ORLANDO, Fla.—Advanced Flexible Composites Inc. is expanding its operation by adding a plant, thanks primarily to the success of a line of silicone-coated belts it produces for the restaurant industry.
The privately held, family-owned company acquired a building of about 25,000 square feet across from its 75,000-sq.-ft. headquarters and factory in Lake in the Hills, Ill., to handle its growing business with the quick-service restaurant market, according to President and CEO Bill Lewis.
He said the plant, which AFC totally renovated, will produce the silicone belts and a number of other products. The company also upgraded parts of its main production site.
An engineering center and test kitchen, used for product development for the food industry, is housed at the new location, which opened in the last week in September, along with the manufacturing operation. Equipment used to make the silicone-coated belts was moved over in the last few weeks, said Mike Baker, director of marketing and QSR business manager.
Space at AFC's main plant previously occupied by the quick-service restaurant operation is being taken over by the firm's growing pressure-sensitive tape and industrial belting businesses, the two executives said.
Lewis and Baker discussed the new plant and other company developments at NIBA—The Belting Association annual convention, held Sept. 12-15 in Orlando.
The two officials said AFC's fast-food belting business has grown at a relatively rapid pace during the last few years. Most recently, Lewis said, the company became an approved vendor for McDonald's restaurant chain and it is working with Wendy's restaurant group on a special project, which has prompted AFC to purchase additional machinery that soon will be installed at the new facility.
AFC also will add equipment in the test kitchen to be used for development of products.
“We've been in the quick service food business now for about 10 years,” Baker said. “We started out with Burger King, and we've grown from there. The silicone belt was the driving force for us into the fast food industry.
“Our QSR business has grown by double digits every year for the last nine years and is 35 percent of AFC's overall business. We do anticipate it will grow as part of our new expansion. We expect our international business to expand as the QSR franchises move into Europe, Asia and South America.”
The company has come out with new DuraChef silicone belts for high-speed toasters with a patent pending design. The belts last longer in operation and reduce operators' overall costs, which should spur further growth, according to Baker.
While the silicone belt has gained ground in the fast-food restaurant business, it's not the only product that has been successful, Baker said.
The company, founded in 1988, has four key markets it serves within the industry: high speed toasters, where silicone belts are popular; rapid cooking ovens, for which AFC produces fabricated baskets, Teflon baskets and Teflon trays; clam shell grills, which use the firm's Teflon sheets; and the pan liner sector, where AFC's PTFE sheets are used in the baking industry.
Growing work force
AFC has added about 12 employees this year—bringing its work force up to 190—to help handle the firm's increased work load, Lewis said. It also has added a third shift on its industrial product side and is using two shifts at the quick service restaurant plant.
“Growth drove this expansion, along with the need to create additional manufacturing space,” he said.
In addition to DuraChef products, the company sells its goods through distributors and original equipment manufacturers under the trade names DuraFab, DuraFlow, DuraSil, DuraStick and DuraLam. It also makes an extensive line of pressure-sensitive tapes for use in diverse applications.
The company's other operations are also growing, the two executives said. A joint venture the firm has with Whitford Worldwide in England, called Whitford Flexible Composites, has expanded to remain on top of growth. The three-year-old business produces silicone- and PTFE-coated fabrics, tapes and conveyor belts and supplies them throughout Europe.
Another joint venture in Mexico, this one with conveyor belt and industrial product maker Bolbrugge Hermanos S.A. de C.V., produces silicone- and PTFE-coated belts, tapes and fabrics marketed in South America. AFC-BH S. de R.L. de C.V. has been operating out of Mexico City for eight years. It has also experienced significant growth, Baker said.
The same holds true for AFC's specialty belting facility in Adams, Mass., he said, which is steadily adding to its base.