Engineered Plastics Components Inc. has saved two former Collins & Aikman Corp. plants in Rantoul, Ill., from closing. Now the company is working to build up business at the sites and re-establish their status in the auto supply industry.
``The structure is very solid at Rantoul. There are folks already on staff who know about quality, who know about operating at top levels, who know about lean production,'' said EPC President Reza Kargarzadeh in a Sept. 4 telephone interview.
EPC, based in Grinnell, Iowa, completed the purchase of the plants Aug. 31, adding them to an earlier acquisition of a former C&A injection molding site in Columbia, Mo.
Kargarzadeh was already familiar with the plants. He worked for Textron Automotive Co. Inc. - which owned the facilities prior to selling them to C&A in 2001 - from 1984-94, including a stint at a sister plant in Athens, Tenn.
Southfield, Mich.-based C&A entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2005. When it began selling its plastics molding facilities to wind down business, EPC was interested.
Kargarzadeh has been building up the injection molding business while maintaining a diversified customer base, working in the automotive, consumer products and home appliance industries.
Earlier this year, Kargarzadeh boosted EPC's appliance exposure by acquiring Kalona Plastics Inc. of Kalona, Iowa. The deal included a long-term contract to supply parts to appliance maker Whirlpool Corp.
The plant in Columbia makes instrument panels for Japanese carmaker Mitsubishi Motors Corp.'s North American operation, and with the purchase, EPC retained the contracts and leased proprietary technology for producing instrument panel skins.
The Rantoul sites, which employed more than 500, were expected to be sold to fellow auto supplier Cadence Innovation LLC in a deal announced earlier this year. When those talks fell through and the plants went on the block again, he knew it was a good opportunity. The sites' customers also backed EPC's acquisition.
If Collins & Aikman had not found a new buyer for the plants, they would have closed.
The Rantoul operation will be smaller to start - with about 150 employees now, ramping up to 200 soon - but Kargarzadeh said he expects to add production and employees once customers get to know more about EPC and as his company adds its own expertise.
The diversified customer base also brings stability, which should add to customers' comfort level with the supplier, he said.
Currently the Rantoul plants are molding hard trim and painted parts and doing assembly and subassembly for Mitsubishi and General Motors Corp.
With those sites, the Columbia plant and Grinnell, EPC now has a fleet of 140 injection molding presses with clamping forces of 20-4,000 tons, and 700,000 square feet of manufacturing space in three states.