Lake City, Pa.-based Sterling Technologies Inc. is adding two rotational molding machines and automated packaging equipment to meet increased demand from most of its customers.
Company officials hope to add employees, too, to handle the new work.
Founded in 1998, the privately held company produces a variety of industrial, agricultural and retail goods from fuel tanks and rain barrels to cases and medical components to subsea flotation collars.
Business is up across the board to just under $12 million, according to President Cary Quigley.
"Almost every one of our customers has projected growth for 2022. It's strange and it's a good problem — considerably better than the alternative," Quigley said in a phone interview, adding that annual sales increased about 25 percent from a year ago.
Sterling ranks in a tie for 45th among North American rotational molders based on annual sales, according to Plastics News' latest ranking.
To keep up with customers, Sterling bought two machines from Chapecó, Brazil-based Rotoline Industrial Equipment Ltda. A crew is installing a 3.1-meter, three-arm carousel and a 2.6-meter, four-arm carousel.
Sterling now has a fleet of nine carousel machines, which initially were developed to manufacture polyethylene products.
The company also invested in two 45-cubic-foot ribbon blenders for coloring materials. Quigley said the large-volume equipment should reduce stress on the mixing department by adding capacity.
The automated packaging system shrink-wraps products and will spare employees a challenging task from an ergonomic perspective, Quigley added.
Sterling has managed to retain a workforce of about 120 people. The company was deemed essential and never stopped operations after the pandemic was declared in March 2020, in part because it produced some medical items.
Then, other markets heated, particularly home and garden. Sterling now has work for 150 employees and is trying to build its team.
"We're about 30 people shy," Quigley said. "The current workforce has really rallied, and we've done some fun things like attendance bonuses and cookouts. We try to provide a fun, cool place to be and work. I feel like some of it has made an impact."
Still, the weight of the labor crunch looms large. Quigley said he and a colleague recently visited a customer in a large commercial park. On the three-minute drive through the complex, they counted 86 help-wanted signs from businesses clamoring for attention.
"Everybody needs people. Everyone is fighting over the same guy who wants to go to work," Quigley said.