Greenville, S.C.-based injection molder Parkway Products LLC acquired Littlestar Plastics Inc. in Machesney Park, Ill., to expand its technical capabilities and footprint in the aerospace industry.
Founded in 1991, Littlestar manufactures large technical components from high-performance polymers, such as polyetheretherketone and polyamide-imides, for aerospace and other applications. Littlestar says its parts are in most airplanes recently built in the Western Hemisphere and its sales have grown, even in recessionary years.
The company did not provide details but said its annual sales fall between $10 million-$20 million.
Founded in 1946, Parkway offers several manufacturing processes to mostly the industrial, electrical distribution and automotive markets, where about two-thirds to three-fourths of business is done, but also the health care, lawn and garden, and aerospace and defense markets.
The acquiring company previously had a division called Parkway Aerospace and Defense, and about half its sales were in those markets until a laminated composites business unit was divested in 2013.
The Parkway name has been in aerospace since the 1970s and is ready to take off again, Parkway CEO Al Ridilla said in a phone interview.
"We've always had a foothold in aerospace. We want to continue to grow and penetrate it," he said. "We understand the protocols and the skills. We have two other plants that are AS9100 certified and have all the whistles and bells for aerospace so that marriage is very powerful we think."
The Littlestar acquisition strengthens Parkway's high-volume production and high-performance material processing capabilities. Littlestar runs 13 injection presses with clamping forces ranging from 40-360 tons, operates 17 computer numerically controlled machining centers, and offers assembly, fabrication and ultrasonic welding.
Ridilla described Littlestar as an exceptional operation with specialized capabilities.
"Littlestar brings us what we call the tip of the spear in terms of rapid response and quick prototyping as well as a product line we don't have, which is machine plastic solutions, and a lot of our customers have a broad appetite for that," Ridilla said.
The acquisition also gives Parkway operating assets in the Upper Midwest in addition to its existing production sites in South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Colorado and Mexico.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The combination keeps the Littlestar leadership team in place at the Machesney Park facility.
"If you look at our business, eight of our plants have been acquired," Ridilla said. "We've learned every time we've done an acquisition. The more you do them, the more you learn it's all about the people — the people that are going to work for you and the people that are going to be your customers."
The deal gives Littlestar access to Parkway's sales force and production technologies. Littlestar becomes Parkway's 10th facility: nine in the United States and one in Mexico. Ridilla said it will align closely with a magnesium thixomolding operation in Loveland, Colo., and a molding operation in Atlanta.
Littlestar CEO and founder Philip Preston is joining Parkway to help direct aerospace development and technology integration. He started his company with a credit card check and a machine loaned for six months so he could make enough money to put a down payment on it. Littlestar grew through the word of mouth of engineers for some 28 years and now does about half of its sales in aerospace and half in a mix of the medical and food service markets, Preston said in a phone interview.
"The nice thing about having comprehensive machining is you can do a lot of things with a molded part that most companies can't. You can cover for a lot of design requirements," Preston said. "Someone once told us we have a niche that's an inch wide and a mile deep. It really forms the boundary between machined plastic and molded and high-end materials and your commodity grades. We're at the interface of all those technologies."
Preston said he had been fielding sales offers monthly until Parkway came along. The deal took longer than the typical 75 to 90-day timeline to complete but he said, "We got it right."
A Parkway employee who took a job with Littlestar "saw a lot of good reasons to combine these businesses," Ridilla said, and officials of both companies agreed.
"It's a great fit. We're a technical business, and they have individuals that like complex materials, tolerances and tools. They're wired the same as we are," Ridilla said.
All Littlestar employees are now Parkway employees. The combined companies aren't saying how many people work for Parkway now, but Ridilla said it was about 750 before the deal.