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A show of strength in Strongsville

Van Dorn Demag has long boasted one of the biggest installed machine bases in North America, an understandable claim given that its very first molding machines came off the production line at the old E. 79th St. plant in Cleveland in 1945. But perhaps just as impressive, is its installed people base.

That is folks who in some way, shape, or form are tied to the commercial descendants of the Cleveland Wrought Iron Fence Co. founded in 1872 by Jas. H. Van Dorn. Forget six degrees of Kevin Bacon, next time you're at a plastics show try playing 3 degrees of Van Dorn Demag.

That installed people base noted with some pride the grand re-opening of the Strongsville, OH plant celebrated on April 10. Just six years earlier, in June 2007, the then Demag Plastics Group announced that it would cease the manufacture of machines in Strongsville, ending seven decades of press fabrication in Ohio. From that low, and the calamitous years that followed, the company re-opened its doors as a reinvented unit of Sumitomo (SHI) Demag, even bringing back the Van Dorn Demag name.

As I spoke with COO John F. Martich III in his office during the April 10 event, he noted with pride that this June, only six years after machine production ended, he would mark his 27th year in the Strongsville facility. He was more proud, however, of the fact that he helped steer the unit through the Great Recession without any layoffs, and since then has been on a hiring spree, adding 17.

A lot of that growth in has been in the after sales business; what better way to exploit the largest installed machine base in the industry? During those bad years, the company actually leased portions of its sprawling Strongsville site, finding revenue, if not an internal use, for the former machine production areas.

Today 234,000-sq-ft have been turned over to its machine rebuild business, launched officially at NPE2012. Steven Ross, aftersales service representative, took myself and other members of the trade press, on a tour of the rebuild area, walking us past Van Dorn machines from the 1940s and 1950s that show the company's distant heritage to machines from the '90s that after a comprehensive rebuild could run for another 20 years, according to Ross.

Ross said that seven employees work full time on rebuilds, with some of them back at Van Dorn after leaving in the lean years. Most poetically, Ross noted that they could potentially rebuild a machine that they had built brand new two decades earlier. Talk about coming full circle.

Over lunch, attendees of the event with direct and indirect ties to Van Dorn joked about how rough the neighborhood around the old 79th St. plant became and swapped stories about the good old days. They also seemed to share in the pride of a renewed Van Dorn Demag and resurgent U.S. plastics industry.

Van Dorn Demag is not alone—a lot of injection molding machine suppliers hosted open houses in April, and I'll be writing more about them as well. You have an open house when you have something to show off, or other causes to brag, and the fact that so many companies are opening their doors after so many people wrote them, and their industry, off just a few years ago, bodes well for plastics molding in the U.S. Back in January, I wondered if 2013 would mark a 'morning in America's plastics industry', and as the year rolls on and the open house invitations keep coming in, I begin to think it is.

Van Dorn Demag, April 10, 2013 Open House

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