Bill and Hazel Gauer, who founded Gauer Mold & Machine Co. in 1966, have sold the Tallmadge company to ProMold Inc. of nearby Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
ProMold President Steve Schler said the deal, which closed June 22, brings together ProMold's expertise in small precision molds, including multicavity injection molds, with Gauer's specialty in large molds for traditional injection and gas-assisted injection, structural foam, compression and transfer molding.
After the acquisition, the name of the combined operations was changed to ProMold-Gauer Inc. Terms were not disclosed.
Schler is moving his 10-employee mold shop out of its 10,000 square feet of space in Cuyahoga Falls, to the larger, 28,000-square-foot Gauer building in Tallmadge. Gauer employs 42.
Bringing together two mold makers with separate areas of strength, makes sense to face the difficult U.S. mold market, Schler said in an interview at the Tallmadge plant.
``We'll be able to penetrate markets that ProMold would not be able to penetrate without the Gauer-ProMold connection,'' Schler said. ``There are machining techniques that we'll be able to apply here to get efficiency.''
ProMold is strong in electric discharge machining, and Schler has invested in new high-speed machines that, once set up, can cut metal automatically, without an attendant.
ProMold makes more than molds, including dies for extrusion and pultrusion. Its markets include the electronics, aerospace and medical industries.
Gauer has some very large machining centers. It specializes in large, multinozzle molds from steel and machined aluminum.
Now ProMold-Gauer will be able to do more of its own machining in-house. ``[ProMold was] farming out mold-base work and large machining work. We'll be able to keep that in-house now,'' Schler said. ``They were farming out wire EDM work, some precision things. We'll keep that in-house now, too.''
Schler learned the value of change and investing in new equipment soon after he founded ProMold in 1977. By the early 1980s, the U.S. tooling industry was reeling from a recession, major changes in technology and foreign competition.
Now the sector is struggling again.
The mold-making industry has lost about one-third of its total companies in the past seven years, said Schler, who is past president of the Akron chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association.
He divided up those closed-down mold shops in this way: ``About a third of that is because of gains of efficiencies. A third of that is because of consolidation, and the other third is work going to China,'' he said.
He called buying Gauer, ``part of a long-range plan that I had for survival. I think there's going to be more consolidation going on in the industry.''
Gauer Mold & Machine is well-known in its specialty segments of the plastics industry. Company officials have been active in the Alliance of Plastics Processors conferences, the former Structural Plastics Division of the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
Bill and Hazel Gauer became members of the Pioneers Club at the 2003 Structural Plastics Division's conference. The Gauers now are retired.
Willy Traegner, an 18-year veteran of ProMold, will be operations manager of ProMold-Gauer. At ProMold, he was manufacturing cooperator and supervisor.
Gauer veterans Chris Smith and Von Alleshouse, also hold key positions. Smith is sales manager. Alleshouse is engineering manager.
Schler said skilled people and buying technology that can automate the process as much as possible are the keys for mold makers today. Gauer's large molds are somewhat insulated from competition from China, he added, with an emphasis on the word ``somewhat.''
``We do hear that it's safer and we have a niche market that maybe China hasn't penetrated yet. But we also hear that there are structural foam presses,'' Smith said.
But China still could indirectly hurt the Gauer's big-mold market, because other mold makers may jump into its markets if their own customers move production offshore, Schler said.
Despite the challenges, Schler is pretty optimistic. Automotive may be down right now, but the big shift to hybrids, fuel cells and other new fuel-efficient cars will require a lot of new molds and plastic parts. Also, part of his long-range plan is to boost ProMold-Gauer's ability to machine metal parts for the aerospace industry.
``A lot of people said that manufacturing is going to be dead in the U.S. because the Chinese are going to continue their progression, and in another five years, half the market will be gone. ... I don't see that. I see the Chinese economy, and China as a whole, finally getting to the point where the Chinese will start buying their own products, and will make products for the domestic market. What will happen in the interim is they will have forced us to become so efficient, that they'll have a hard time competing with us,'' Schler said.
``Yes, the industry will consolidate. But we will have been forced to become so efficient that we'll be able to compete with them.''