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Reifenhäuser ramps up U.S. operations, moves headquarters

In 2012, Ulrich Reifenhäuser said his company's strategy could be summed up in one word—China—and in 2013, three words suffice: the United States.

In 2012, Ulrich Reifenhäuser said his company's strategy could be summed up in one word—China—and in 2013, three words suffice: the United States. Reifenhäuser, who runs the extrusion technology company of the same name with his brother, Bernd, told PlasticsToday that the December 2012 purchase of Wichita, KS-based screw and barrel maker, Westland, was the first step in an overall strategy to renew focus on the North American market.

"When we look at the U.S. economy, especially plastics and the chances for new investments in plastics machinery, extrusion machines," Reifenhäuser said, "we see a fair amount of investment projects coming up. The U.S. market has tremendous potential, potential in growth. Lots of extruders are running and lots of spares are needed and old machines have to be renewed so the chances in this market are very, very big."

To seize chose chances, the company is undertaking a two-stage expansion of the Wichita site, boosting capacity by 20% and then 30% and making the it Reifenhäuser's new U.S. headquarters, replacing the Danvers, MA site. Current employment of 50 in Wichita will be boosted as well, with the facility to also store spare parts to service existing lines. Steve DeSpain, who has been named the new president of U.S. operations, estimated that the company has around 1400 systems installed in the U.S. The company is hoping to be completely moved into Wichita in September.

Reifenhäuser also discussed improvements to service offerings, including online anytime parts ordering and 24-hour live technical support. The technical support "follows the sun," according to Reifenhäuser, with technicians in Chile, Germany, and Manila on call.

New capacity, machine replacement as drivers
Reifenhäuser said his company is coming off its best year in a decade, with DeSpain noting that majority of that growth was in blown film, with a mix of new capacity, and machine replacement.

"At least 50% of machines have been for new capacity," DeSpain said, "but we're also seeing big order income from customers that are retiring older equipment, taking one or two older machines and replacing them with one more efficient line."

Reifenhäuser said the investments reflect the company's success and belief in the North American market.

"We absolutely can state that we are the largest extrusion manufacturer in the world,"  Reifenhäuser said. "To be the largest is good, but besides that, this a 102-yr-old family company that is doing fairly well. We don't rely on any banks; it's a solid business, and we have a good strategy."

DeSpain, now president, previously served as VP and general manager, and has been with Reifenhauser since 2005. In addition, other personnel announcements coinciding with the shift include the naming of Frank Ohidy as service manager. He has been with Reifenhauser since 2006. Finally, James Snell joined the company as project manager for North America. Snell has more than 30 years of experience in the plastics extrusion industry, starting his career with the Royal Group as a designer on pipe and profile machines. He has also worked for companies such as Film Master, Davis-Standard and Black Clawson.

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