CRANSTON, R.I.—It's all about one-stop shopping for Mearthane Products Corp., as the expanding developer and manufacturer of polyurethane and metal components has purchased Polyurethane Molding Industries, Mearthane's fifth acquisition in the last three years.
Terms of the transaction, made public Feb. 26, were not disclosed.
"Our longer-term vision is to be the preferred partner for precision polyurethane applications," said Mearthane President Pete Kaczmarek. "This means having a broad array of technologies and capabilities under one name."
PMI, of Woonsocket, R.I., is a provider of reaction injection molding and custom part finishing services, making 3D printer covers, ATM bezels, camera holsters, and medical instrument front covers and side panels, among other products, according to PMI.
PMI President Len Strapponi will remain with Mearthane as director of business operations and process development, and PMI's Brian Johnson will take over as operations manager of the Woonsocket location.
"While PMI has always offered high-quality painting and labeling on our RIM parts for customers, combining with Mearthane will allow us to expand that into a more complete product offering," Strapponi said. "A lot of our customers' projects end up as complex assemblies, including a RIM urethane enclosure, cast urethane parts, machined components and sheet metal elements, which are then finish-painted. We will now be able to offer the whole package in many cases."
With 40,000 square feet at its Woonsocket facility, PMI brings 25 employees to Mearthane's work force, giving Mearthane 100 employees total (with 75 employees at Mearthane's 35,000-sq.-ft. Cranston location).
Kaczmarek said there were some early restructuring and position changes with the acquisition, but all 25 PMI employees are expected to be retained, he said.
Strapponi said his role will change slightly in that he will work directly with customers, attempting to improve lead time and prototype offerings.
"I'll be responsible for improving our speed in getting prototypes and technical information to our customers. This will help them get their products to market faster," he said.
The acquisition represents about a 20 percent increase in total annual sales revenue for Mearthane, Kaczmarek said.
Specifically, PMI gives Mearthane an immediate presence in the medical device industry, as PMI is adept at rigid RIM and custom part finishing services, Kaczmarek said.
Rigid RIM allows Mearthane to use thermosetting urethanes in a process that is similar to injection molding, which requires a thermoplastic, Kaczmarek said.
"We are able to get a much higher level of physical properties with RIM than in thermoplastic materials, achieving the economies of scale," he said.
Rigid RIM vs. elastomer RIM
RIM's "sweet spot," according to Kaczmarek, is in structural component enclosures, where the end use is both structural and cosmetic. As such, RIM can be used for moderate volumes—the high hundreds or low thousands of units.
"RIM locks in at a slightly smaller max volume, but it offers great physical properties and a great cosmetic appearance," Kaczmarek said. "One of the great things about RIM products is they are paintable, and PMI has a very, very good painting and finishing department.
"We can color match, texture match, add coatings, stencils or print as customers may need. For applications that are very visible, we can leverage these capabilities."
There are two basic families of RIM materials, he said.
Creative Urethanes Inc. of Virginia, another of Mearthane's acquisitions within the last several years, uses RIM processes, but based on elastomeric thermoset urethanes. These products are more rubber-like in character and can be found in flexible, impact-resistant applications, such as wheelchair seats or other high-end cushion devices, Kaczmarek said.
Conversely, PMI offers rigid or structural RIM, a process that uses structural urethane foam that ultimately has the feel of a metal enclosure, with great impact and dent resistance and lighter weight per square inch than a solid material or metal, Kaczmarek said.
And it is just this sort of molding process that is useful in medical devices that need to be cosmetically attractive, with paint or a coating; and in military and defense applications, such as electronics or avionics, where sensitive equipment needs to be enclosed in a case, Kaczmarek said.
In addition, rigid RIM allows for excellent environmental and chemical resistance, he said.
"One of the most attractive things about this acquisition is that it immediately boosts our presence in medical devices, which many people in the industry believe is a nice area of long-term growth and innovation," Kaczmarek said.
The company now offers both types of RIM casting as well as cast molding, the latter of which Mearthane employs at its Cranston facility, Kaczmarek said.
"Typically a customer will come to us with all kinds of applications, and the first thing to determine is if thermoset polyurethane is right for them," he said. "We have multiple processes and a lot of approaches and capabilities to give them what they need. If they do not need a thermoset polyurethane, we can help them find another solution."
Mearthane's top official said that branding will remain the same, as PMI will retain its labeling for the sake of consistency and customer recognition.
"Our typical approach is to make sure that those who know PMI can find them," Kaczmarek said. "We want to retain brand visibility as long as it is worthwhile.
"But we also want to make clear that PMI is now part of a larger, more capable organization, and keep those two things balanced."
Strapponi said customer reaction has been positive.
"They are excited that we are able to offer more services, such as machining, sheet metal and cast urethanes. This will help our customers reduce their vendor base on many projects," he said.
Acquisitions make for bright future
Looking forward, Kaczmarek said Mearthane will continue to try to push polyurethane materials into market sectors where they did not previously exist.
"I think one of the things we are seeing, as we make our capabilities more well known and educate the marketplace, is that applications that are not using polyurethane either should be or could be," he said. "We are looking at where it could have better properties for the product."
He also said that RIM processes can carry somewhat of a stigma in their use with prototyping, due to often expensive, upfront tooling costs.
"We are developing early stage prototyping using RIM and cast formulations that we do in Cranston," he said. "We are bullish on the acquisition and the future. The market is growing, and we are demonstrating the ability to convert other materials."
Kaczmarek said Mearthane continues to maintain and expand its applications in defense, food packaging, paper and media handling, fitness and recreation, medical devices and industrial, according to company.
The firm acquired Morris & Broms L.L.C., a provider of precision stamping and sheet metal fabrication services based in Cranston, in April 2019.
Prior to that, Mearthane acquired Creative Urethanes in October 2018; Rhode Island Water Jet L.L.C., a provider of precision computer numerical control components, of Newport, R.I., in May 2018; and Elmco Tool Inc., of Bristol, R.I., in September 2017.
Mearthane will continue to look at other acquisitions, but with the understanding that such purchases can take time to integrate.
"We will continue to look," Kaczmarek said. "That said, it takes a while to integrate a business acquisition so we will be working on that. PMI brings a new customer base to whom we can now offer a wider range of customized polyurethane solutions."
Strapponi added that PMI had been constrained in how fast it could move and how much the company could invest in new products and engineering.
"As part of Mearthane, we can realize these goals more quickly together," Strapponi said. "It's truly a win for PMI, a win for Mearthane and a win for our customers."