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Ohio injection molder goes big for growth

Stow, Ohio-based Esterle Mold & Machine Co. might not be a heavyweight in terms of name recognition, but the family business is making some of the region's largest — and heaviest — plastic components.

Executive Vice President Kathleen Sawyer, a second-generation owner, said Esterle is putting the final touches on a 30,000-square-foot expansion at its Stow plastics facility. The new space, according to Sawyer, will boost the company's large tonnage capabilities with a 2,600-ton injection molding machine and a 40-ton overhead crane. Esterle's existing presses range from 100 tons to 1,760 tons, and its largest crane had a 15-ton capacity.

"In northeast Ohio, there are a lot of molders that are small tonnage, like a 90-ton press up to 500, where Esterle goes from a 100-ton press up to now a 2,600-ton press," said Sawyer, who currently runs the company alongside her brother, Richard Esterle, with a third generation coming online. "We are able to injection mold larger parts, and that is really what sets us apart."

Founders Adam and Carol Esterle started the company in 1976 as a Kent, Ohio, designer and maker of pipe-fitting molds. The couple bought a parcel off Commerce Drive in Stow in 1978 and built a headquarters where they diversified into specialized machining, mold building/repair, extrusion tooling and forged tooling, and eventually injection molding.

Esterle's injection molding facility, constructed next to its main building in the 1990s, is the site of two recent expansions. In 2015, a 16,000-square-foot addition to the 25,000-square-foot plant included 5-foot-higher ceilings to accommodate a 15-ton crane, Sawyer said. Its latest 30,000-foot addition required demolition of a storage building between the two production sites and brought the company's Commerce Drive sprawl to 190,000 square feet over five structures, including the 70,000-square-foot former Steel Products facility it bought two years ago to use as a warehouse.

"The joke in the neighborhood is that we should rename the street," Sawyer said.

Along with large tonnage capabilities, Esterle's tooling heritage is a differentiator, Sawyer said. If a job goes down, most molders would have to ship the mold out for repairs.

"We are right next door to our mold shop," she said. "Any time of day we can pull that tool out, get it over to our mold shop, repair it and get it right back into production. The customer does not have to incur the cost of transporting the mold or extended down time. ... We are a different kind of supplier."

In addition to designing and engineering molds and contract injection molding for customers, Esterle has its own line of plastics under the brand name Tuf. That line includes the Tuf Tray used as a proofing board in baking, the Tuf Tank used in curing rubber and the Tuf Seat, a one-piece molded stadium seat that can be bolted directly to existing bleacher systems. While Esterle sold the first Tuf Seats right down the street at Stow-Munroe Falls High School, today they can be found all over the world, from an amphitheater in the Dominican Republic to laundromats in Hawaii and at hundreds of colleges, churches and theaters in between.

Sawyer credits much of Esterle's recent growth to the booming injection molding market. A February 2018 report by San Francisco-based Grand View Research Inc. cited increasing demand for plastic components across various end-use industries, including packaging, automotive, home appliances and medical devices as the major driver of expansion in plastics molding — a $283 billion global market expected to reach nearly $500 billion by 2025.

For Esterle's part, the company has more than doubled its employee base in the past two to three years, with about 110 employees today. Sales, Sawyer estimated, have grown by roughly 20 percent in the same time frame. The closely held business does not disclose sales figures.

"Things are just kicking in now," she said. "Once we are fully operational with the expansion and with the way the economy is going, I think we will see a growth in sales figures similar to the growth we've seen in employment."

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» Publication Date: 07/01/2019

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