Thermoset compounder and molder Premix Inc. isn't slowing down after a half-century of business.
The North Kingsville-based firm plans to roll out a pair of new materials later this year and will begin operating a major new molding machine this month.
With $45 million in annual sales, Premix has come a long way from its beginnings in nearby Conneaut, Ohio, where Ford Davey and George Kaull friends since childhood decided to strike out on their own in 1959. Davey and Kaull, both natives of North Kingsville, had been working for other composite makers in northeastern Ohio.
The firm's first product was a circuit breaker for Westinghouse Corp. That product was made from an unsaturated polyester-based bulk molding compound, according to market development manager Steve Searl, who joined Premix in 1969.
The first building was kind of a big garage that maybe covered 5,000 feet, Searl said in a recent interview in North Kingsville. Then, in 1964, George and Ford bought this property and put up a 20,000-square-foot building.
Premix's main facility now covers 330,000 square feet on that same 35-acre farm that Davey and Kaull purchased 45 years ago. Premix also operates Quantum Composites, a 50,000-square-foot thermoset materials unit in Bay City, Mich.
Searl was hired as a process engineer, but also worked as a press operator when needed.
It wasn't unusual to see management guys on the shop floor back then, Searl recalled. And we were using old Army bread mixers to mix the material.
Premix has taken on various identities over the years. At one point, automotive sheet and paneling applications made up about half of its sales, but the firm took the bold step of exiting that business in 1994.
Making auto body panels was a good business for Premix until the early 1990s, when increasing competition and declining profits began to take their toll, President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Meola said. It became difficult to grow and get an adequate return in that business, said Meola, who joined Premix as an assistant controller in 1983.
Premix also entered the injection molding market through an acquisition in the late 1980s. At one point, all of the seating at New York's LaGuardia Airport was molded by Premix and made from the firm's sheet molding compound.
Premix's injection molding business once worked out of two other plants, but since has been relocated to North Kingsville.
The firm also previously operated plants in Scotland, Japan and Mexico. It is now represented internationally by licensees making Premix products in Germany, Japan and Puerto Rico.
Today, electrical applications, along with heating, ventilation and air conditioning, account for half of Premix's sales.
The firm also keeps active in the auto market, but now is involved in under-the-hood components made from SMC and thick molding compound. New applications for the firm either in development or already commercialized include products for the renewable-energy, aerospace and military industries.
Searl has 40 years on the job, and Meola has 26, but their longevity with Premix doesn't stand out about 80 of its 250 total employees have been with the firm 25 years or more.
Premix operates three BMC lines, three SMC lines and a single TMC line in North Kingsville, and another four SMC lines in Bay City. Last year, a new SMC line was installed to replace an older one in North Kingsville in a move that also increased the firm's SMC capacity.
Most of the company's materials are based on unsaturated polyester, but it also does some work with vinyl esters.
Premix uses about half of its material output internally to mold products and sells the other half on the open market, including to potential competitors. The firm's technological efforts allow it to walk this fine line with confidence, officials said.
We're always trying to find the next major breakthrough, Meola said. That's what sets us apart from other companies in industry. We're always advancing technology to grow the market.
Since 1999, Premix has been majority-owned by private equity firm Mason Wells Inc. of Milwaukee, with some management members having small equity stakes in the firm. Of the founders, Kaull passed away in 1995, while Ford retired from the firm in the late 1990s.
In late 2006, Mason Wells had a deal in place to sell Premix to competitor Core Molding Technologies Inc. of Columbus, Ohio, but the deal fell through in early 2007. Since then, Meola said, Premix has tried to stay the course without any disruption of our daily operations.
The new compression molding press Premix's 49th press overall is a 2,000-ton machine made by Macrodyne Technologies Inc. of Concord, Ontario. It's also the firm's largest and will make fiberglass doors and renewable products when it's put into production.
Although Premix's auto-related business has just gotten clobbered in recent years, and HVAC has been affected by the downturn in residential housing, Meola said the firm's HVAC work has fared better, since it is centered on industrial and commercial construction, which hasn't declined as much.
Meola said he believes the U.S. economy has bottomed out.
Our activity level has increased, even if we're still operating at 20 percent below last year's level. But our sales and marketing and technological areas aren't affected by the downturn, he said.
Officials said Premix will launch upgrades of two materials for specific end markets by year's end, but provided no details.
Premix has remained in northeast Ohio for 50 years because of the area's strong work ethic and because it's a hotbed for composite products, Meola said.
There's a good concentration of other composite companies here and a good talent pool, he said. I think what happened here was that every stage of our growth was tied in to material advancements in the conversion to composites from metal. By doing that, the owners allowed the firm to be successful.
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