ORLANDO, FLA. — Thai equipment manufacturer Labtech Engineering Co. has spent $5 million on an expansion that doubles its capacity, as it demonstrates what it says are the world's smallest chill and roll blown film lines.
The Bangkok-based company specializes in lab-scale and small-run production equipment, and executives said in an interview at NPE 2015 in Orlando that they're seeing increased demand from the United States and Chinese markets for a range of applications, from medical tubing to 3-D printing.
“The expansion was really necessary for us,” said Labtech President Peter Jurgensen. “We came back from the last K show swamped.”
At NPE, the company is showing two lines that it says are the world's smallest three-layer extrusion systems: one model that uses two units of conical extruders that is unique in that it can use regular-sized resin pellets, and a second model that's the world's smallest three-layer co-extruded chill roll line.
One growing market has been 3-D printing, with the company's small extrusion machines being used to manufacture narrow (1.75 millimeter and 3 mm diameter) continuous strands of plastic such as ABS or polylactic acid, which are fed into the 3-D printing machines, said John Halvorsen, a Union, N.J., representative for the company.
“All of the sudden in the last six to nine months that's become a hot topic,” he said.
Jurgensen offered several reasons for the expansion, which includes a new building next to its existing Bangkok headquarters, which gives the company total manufacturing space of 97,000 square feet, up from 53,800 square feet. In addition, it now has:
• Space for an application lab with a nine-layer extrusion system to allow customers to better test their formulations, Jurgensen said. That system has seven 25-mm extruders and two 30-mm extruders, with a die width of 120 mm.
• The ability to bring much more manufacturing in-house with additional milling and lathe machines. Previously, it outsourced about 50 percent of its component manufacturing but now it handles close to 100 percent in-house, allowing it to better control costs and scheduling.
Jurgensen said China, its largest market, remains strong, even with the slowing rate of growth there. Customers still want to do product development, and he claimed that the Labtech equipment is about half the cost of similar laboratory-scale machines from North America or Western Europe.
The U.S. market is also solid now, he said, but the European market is generally sluggish, even if pockets of business are OK.
On the product development front, the two micro-extruders that the company says are the world's smallest were a continuation of a tradition at Labtech, where the staff make a small machine as a gift for Jurgensen during the New Year celebrations.
The company exhibited an earlier version of those micro-extruders at NPE 2012, and is bringing them back and trying to continue development because it finds interest from schools, he said.
Labtech's workforce went from 180 employees to 260 after the expansion.