States, we need to be reminded that export is also part of international business. You grow on a global basis as you export.''
Wucherpfennig said officials are looking at micromolding and beefing up the company's multishot operation, especially by expanding in multimaterial molding.
Cervenka, Wucherpfennig and Hickey spoke at a May 8 Antec forum on trends in management, technology and international collaborations.
Hickey said Phillips Plastics thinks broadly about new technology, and not just related to its core business of plastics. During the Antec presentation, he outlined three recent examples:
* Phillips formed a filter company called Captrate in 2004, to serve makers of commercial grease exhaust hoods for restaurants. ``This came from a technology that Phillips developed, a ceramic bead that is porous. And that porous bead, as finite, small grease particles come through it, absorbs much better than current filters,'' Hickey said. The ceramic beads also could be used in water filters, he said.
* Hickey said Phillips Plastics is forming a partnership with BioE in St. Paul, Minn., which grows human stem cells from umbilical cord blood. By using custom-made growth structures made from the ceramics developed by Phillips, BioE is working on stem-cell treatments for bones, joints and cartilage. Phillips and BioE formally announced the agreement May 21.
* Contact with a retired 3M Co. engineer resulted in the creation of Alterform, a division of Phillips Plastics that makes additives for foaming highly filled thermoplastics, such as wood composites for decking. The engineer worked at the company's technology center in Prescott, Wis., where he developed the foaming agent. He licensed the technology to Phillips, which pays him a royalty.