Rimowa GmbH has started making polycarbonate luggage in Cambridge, Ontario.
The Cologne, Germany, high-end luggage producer established its first North American plant in Cambridge. Since early November, Rimowa North America Inc. has been making luggage with a vacuum formed PC shell.
Rimowa chose Cambridge, about 25 miles west of Toronto, because it is near the international hub of the Toronto airport. Also, it has a big pool of skilled labor and is near suppliers that can help make the fabrication process easier.
We are using space-age materials and state-of-the-art production equipment in the plant, said President and Chief Executive Officer Dieter Morszeck, the grandson of Rimowa's founder, in a news release. We see this as the perfect place in North America to launch our 'hand-craft meets high-tech' manufacturing strategy.
Rimowa is known for its aluminum frame and body luggage designed to take abuse over years of travel. The 30,000-square-foot Cambridge plant is making luggage in midrange prices in its new Salsa line, which doesn't rely on an aluminum frame.
The luggage's ruggedness relies on polycarbonate, said Rimowa North America Executive Vice President Carsten Kulcke in a telephone interview. As well, our clients wanted stiffness.
PC is lighter than aluminum, is colorable and glossy, and is less prone to dents, Kulcke said. The Salsa line relies on PC's stiffness to do away with a metal frame. A zipper joins the two luggage halves. In Germany, Rimowa also makes hybrid suitcases with an aluminum frame and PC shell in its Limbo and Samba lines. Rimowa's most expensive luggage comprises an aluminum frame and aluminum body.
The Cambridge facility's 20 employees are churning out about 70 pieces of PC luggage daily but they could easily triple that output if demand warrants it. Each large piece of luggage contains about a pound of PC sheet, sourced from an undisclosed supplier in thicknesses of 1.6 and 2 millimeters.
Rimowa North America now is running one vacuum forming line because the process is quick and sufficient for our needs, Kulcke said. We have room for a second machine but it could take a while before it is needed.
Rimowa developed the PC luggage technology in 2000. It took a few years to take off because many customers were skeptical, thinking the luggage was more flimsy than conventional ABS hard-body luggage.
But some flexibility is better, Kulcke said.
Eventually the market accepted PC luggage and now most of the major producers have PC-based models in their lineup. But Rimowa claims to be the only producer of high-end PC suitcases.
We haven't scratched the surface of the U.S. and Canadian market, Kulcke said. Globally [PC] will be 30 percent of the market in 10 years. Durability and ease of use lead to a better perception than for soft-sided luggage.
Rimowa North America's project is a reversal of the trend among luggage producers to move production offshore to low-labor countries, according to economic development agency Canada's Technology Triangle.
Our province continues to demonstrate that we have the skilled workforce, technology and business climate to attract such international investment, said Sandra Pupatello, Ontario's Minister of International Trade and Investment, in a news release.