By Michael Lauzon
MORRISON, Tennessee.-ThermoFlex L.L.C. is growing to meet demand for returnable auto parts packaging.
"Demand is driving our capacity to its limitations," said Greg Hancock, vice president and general manager of the company, which includes polyurethane and thermoplastic elastomer inserts in its products.
"We need equipment for more capacity, bigger part size and cost effectiveness," Hancock said from ThermoFlex's Morrison operation.
The firm's expansion includes a three-station, rotary thermoformer supplied by Monark Equipment Technologies in Auburn, Mich. The machine, when installed this month, will allow ThermoFlex to increase part size to 6 feet by 10 feet and improve energy efficiency.
ThermoFlex's product line includes trays, dunnage, material-handling components and other returnable packaging for automotive original equipment manufacturers and their suppliers. The main body of the packaging is made of thermoformed or vacuum formed commodity resins like polyethylene, ABS and polypropylene.
Much of the packaging contains injection moulded or reaction injection moulded urethane or TPE inserts to help hold delicate parts such as transmission components in place during transportation.
To boost insert production at its Morrison plant, ThermoFlex is adding several injection moulding presses with clamping forces of 150-700 tons. Many of the presses will be transferred from sister company PolyFlex Products L.L.C. of Farmington Hills, Mich.
Hancock and PolyFlex CEO Mark Kirchmer declined to provide the cost of the ThermoFlex expansion.
"The OEM gives us a part, and we design, make and supply packaging for it," Hancock said.
Besides automotive, ThermoFlex is branching into other markets such as trucks, buses and recreational vehicles. It already is diversified in urethane-coated rollers and parts for conveyors, tool-protection holders for metalworking, a range of assembly tools, bumpers, enclosures, grippers, covers, part protectors, wipers and seals.
Hancock said the Morrison operation includes in-line thermoforming of purchased sheet. Eventually it plans to add cut sheet lines to the mix.
ThermoFlex expects to add 10-15 employees, more than doubling its staff, after the expansion.
ThermoFlex and PolyFlex share some common ownership and are management-owned.
PolyFlex was established in 2003 with fewer than 10 employees, recalled Kirchmer. By 2012 it had grown to 49 full-time and 28 part-time positions.
PolyFlex moved from Livonia, Mich., to Farmington Hills in early 2012 to consolidate manufacturing from two plants and to share administration and engineering with ThermoFlex. The consolidation involved a small urethane moulder PolyFlex acquired in 2007.
PolyFlex focuses on returnable packaging more so than ThermoFlex. It started in the appliance sector and has grown into automotive.
The company runs eight injection presses in Farmington Hills, with clamping forces of 200-1,000 tons. It exports globally.
PolyFlex moulds urethane, plastics and rubbers and also produces foamed urethane.