By the number of major capital investments they’ve made since buying Whitewater Township-based GT Plastics (GTP) four years ago, it’s clear the new owners – GTP Acquisition Co. – believe in the company’s future.
GTP’s 130-plus employees use injection molding processes to create a wide range of resin-based products for the auto and materials handling sectors. One of those big purchases was a 900-ton Engel molding press. Normally purchases like that – which included buying five new robots crucial to the process – would take considerable deliberation.
In this case, though, a decision had to be made quickly.
“That’s because it was in the early months of the pandemic,” said Dave Eberly, the lead contact between the investment group and the plant. “We knew the demand was there. We just needed the right equipment to accommodate large molds.”
Eberly says there were “lots” of questions whether in the future the company would be able to find an asset the size of the Engel press if supply chain and import issues arose.
“Luckily, we found the press at a distributor in the U.S. and paid cash,” he said.
Six months ago, in a less hurried fashion, the company invested $11.5 million to build a new electric vehicle (EV) parts manufacturing facility; the state has promised a $430,000 grant with the stipulation that ultimately the expansion will create 43 new jobs.
Construction is well underway. The next step is to install new molding machines, and then gradually add those jobs.
The irony is that at this point, EV components aren’t even one of the company’s main sources of revenue. GTP is betting that will change.
“The difference is that the EV market is the fastest-growing sector for us,” said Eberly. “In fact, it’s projected to account for 40% of our business by 2024.”
So how do companies decide to make these kinds of major capital expenditures?
In the case of the EV investment, Eberly and other decision-makers at GTP gathered all the information they could about current and projected demand, competitive factors, possible supply chain interruptions and workforce availability.
Several partners from GTP Acquisitions made the final decision. They relied on advice from local plant leaders and data provided by IHS Markit, a research firm that focuses on the automotive sector.
“The beautiful thing for us is that in every investment we’ve made, at least one of our partners is knowledgeable about the sector in which we’re investing,” Eberly said. “There are always pros and cons. But in this case, the logic stacked up. So there wasn’t much dissension.”
Despite all that planning, there was a surprise as construction progressed. Engineers thought an on-site well would be enough to provide adequate fire protection. That turned out not to be the case.
“Instead, we had to construct three large indoor tanks to provide protection for the new structure,” Eberly said. “We never anticipated the degree of complexity that would cause. But it worked out.”
What’s does it feel like to make these huge decisions?
“You have a range of emotions,” Eberly said. “You arm yourself with as many facts as possible, then pick a course of action. There’s a bit of nervousness, but also a sense of relief, excitement, and anticipation when you’ve finally made a decision.”
The Grand Traverse Area Manufacturing Council (GTAMC) sponsors this column. The mission of GTAMC is to support a sustainable and globally competitive manufacturing sector for a stronger economy. Learn more about membership options at makegreatthings.org.