SO.F.TER. announced today the production startup of its new plant in Lebanon, TN. The new site is the company's third production facility in the Americas - the two others are located in Mexico and Brazil - and the first in North America. At the production facility, which has an initial annual capacity of 50 million pounds (23,000 metric tons) engineering plastics are currently being produced, but in 2015, the second stage of this long-term project will be implemented, doubling manufacturing capacity and adding TPE production. Ultimately, the production site will cover 250,000 square feet (23,000 square meters) and boast a total capacity of 200 million pounds (90,000 tons).
The new facilities are yet another step in SO.F.TER's triumph over the market conditions of the past six years. Despite an economy that seems stuck in the doldrums, the privately held compounder has grown into one of the largest independent compounders in the world, tripling its turnover since 2008. Some 50% of this growth is due to acquisitions; the other 50% is pure organic growth.
"We are growing everywhere," said Riccardo Meucci, global commercial director of SO.F.TER. Group, when I visited the group's headquarters in Forli (Italy) in August of this year. "But we expect the biggest growth in the Americas. That's why we're investing there."
The secret behind SO.F.TER.'s success was partly revealed during a tour of the engineering plastics plant there. Spanking clean, the fully automated factory was almost devoid of workers. All raw material delivered to the plant are immediately given a barcode label for perfect traceability; the forklift trucks are all equipped with scanners so that the few workers in the factory know exactly what material is used where. The set-up was impressive, from the mixing silos to the cyclone separators, the underwater pelletizers to the automatic packing system. "We are the benchmark in the industry," my guide told me. "Everything is standardized and automatic. And not just here, the same high technical standards apply in SO.F.TER's plants throughout the world."
This, combined with an extremely broad product portfolio, the continuous drive for innovation, the engineering capabilities and a global presence, gives SO.F.TER a strong competitive advantage over the other players.
Thus the new Lebanon plant has - naturally - been built to the same rigorous level of operational and technical quality as the rest of SO.F.TER.'s facilities. The U.S. site will also provide its customers with a full range of engineering services including Moldflow 3D Modeling, FEM (Finite Element Modeling) and ANSYS Stress Analysis, along with processing support at the customer's plant sites.
"SO.F.TER.'s commercial strategy has always favored a 'tailor-made' approach aimed at providing each customer with flexible and customized solutions. This formula is the basis for success of the company that now exports to 60 countries," said Riccardo Meucci.
Since its founding in 1980, the company has always had a strong focus on product development and commitment to meeting the strategic needs of its customers. This has led to a comprehensive product portfolio, which includes 18 basic resins, ranging from engineering plastics to thermoplastic elastomers and thermoplastic vulcanizates.
"The breadth of SO.F.TER.'s product line, consistent private ownership and strategic focus on our customer's needs differentiate us from many of our competitors," said Keith Rodden, president SO.F.TER. USA, when announcing the production start-up.
"We offer the strength and capabilities of the largest companies in our industry but with the focus and customer service typical of a local supplier."