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cm 1Century Mold Co. Inc. is expanding in Tennessee and Mexico to keep up with its customers. The Rochester, N.Y., firm, which is heavily involved in automotive injection molding, is seeing growth in its key market and in relatively new business areas, CEO and President Ron Ricotta said in a telephone interview. "We're seeing increased activity in the automotive market in the Southeast," Ricotta said.

To meet rising demand, Century has announced a $4.2 million expansion of its Shelbyville, Tenn., molding plant. In the first phase of the expansion, Century will add four new presses to Shelbyville's current lineup of 30 injection molding machines, Ricotta said. As Shelbyville expands, the site will add 58 jobs, he noted.

"The automotive industry in Tennessee is steadily growing and thriving," said Bill Hagerty, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, in a news release.
"Some non-automotive business is also increasing," Ricotta added. Two growing markets are electrical and gas-meter components, sectors recently cracked by Century Mold.

Growing automotive activity also is spurring the firm to establish a second plant in central Mexico, in Querétaro, a hotbed for automotive, Century said. "Querétaro improves the size of our North American footprint to serve automotive," Ricotta said from his Rochester office.

Century Mold is mainly a Tier 2 supplier, Ricotta said. Automotive original equipment manufacturers and their Tier 1 suppliers continue to locate in Mexico, and Century is following them.

The company plans to invest more than $15 million in Querétaro during the next 36 months. It is building a 100,000-square-foot facility to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2012. Production is slated to begin next January. Eventually the new plant will house 40 injection presses with 390-2,200 tons of clamping force. Two-shot machines will be among the presses to be installed by 2016. Sales from the Querétaro business are projected to reach $40 million annually, Ricotta estimated.

Ricotta said Century Mold's current Mexican plant in Chihuahua will remain open when Querétaro is on line. The Chihuahua operation is growing and its capacity is needed for Mexico's markets.

Century Mold has weathered the up and down of the automotive business better than many injection molding companies. "We are heavily involved in engineering," Ricotta said. That means the firm has been able to take on additional responsibilities as its customers cut back on staff. The molder specializes in technically difficult, functional parts and assemblies. "We are also financially sound and can invest in capital projects," Ricotta added.

He said sales in 2011 at $100 million will swell to $110 million in 2012 and increase further to $125 million in 2013. Beyond these projections, the firm also is interested in acquisitions and starting new plants.

Century Mold has two committed customers for Querétaro and others are close to making commitments, Ricotta said.

About 75 percent of Century Mold's sales are automotive-related. Ricotta claims that three-quarters of the vehicles assembled in North America have Century Mold-made parts.

The company's other important markets include defense, heavy truck, furniture and alternative energy. Its production units are in Rochester, Shelbyville, Chihuahua, and Middletown, Ohio, with a sales and technical center in Wixom, Mich. The company said it mainly molds polypropylene, acetal and nylon.

By Michael Lauzon

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