PARMA, OHIO — By opening a technical center near Cleveland, Worcester, Mass.-based Absolute Haitian Corp. — distributor of China-built Haitian and Zhafir injection molding machines — now has a major presence in the Midwestern heart of the U.S. plastics industry.
North America is the fastest-growing export market for Haitian International Holdings Inc., which is China's largest manufacturer of injection molding machines. Haitian's exports to the U.S., Canada and Mexico doubled from 6.3 percent of the company's total exports in 2011 to 12.9 percent in 2013, said Helmar Franz, executive director of Haitian International.
About 140 customers and supplier officials attended an open house May 9 at the 20,000-square-foot center in Parma. They toured the building, saw three injection presses molding parts and heard an address from Franz. The center opened in the fall.
Franz called the Parma technical center "a very important milestone" for Haitian. Ningbo, China-based Haitian International reported 2012 sales of $1 billion, from more than 22,000 machines shipped.
Revenues from North America reached $41 million in 2012. That's a small part of overall business, but an important one, since sales to the home market in China have been flat for several years, he said.
Glenn Frohring, president of Worcester, Mass.-based Absolute Haitian, said business rebounded sharply coming out of the recession in 2009, and officials decided to look for a building in the Midwest. "We grew quickly. So 2010 was better, and 2011 was super," he said.
Absolute Haitian hired Randy Wendling as aftermarket operations director in 2011. His job was to find a location in the Cleveland area.
"For manufacturing and our business, this is where the heart of it is," Frohring said. But Ohio also is a good location because of an abundance of qualified machinery people, he said, and Absolute Haitian's short history also played a key role in the decision to locate there.
When Absolute Machinery Corp., a manufacturers' representative and used machinery dealer, partnered with Haitian in 2006, the Massachusetts firm started working with Molders Choice Inc., a Cleveland-area supplier of injection nozzles, screw tips and other items, to handle Haitian spare parts. For service, Absolute signed up A.C. Wilson Enterprises Inc. in Middlefield, Ohio.
"Ground Zero, seven years ago, were those guys. So our technical service team and parts team was based in Ohio," Frohring said.
Molders Choice is now leasing space in the Parma technical center. "It's transparent to the customer," President Kenneth Berger said.
Frohring also lives in Newbury, Ohio. He is the son of Glenn Frohring Sr., who founded vertical injection press maker Newbury Industries Inc. in 1957. It later became part of Van Dorn Demag Corp. in nearby Strongsville, Ohio.
Frohring said Wendling looked at about 30 buildings. Absolute Haitian owners Frohring, Nate Smith and Mike Ortolano toured 11, then whittled it down to three. The Parma building, which had housed a light-manufacturing operation, needed the least amount of work, and Absolute Haitian bought it. The new owners upgraded the electric power and added offices and hardwood floors throughout.
The center has a customer training room.
West Michigan Molding Inc., a custom molder in Grand Haven, Mich., bought one of the machines on display at the open house — an all-electric Zhafir Venus with 337 tons of clamping force. Mark Lulofs, vice president of manufacturing, said it is the company's first all-electric press. West Michigan Molding already has an 1,800-ton Haitian Mars press, and another 1,100-ton Mars is coming in mid-July, he said.
Lulofs said automotive accounts for about 70 percent of business, including interior parts.
Haitian now has a track record at the molder, which got its first Mars machine 1½ years ago.
"Pricing was the first thing on our mind" when considering that Chinese press, Lulofs said. Officials saw a Haitian machine running at another Michigan molder. Once it was installed, they studied the press against existing machines and it compared favorably, he said.
"Actually, it's been a trouble-free machine," Lulofs said.
The Venus machine at the open house was equipped with a new TeMp Sensor from MD Plastics Inc. of Columbiana, Ohio. MD President Michael Durina said the sensor is positioned between the machine's nozzle tip and the nozzle, instead of the traditional in-mold location. It measures changes in melt temperature and pressure.
In his speech, Franz, a native of Germany who has lived in China for the last eight years, said it's important for Haitian to have manufacturing and technical centers around the world.
"American people, they know best what American people need," he said.
"Globalization is understanding cultures, understanding entrepreneurial environments, and addressing [them]. Otherwise it's a one-way street," he said.
Franz said sales to North America have increased in part because a lot of business has returned from China. Much of that work has gone to Mexico, he said.