Indiana-based Ashley Industrial Molding Inc. is investing about $15 million to open its second plant, a factory in Iowa that will run three mammoth 4,000-ton machines to compression mold sheet molding compound.
The company molds large parts for agricultural, construction, forestry, military and heavy-truck markets. Customers include Deere & Co., Case New Holland Global NV and AGCO Corp., and General Motors Corp. for its military Humvee. Its headquarters plant is in Ashley, Ind., in the northeast corner of the state.
Big parts need big machines.
To the best of my knowledge, that will be the most 4,000-ton SMC presses under one roof, President Rod Schoon said.
Ashley Industrial Molding had bought the former Triangle Plastics Inc. thermoforming plant in Oelwein, Iowa, from the Blin family.
Schoon said Ashley made a major investment to prepare the 142,000-square-foot building for the big machines to run SMC, including digging a pit in the floor covered with 4 feet of concrete. The company also built a 75-foot-high bay area.
The 4,000-ton compression molding machines were built in Tianjin, China, by Tianjin Tianduan Press Co. Ltd. Coordinating the deal was Greenerd Press & Machine Co. Inc. of Nashua, N.H., which is the exclusive sales and service representative in North America.
The massive machines require some major logistics. After they were disassembled in China, the compression presses took up 60 percent of an ocean freighter, Schoon said. Then they were shipped on four barges up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Dubuque, Iowa, where the components are being delivered to Oelwein on 53 semi-truck loads.
They are the biggest-ever compression molding machines for Ashley Industrial. The Indiana factory runs nine SMC presses, topping out at a clamping force of 3,000 tons, and four reaction injection molding machines. The company also does painting, robotic routing and trimming, robotic adhesive dispensing, and runs bioresins for Deere & Co.
Company officials began looking at plant locations last summer, as the factory in Ashley was running out of capacity. Despite the recession, the timing was right, Schoon said: Industrial real estate was reasonably priced and a year ago, $4-a-gallon gas jacked up shipping costs.
Schoon said the company will add RIM molding in Iowa in the future, although there is no specific timeline.
Right now, the Iowa factory employs 35 people, as the paint line is running parts shipped from the Indiana plant. Schoon said Ashley plans to hire 40 more people when production begins. The first SMC press should be running by early September, he said.
The Indiana headquarters plant employs more than 300. Ashley does not release sales figures.
Schoon noted employees who played key roles in starting the Iowa operation: Scott Pflughoeft, vice president of operations, along with his engineering team; Iowa plant manager Rich Carias; and Dick Boxell, maintenance manager.
The general contractor overseeing infrastructure work is Jeff Connerman of Steuben County Fabricating of Angola, Ind. Schoon said the Blins are also giving advice about the building.
Ashley Industrial Molding was born in 2001, when a management team bought the Ashley compression molding plant of Meridian Automotive Systems Inc. Meridian had picked up the Indiana operation when it bought Cambridge Industries Inc. the year before and the new owner was not interested in Cambridge's nonautomotive composites manufacturing, which is much of the business for the Ashley plant.
The same ownership team remains in place today, Schoon said.
The expansion into Iowa the heart of the agricultural equipment industry makes sense, said sales director Roger Pickens.
That's the most important thing. From our customer base, it puts us right in the middle of where our customers have their assembly plants. So it's definitely a benefit to our customers from a landed production part cost, Pickens said.
With the additional production capacity, Pickens said, Ashley is looking for new customers and markets.
Consultant Nippani Rao said the new Ashley Industrial Molding plant gives a major boost to the SMC sector.
This is very good for the SMC industry and for the overall SMC composite parts, said Rao, a former Chrysler plastics executive who runs Rao Associates in Farmington Hills, Mich.
Rao said it will be interesting to see what new SMC applications Ashley will be able to develop using the very large compression machines.
Schoon said running a plant closer to major customers follows Ashley's philosophy.
We built our company based on relationships. We have never ever, in the eight years that we owned it, said that we want to be at so many million dollars in sales by a certain period of time. Our objective was always to build relationships with our customers, our suppliers, our employees and our communities, and let the revenue take care of itself based on that, Schoon said.
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