IPP&T Magazine Online

Composite manufacturer looks back on 50 years

September 3, 2020   Don Horne




One of the leading composite manufacturers in North America, Mar-Bal, Inc. is celebrating its 50th year.

From its inception in 1970 as a thermoset composite molder on Scranton Road in Cleveland, Ohio’s flats region, the company has provided customers with comprehensive thermoset composite solutions – including part design, specialized material formulations, decorating, assembly, and customized automation.

As for the next 10 years of Mar-Bal’s growth, Scott Balogh, president and CEO said, “more family will be involved, and the next generation of leaders will be groomed on all levels to continue to grow the company. We will increase the materials/molding/fabricating businesses, and lead with innovation and technology. Ultimately, we will lead with a strong value proposition of better price points, proprietary products, and performance.”

Family driven via a “Total Value Commitment” philosophy, Mar-Bal, Inc. currently operates manufacturing facilities in Ohio, Virginia and Missouri, as well as an overseas facility in Taizhou, China and Asia Sales Office located in Shanghai. The company serves the appliance, electrical, industrial, food service, transportation, and construction industries – with approximately $70 million in annual sales and 450 employees.

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How it all began

In 1970, Imre (Jim) Balogh, a tooling engineer for The Glastic Corporation, and Frank Martinek, a paint chemist for Sherwin Williams, founded the company with $10,000 and a philosophy of outstanding customer service no matter the size of the company. Jim’s tooling and manufacturing expertise helped build a strong regional reputation as a thermoset composite molding company, which led to their expansion to West 3rd street in the Cleveland flats.

Key early Cleveland-based customers were Erico Products, Service Machine, Namco, Adalet PLM, Square D, and Lincoln Electric, as well as McGraw-Edison (Zanesville, Ohio). They focused on the electrical equipment industry utilizing composite materials in many different applications. During this period Jim Balogh designed and built the “UL-Listed Standoff Insulators” product line, Mar-Bal sold insulators to the electrical equipment manufacturers –which are still sold today.

A paradigm shift in the 80s

The 1980s were marked by a paradigm shift, as Jim Balogh sold the pultrusion business in 1981 to facilitate the expansion of the injection molding operation, and to develop a line of thermoset polyester bulk molding compounds–now referred to as composites. Art Busler was instrumental in Mar-Bal entering the materials compounding and “fiberglass” laminates business.

Expanding the use and application of its own materials (thermoset-polyesters) in the appliance industry was Mar-Bal’s key focus in the late eighties. Jim Balogh and others spearheaded an aggressive program with Toastmaster, Inc., to develop a line of “cold touch” counter top appliances in colours not available in other high temperature plastics. Applications included: toasters, waffle makers, griddles, and electric skillets.

Appliance industry success set the stage for Mar-Bal to open its first satellite plant in Cuba, MO in 1988, to supply molded parts to customers in that geographic area. Customers included: Toastmaster, Inc., Milbank Manufacturing, The Durham Company, Basler Electric, Rival, and Emerson Electric. Additionally in 1988, Mar-Bal began designing and manufacturing oven and range door components for Whirlpool.

Lastly, Mar-Bal designed and launched its own line of fire resistant composite wastebaskets to meet the needs of the healthcare and lodging industries. The birth of this new product line expanded the use of composites in safety applications.

The second generation enters in the 90s

Scott Balogh started with the company in 1992 as Sales Manager, and quickly advanced to Sales and Engineering Manager. Strong leadership qualities and a solid sales team resulted in sales wins with GE  Locomotive, Whirlpool, Maytag, VitaMix, Hoover, Eureka, and product expansions with existing customers. Sales increased from $12,000,000 in 1992, to $21,000,000 by 1997. In June of 1997, Scott was promoted to Mar-Bal’s Vice President/Operations Manager.

In 1993, Steven Balogh started with the company as the Compounding Production and Purchasing Manager, where he played a vital role in consolidating suppliers and aligning Mar-Bal with companies that have improved Mar-Bal’s quality and performance. Mar-Bal’s Ohio and Missouri facilities now produce over 15 million lbs. per year. In 1995, he and Mar-Bal materials engineering team along with PPG, developed a new process of applying powder coatings to its materials for Whirlpool’s new oven and range product lines. Notably, Mar-Bal’s Material Engineer, George Lin, developed a line of “paintable composites” for this contract that has not been replicated by any other compounder in the industry to date.

Pivotal to the 1990s was the growth of Mar-Bal’s Cuba, Mo., plant, which was expanded from 25,000 to 55,000 square feet and from 5 to 20 injection molding machines. By the time the decade ended the company built a compounding operation in the Missouri plant.

Mar-Bal opened its third plant in Dublin, Va. in 1995 to expand and invest in the growth of our electrical customers in the Southeast. Our Standoff insulator line and compression and transfer molding services were growing and additional capacity was required. 

Innovation and core technology investment in the new millennium

From 2000-to-2005, Mar-Bal’s sales increased from $26,000,000 to $37,000,000 – with particularly strong growth in the major appliance industry in injection molded “Class A” appearance products. Continued growth was also achieved in the electrical business, in both compression and injection molding. The Ohio plant was expanded from 50,000 to 70,000 square feet of manufacturing space

In 2006, Mar-Bal opened its Corporate Research & Development Center building in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. A paradigm shift from multi-location/plant-focused operations, the new facility offered a platform where innovators in materials, product design, and process engineering could take a concept to production in record time. The Advanced Manufacturing Group (AMG) at Mar-Bal consolidated operations at this location. This team is dedicated to developing and building new innovative equipment and automation which provides us a long term cost and quality advantage.

Acquisition and growth in 2010

To complement this corporate renaissance, in 2018 Mar-Bal acquired and renovated a 110,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Painesville, Ohio.

“The Painesville facility positioned us for future growth in our core manufacturing processes, and is an important addition to our global manufacturing footprint. Launching the new AltraSet Materials Division with a new state-of-the-art BMC compounding (AltraSet), we also added two molded product lines – supporting more growth for the insulator group in electrical equipment,” says Scott Balogh.

Additionally, in 2012, Mar-Bal purchased the “Glastic line” of standoff insulators which provided the company with a strong complimentary brand to their existing line.

Bruce Acord, Mar-Bal’s Vice President of Sales, Engineered Products, expanded on the capabilities of the facility.

“In addition to our benchmarked BMC products that utilize polyester/vinyl ester chemistries, our technical team has been working towards expanding the product offerings. We currently have products with highest strength in the market applying Vinyl Ester and Epoxy Chemistry (AS-8000, AE-8600 series SMC), low density (1.0 S.G.) epoxy BMC (AE-6600 series), and a BMC (MB-7000 Series) with a UL RTI higher than any other BMC. Our resin offerings include the use of custom made epoxy resins, vinyl ester and hybrid systems. To complete our composite portfolio we also offer Carbon Fiber in BMC and SMC forms,” says Acord.

In 2018 Mar-Bal entered into the construction and safety industry by acquiring all of the assets of both AlertTile (including AlertCast) and Detectable Warning Systems (including RediMat), which are under the umbrella brand of Detectable Warning Systems (DWS) as part of the Mar-Bal proprietary family of products. DWS is now one of the industry’s most complete lines of innovative and economical ADA compliant tactile warning surfaces–engineered for visually impaired pedestrians.

Anthony Lignetta, Mar-Bal’s director, proprietary products, also noted that the DWS acquisition represented a progressive commitment to composites advancement in construction stating, “There are vast composites growth opportunities in construction as they represent long-term, non-corrosive solutions versus traditional materials. There is a real value proposition here as composite solutions can accent and replace materials that suffer from cracking, crumbling, etc.”

2020 and COVID-19

Family driven since its inception, Mar-Bal has continued to expand its base of leadership from within, yet has continuously built a dedicated senior leadership team comprised of CFO, HR, Engineering, and Sales & Marketing executives. An Advisory Board has been in place for the past 19 years, and is comprised of five key advisors outside of the company (and family) that focuses on transitional expansion growth strategies.

According to Scott Balogh, “The Board is an experienced, well balanced mix of talented people with Wall Street and Main Street backgrounds. We meet quarterly, and they challenge us on key growth strategies in five tiered areas: manufacturing footprint, new and existing markets, people/talent acquisition, diversification/innovation, and product development.”

In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the novel COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) outbreak a pandemic. Obviously, this affected manufacturers and people worldwide and Mar-Bal responded quickly with internal strategies–both tactically and strategically.

On the tactical side, Steven Balogh noted that everyone was initially faced with the FUD factor: Fear, Uncertainty, and Dread, so establishing protocol early was vital to continuing as an essential manufacturer. According to Balogh, “Essentially, we became part of the public health community overnight.”

Balogh also indicated that Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted did a great job with essential manufacturing protocols that had a ripple effect on their daily tactical efforts. Additionally, they ramped up involvement with daily COVID-19-based industry webinars with industry associations (ACMA, NAM, etc.). These briefings would lead to daily internal Mar-Bal briefings with plant, department, and HR managers. According to Balogh, “These daily tactical preparations allowed us to get ahead of the curve to protect our people while moving production forward.”

On the strategy side, Scott Balogh stated, “A lot has changed in a short period of time, so we focused on a “What can we do now?” strategy and implemented a ‘rolling’ 12-month strategic plan. We were still focused on people first, but had to re-engage with tough decisions starting with pay-cuts from the top. Luckily, we were able to avoid furloughs, and new hires are still happening. Good operating platforms are vital as we’re doubling down on R&D, while consolidating our compounding to the Ohio plant. Our stronghold of engaging with new customers and product needs remains intact during this crisis.”

Cautiously optimistic about the post COVID-19 landscape, Scott acknowledged that the economic environment will shift dramatically moving forward, stating, “The global environment will be completely different, with a more regional focus, and trade will be more difficult. People and talent will be even more important, so as to capitalize on opportunities in this new landscape.”

 

 


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