While the jury's still out on the macroeconomic recovery, American consumers already are spending more on plastics housewares at least those made by Iris USA Inc. In return, the Pleasant Prairie, Wis.-based firm is riding the upswing and adding new, more-efficient machinery.
A total of 50 JSW all-electric injection molding machines, as well as 38 Motoman robots, will be delivered to Iris' plants in Pleasant Prairie and Mesquite, Texas, by year's end, Chairman Akihiro Ohyama said by phone. He declined to disclose the cost.
We are trying to look for ways to improve our efficiency, reduce cost and become more responsible towards the green initiatives, noted President Chet Keizer. When we look at the business trend for the next three to five years, this is a good opportunity for us to invest and prepare for growth.
Japanese-owned Iris reported a third-quarter sales increase, and sees that growth trend continuing into the first quarter of next year.
Business has been improving, but not by a huge amount, Keizer said. Retailers are still having their struggles. We experience part of that, but ... hopefully the bottom is past us.
When Iris adds the 50 new presses, with clamping forces of 350-850 metric tons, it will phase out 32 older, less efficient units. The machines and robots will contribute to higher efficiency and quality. Total capacity will not change, Ohyama said.
The Pleasant Prairie factory currently houses 73 molding machines and a staff of 200; Mesquite has 60 presses and 130 workers. The facilities mold plastic storage items such as totes, bins, drawers and chests, as well as pet supplies.
We are proud that we are financially strong to make this kind of investment, Keizer said. Iris is investing for the long-term future.
Iris USA's parent, Sendai, Japan-based Iris Ohyama Inc., claims 2008 sales of 76.1 billion yen (US$833.8 million) on its corporate Web site. The privately owned firm also is adding new machines in Europe, Japan and China. But the biggest investment is being made in the U.S., Keizer said, highlighting the potential he thinks the U.S. market offers.
Compared with its low-price-driven competitors, Iris focuses more on specialty retailers, competing on quality and service.
We invest in new molds and develop new products every year, and we meet smaller retailers' unique logistical needs, Ohyama said.
Our service level this year is incredibly high, due to better communication with our customers and better inventory-management systems that we developed internally, Keizer added.
He said Iris also sees potential in China: We've been selling to Chinese retailers for the last couple of years and our China operation has been a very fast-growing business. Iris has six branches in Dalian, China, including Dalian Iris Home Products.
Iris Ohyama employs more than 2,000 worldwide.
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