Nearly a full year after it began production, a Chinese plastics manufacturer is looking to capitalize on its strong growth.
Company officials from Fuling Plastics offered a media tour of its Upper Macungie Township plant Thursday and discussed how it plans to add products, boost its workforce and find more warehouse space.
In 2014, Fuling Plastics began construction on the renovations to its first manufacturing plant in America in the Lehigh Valley.
With the renovations complete in June 2015, the company began manufacturing operations, becoming one of the few Chinese manufacturing companies to arrive in the region to employ Americans.
The company renovated a vacant facility at 6690 Grant Way near Tilghman Street to mark the beginning of its manufacturing operations in the Valley – and nation.
The company makes plastic cutlery, cups, plates, straws and other tableware items.
While straws are the only products manufactured at its Lehigh County site, that’s expected to soon change.
The company wants to add equipment that would allow it to produce plastic forks, knives, cups and containers at its Lehigh Valley site. To achieve that goal, the company wants to add equipment that allows it to perform plastic injection molding to manufacture forks and knives and thermoforming to produce plastic cups and takeout containers, said Gilbert Lee, chief financial officer for Fuling Plastics.
At its Upper Macungie plant, the company use the process of plastic extrusion to create straws.
“We want to have all three kinds of product processes [in Upper Macungie] so whatever our customers need, we will be able to manufacture it,” Lee said.
Fuling Plastics has 44 employees in Upper Macungie; Lee said the company is planning to hire more.
“The straw business has been strong,” Lee said. “That’s why we have to hire a fourth shift and go 24/7, and after that we will bring in other machines to make food containers. Of course, by that time, we will bring in more workers … possibly over the next 90 days.”
The company also needs more warehouse space. Lee said Fuling Plastics is in the process of signing a lease for another warehouse a short distance away in the township. By early June, the company could be sharing space in this occupied warehouse to store extra products. The company also will consolidate its Lansdale distribution center into this new space.
On a tour through the Upper Macungie site, plant manager Kevin Monahan showed how workers use the equipment to shape the finished straws.
The site produces about 500 straws per minute, Monahan said, noting that millions of straws are produced in a day and the volume is increasing. Because of the extra volume, the company could be adding the fourth shift by the second week of June, he said.
The plant also receives shipments of forks and tableware that Fuling manufactures in China. Those products are bought here and sent out to customers, along with straws, he said.
“We comingle them here in our facility,” Monahan said.
The company also strives to reuse the waste it creates through the manufacturing process. It is working toward controlling the waste as much as it can to possibly recycle the materials into other products, such as the black straws commonly seen in the restaurant industry.
The company has three production operations in China, and while it has sales locations in the U.S., Fuling Plastics wanted to establish a manufacturing operation because of the increased volume of its products.
“Our primary focus is selling plastic ware to the fast food chain,” Lee said.
The company has captured a sizable share of the market, with big chains such as Burger King, Wendy’s and Subway as its customers, in addition to Wal-Mart, Target and many large restaurant and distribution companies it supplies, adding up to a customer base of about 300.
“We want to sell to more of the smaller ones, but the smaller ones are a different model,” Lee said. “We might be changing our approach in the future to get the smaller customers. We have to in order to grow, in order to achieve more high-volume growth.”
The manufacturer has been operating in China since 1992 and has made a nearly $20 million investment in its Lehigh Valley location.
At its Upper Macungie plant, Fuling Plastics is looking to invest $7 million to $8 million in equipment over the next few months. Lee said.
The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. was instrumental in helping the company fully establish its roots here, he added.
The central location and proximity and access to major highways proved to a big draw for the company’s decision to open a facility here.
Xin Hu, CEO of Fuling Plastics, developed Taizhou Fuling Plastics Co. Ltd. in China, starting with a small factory with 10 employees to an enterprise of more than 1,200 employees. Hu also owns many invention patents in the plastic tableware industry.
Hu’s wife, Guilan Jiang, is the president of Taizhou Fuling Plastics Co.
The company exported $60 million in 2013. All of its products are exported to the U.S., Australia and nations in Europe, South America and the Middle East.
The global company also has 34 patents for environmentally friendly materials and technology. In November, the company raised more than $20 million in an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange.