Where do you suppose the world’s largest rotomolding company hails from? Would you believe Iceland? Privately owned Promens hf, based in Kopavogur, Iceland, owns 21 rotomolding plants in 10 countries in Europe, Asia, and North America. It employs 1600 people, processes more than 75 million lb of resin annually, and generates sales of $220 million/yr. All of that from rotomolding!
In North America, Promens’ nine rotomolding plants and 700 employees generate $100 million. Nobody is bigger in rotomolding on this continent except for two toy makers, Little Tykes and Step3.
Last year, Promens expanded beyond rotomolding into injection and blow molding, and thermoforming. It went on a buying spree that ballooned its holdings to 60 plants worldwide, with 5400 employees, and total sales exceeding $910 million.
Started out small
How did this plastics giant grow out of the volcanic soil of Iceland, where Promens generates just 2% of its revenues today? Back in 1984, Saeplast hf was founded in Dalvik, Iceland, to rotomold double-walled tubs for storing fish. The insulated tubs kept fish fresher longer and were adopted enthusiastically by the Icelandic fishing industry. It also made pallets, floats, buoys, fenders, and pontoons.
Fueled by success in domestic and export markets, Saeplast established operations in India, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. It also acquired rotomolding and EPS operations in Norway, Holland, Spain, and Canada.
Its growth really took off after Atorka Investment Group of Iceland purchased a majority interest in Saeplast in 2004. Soon after, the newly formed Promens Group bought its crown jewel—Bonar Plastics with 11 rotomolding plants in 10 countries in Europe and North America. The company produced parts for at least 15 industries and blue-chip customers such as DaimlerChrysler, Peugeot, Renault, Volvo, Caterpillar, and John Deere.
Last year, Promens bought Elkhart Plastics, a leading Midwest rotomolder with four plants generating $38.5 million/yr. This doubled Promens’ size on this continent. Its largest rotomolding plant worldwide is in Middlebury, Ind., housing 11 machines and producing about $25 million in sales.
In the last two years, Promens has built a rotomolding plant in China and expanded rotomolding facilities in Spain, India, Poland, and Denmark. The new Polish plant, still under construction, will be 106,500 sq ft.
Today, Promens companies produce nearly every kind of rotomolded product imaginable, except for one. “We don’t make toys,” says Jack Welter, president and CEO of Promens North America. Promens rotomolds products for construction, commercial vehicles, marine, water treatment, furniture, medical, and electronic markets.
The firm uses primarily PE and nylon. Most of its production is on carousel machines manufactured by Ferry Industries, Stow, Ohio. It builds some of its own tools, using sheet metal or aluminum plate for molding simple parts, cast-aluminum molds for more complicated products, and steel tooling for large parts.
Promens conducts its own R&D, Welter says, to keep on the leading edge of new developments, ranging from ovenless molding techniques to pressurized systems to fully automated charging, molding and demolding lines. It is also working with material suppliers to determine the best approach to meeting new fuel-tank permeation standards of the California Air Resources Board (CARB). “This is a big challenge rotomolders are faced with,” says Welter.