Mamata Machinery Pvt. Ltd., India's largest manufacturer of machinery for making plastic bags and pouches, has opened a 7,000-square-foot facility in Bradenton, Fla., as it enters the market for form, fill and seal equipment.
The Ahmedabad, India-based company moved into the U.S. market in 2003, when it opened Mamata USA LLC in Montgomery, Ill., to handle sales and service, and customize machines for U.S. customers. The Florida operation is developing new technology, according to Mamata Group Chairman Mahendra Patel.
We are actually going to start making prototype machines for form, fill and seal. This is an extension of our line, and it's happening in the U.S.A., Patel said.
Company officials outlined their strategy during a recent interview. They also looked back, to talk about the history of a business that played a key role in India's plastics industry and has forged joint ventures with global machinery makers such as Milacron LLC and Brampton Engineering Inc.
Mamata Machinery is the flagship company of the $75 million Mamata Group.
Brothers N.K. Patel, a mechanical engineer, and T.K. Patel, a polymer engineer, got into plastics machinery in the 1960s. Mahendra Patel is the son of N.K. Patel, who died last March.
Mark Hamnett, European representative for the company, said the Patel brothers were pioneers. They brought plastics to India in the 1960s, he said. At the time, nobody was really looking at plastics. They had plenty of glass and they had plenty of wood. So there was no need. But they were visionaries.
Their first business was a joint venture with R.H. Windsor Ltd., a British injection press maker. KlÃ¶ckner-Werke AG bought Windsor in 1982. Mahendra Patel joined the business, moving it from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, where the joint venture built two factories in the late 1980s. Today, Mamata has a joint venture with KlÃ¶ckner Desma that makes injection presses for molding rubber and producing shoe soles.
The Patels were early proponents of partnering with blue-chip machinery companies to manufacture machines in India, designed for the Indian market.
What they've done is build a team of people that would not just manufacture under license, but are innovating and developing specific machinery for the needs of the Asia market that is not over-engineered, but it actually meets its price targets and it meets the expectations and performance for the market as well, Hamnett said.
Mahendra Patel said the strategy of selective joint ventures makes sense in a global, interconnected world. Both sides win, since the company from the developing world gains access to the fast-growing Indian market, and Mamata Group gets a technology partner.
It is foolish for us to make something that somebody already does, Patel said. So what we have to do really is improve on what is being made and go and enlarge our manufacturing and help our partners get into bigger markets.
In 1995, the Patel family and U.S. machinery maker Milacron LLC created a joint venture to make injection molding machines. Last September, Milacron bought out the Patels' 10 percent stake, and now owns 100 percent of Ferromatik Milacron India Ltd. Patel continues to serve on FMI's board of directors.
Mamata and Canada-based Brampton Engineering Inc. formed a venture in 1997 to develop blown film equipment for the Indian market and other countries, including Russia and Africa.
Executives of Milacron and Brampton said Mamata's expertise was a big help. If a North American company wants to go to India, you have to have a joint venture, said Bud Smith, Brampton's president and CEO. He said the agreements require commitment and trust on both sides.
Smith that said Indian customers wanted reliable technology, but they couldn't afford North American and European equipment. Equipment in that region had to be a decent enough product, but it had to be low-cost, he said. As India has become a major plastics-consuming nation, domestic film companies now are stepping up to higher-end equipment, he added.
Dave Lawrence, president of Milacron, called Mahendra Patel and his father icons of the plastics industry in India.
Milacron relied on the Indian leaders' expertise and Lawrence said he is glad Patel has remained as an active board member.
Mamata worked on its own to develop its flagship business of bag- and pouch-making machinery, and wicketing equipment. That began in 1987, when Mamata developed its first bag-making machine.
According to Apurva Kane, senior vice president and marketing manager, Indian bag machines at that time used clutch-and-brake technology. A rack-and-pinion mechanism was used to draw the required length of film from the roll, then it was cut and sealed.
There were a lot of mechanical things inside, Kane said. Mamata officials wanted to make something better, so they turned to microprocessor control to replace the clutch-and-brake. But in the late 1980s, Mamata executives worried that Indian bag-machine buyers would be afraid of something so new and different.
This machine we developed, sold and delivered in 1988, Kane said, and believe it or not, for the first few machines that we sold, we never told a customer that there is a 'microprocessor' in the machine! Our literature didn't say anything about a microprocessor. It said: 'New electronic drive. Does not require mechanical settings.'
Mamata rolled out the machine nationally at the 1990 PlastIndia and it took off. More than 30 units were sold during the five-day show.
India's per-capita consumption of plastics and packaging has grown at a dizzying pace during the two decades since then, and Mamata's packaging machinery business grew along with it. Today Mamata Machinery employs 200 people making a full line of bag and pouch equipment.
That fast-growing Indian economy one largely driven by internal consumption has been a big part of the attraction for Mamata's joint venture partners as well. We are fortunate to be in Asia, Patel said. We are there in the right time, in the right place, and we are able to share that advantage with our partners.
On the bag-making side, Mamata Machinery has become a global player. Kane said the company first went to Africa, and then moved on to South Africa after the election of Nelson Mandela as president in 1994 ended apartheid.
Kane said South Africa taught Mamata leaders what they needed to sell bag machines in an advanced industrial economy, including quality, technology and marketing. We used that as a stepping stone to enter Europe in 1998, by exhibiting at that year's K show, he said.
Next, company officials looked the U.S. They quickly realized that Mamata would need a physical location in America, and not just handle everything from India.
The American market is more unforgiving than any other market in the world, in terms of demand for support and service, Kane said. We saw that, if we were serious about this market, we better go there.
In the eight years of operating Mamata USA in Illinois, the company has sold an average of one machine a month. The 5,000-square-foot operation covers all of the Americas.
The Florida operation opened in mid-2010.