Mar-Bal Inc., a custom thermoset molder and compounder, is investing both locally and globally with plans for a factory in Mexico and a sales office in China, and a new finishing operation at the Chagrin Falls headquarters that creates a metalized finish on parts.
Mar-Bal also is beefing up its efforts to win new business. In December, the company hired Kevin Casey, whose thermoset background includes top sales positions at Sika Automotive and Premix Inc., as Mar-Bal's vice president of sales and marketing. Ron Poff was promoted to marketing manager.
Mar-Bal officials outlined the company's strategy in a March 3 plant visit. Scott Balogh, president and CEO, and his brother, Vice President Steven Balogh, run the company, which was founded by their father, Jim Balogh.
The family-owned Mar-Bal takes a long-term outlook. For example, after outsourcing the metalizing process, Mar-Bal invested $1.5 million to build a dedicated room for physical vapor deposition in Chagrin Falls. The metalizing and decorating operation, which began production in February, handles control knobs for ovens and ranges, along with other appliance parts.
The company markets its in-house PVD capability as Thermital.
By offering attractive stainless-steel, chrome and brass finishes, and repeatable textures that look and feel like metal, Thermital has obvious appeal for appliance makers, said Steven Balogh, vice president. Stainless-steel ranges and refrigerators first became popular for high-end kitchens. Appliance designers took notice. For Mar-Bal, it was a market opportunity.
We saw the appliance manufacturers trying to get more of your consumer products to look like stainless. They had to find ways to do that, because it's just too expensive. So that's where we saw an opening for this, Steven Balogh said. There's tremendous value there. He said Thermital, coupled with thermoset molded parts, also offers unlimited finishing options and greater design freedom than traditional die-cast metal parts.
A metallic look of steel, chrome and brass are moving beyond the kitchen, to washers and dryers and other household appliances. And the home appliance sector is a big one for Mar-Bal, which molds parts for appliances with the nameplates of Whirlpool, Amana, Maytag, Electrolux and others.
Now, Mar-Bal officials say, Thermital will help grab new thermoset molding business outside of appliances. Casey said that covers a wide range of markets such as lighting, under-hood automotive and even ice machines.
Another big existing market for Mar-Bal is insulators for electrical distribution, such as switch gears, controls, motors and circuit breakers.
Casey and Poff are working to tell the Mar-Bal story to customers, and help Mar-Bal increase sales of its bulk molding compound to other thermoset molders.
Scott Balogh said the company started making its own BMC in the early 1980s. We've had compound customers for 10 or 15 years. But we haven't had the opportunity to develop it, he said.
Mar-Bal also compression molds sheet molding compounding, which it buys from outside suppliers. But making its own BMC, which can be molded by injection, compression and transfer molding, enables the company to custom-formulate compounds for specific applications. Casey said that vertical integration is a strong point: BMC gives us the most versatility from a processing standpoint, but also from a customer design standpoint, he said. And that's really where it all begins with our customers.
Mar-Bal has forged strong links with Whirlpool, a customer for more than 20 years, by becoming actively involved in Whirpool's Six Sigma Operational Excellence program. Eight years ago, Steven Balogh participated in the intensive, four-week OpEx course, staying at Whirpool's training and conference center in Michigan.
Since then, three other people from Mar-Bal have gone through OpEx. One Li Bradshaw, a materials chemist at the company's research and development center in Chagrin Falls has become a Master Black Belt. She was certified at a ceremony at Whirlpool's headquarters in Benton Harbor, Mich., on Dec. 17.
Now, Bradshaw is leading OpEx training at Mar-Bal. The Whirpool people are actually coming out and co-teaching with us, Scott Balogh said.
Ken Kleinhample, Whirpool's vice president of global quality, said the two companies have a valued partnership. OpEx is the woven fabric of our company's DNA and now of Mar-Bal's as well, he said.
Proud history, global future
Mar-Bal began in 1970, but Jim Balogh's own personal story goes back to his native Hungary. He was just 17 years old in 1956 when he joined thousands of other young Hungarians in Budapest fighting against the Soviet-sponsored government in the Hungarian Revolution. He was wounded and jailed, but eventually managed to leave for Yugoslavia. There, he signed up for the U.S. Army.
He was discharged in 1962 and settled in Cleveland. The tooling engineer got a job at Glastic Corp., a Cleveland composites company. While working at Glastic, Balogh started Mar-Bal in a small building in Cleveland's Flats industrial area, with a single used machine. Scott and Steven did odd jobs there as children.
Fast forward to today. Mar-Bal expects to generate $47 million in sales this year, from plants in Chagrin Falls; Cuba, Mo.; and Dublin, Va. The company employs 335 people.
Companywide, Mar-Bal runs 73 presses 41 injection molding machines ranging in clamping force from 165-700 tons, and 32 compression molders from 120-1,000 tons. The company makes BMC compounds in Chagrin Falls.
Decades after its humble beginnings, Mar-Bal is making global moves, in China and Mexico. The Balogh brothers went to China in 2004 on a trade mission coordinated by the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. Those contacts led to Mar-Bal buying raw materials from China, followed by molds. The company already was sourcing molds from Taiwan.
In 2007, Mar-Bal signed a three-year licensing agreement with a Chinese thermoset molder of parts for the electrical sector. Last year, Mar-Bal renewed that agreement.
It's really been a good relationship a good way to start to know and understand the way of doing business in China, from the raw material sources to the whole market over there. It's been a good learning experience, Steven Balogh said.
This year, Mar-Bal is opening a sales office in Shanghai. That will allow us to sell and distribute our current insulator line more effectively, as opposed to direct from the U.S., he said.
The next step is a Mar-Bal manufacturing plant in China in the next year or two.
Mar-Bal also will open a plant in Mexico's Bajio region, in the central part of the country, to better serve appliance and electrical customers who have production there. Officials hope to begin production in early 2012. The company has already hired key employees and is training them.