The growth spurt at Latex International L.L.C. doesn't look like it's going to end any time soon.
The rubber latex bedding and pillow manufacturer is going through another major expansion that includes two new plants and new machinery that will carry it into 2006 and probably beyond. Its most recent moves include:
* opening a 45,000-sq.-ft. plant in Atlanta that will help the Shelton, Conn.-based company handle increasing orders;
* unveiling a 45,000-sq.-ft. facility in Shelton during the first week in August. The firm will transfer fabricating at its 208,000-sq.-ft. site in the city to the new facility, allowing room for additional manufacturing;
* installing a fifth production cell, with the start-up expected in October, that will contain eight molding presses and give the firm the capability of making an entire queen-sized mattress at one time;
* planning a sixth cell with another eight universal presses;
* adding a continuous molded production line. Starting up in January, it is nicknamed Big Foot-because it's 200 feet long, 15 feet wide and 10 feet high-and will produce foamed rubber latex from a half-inch to two inches thick that will be sold in rolls and principally used for mattress toppers; and
* boosting compounding, vulcanization and drying, refrigeration and steam capacity to support the internal expansion.
The firm also has hired 20 sales people and personnel in other departments, including production, although Frank J. Beafore, Latex International vice president of operations and technology, said he's judicious about adding manufacturing employees because he's a strong proponent of lean technology.
The changes came because demand is high for latex foam mattresses, Beafore said at the International Latex Conference, held July 26-27 in Charlotte, N.C.
``Although they've (latex mattresses and toppers) been around for 50 years, they are now really taking off as a domestic product,'' Beafore said. ``In Europe, about 33 percent of all sleep surfaces are latex. Here in the U.S., it's grown from about 2 percent to 5 percent of the market. We expect it could possibly reach 30 percent of the market here as well.''
Another factor in Latex International's growth is that baby boomers and generation X buyers want to sleep more comfortably and are more discerning in their selection of sleep surfaces, he said.
Latex International's output of core products has doubled in the last 18 months, Beafore said.
As a result, it's become a 24/7 production operation.
The Shelton plant was built-following a 2001 fire that virtually destroyed the majority of its 284,000-sq.-ft. plant in Ansonia, Conn.-with four foam production cells, each containing 12 molding machines, and an empty fifth cell in anticipation of growth.
The two new cells will each feature only eight machines because the equipment is larger.
The company doesn't have its own brand of bedding products but serves as an original equipment manufacturer for bedding companies.
It got out of the cosmetic applicator business last year to concentrate on its core units.
Beafore is reserving the space once occupied by the cosmetic line for a super vulcanizer he hopes to add in the not-too-distant future.