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Tech-Long, Unique unveil new partnership


Tech-Long Packaging Machinery Co. Ltd., one of the world's largest suppliers of PET stretch blow molding machines and beverage packaging lines, is partnering with another Chinese company, Unique Injection Molding Systems, for joint efforts in the Americas and much of Europe.

Guangzhou, China-based Tech-Long used NPE2018 to introduce the partnership, which will see the company as the exclusive representative of Unique's preform manufacturing systems in North and South America and in Europe, excluding Russia.

"Tech-Long makes the complete bottling lines, and every bottle starts with a preform," said Keith Boss, CEO of Duluth, Ga.-based Tech-Long Americas. "So, it's a very nice synergy to match. At the NPE show, we're trying to demonstrate to the public that a lot of the Unique machines are sized in such a way that they match nicely with the Tech-Long blow molding machine."

Like Tech-Long, Unique's global headquarters are in Guangzhou.

Tech-Long's U.S. market is promising, Boss said.

"Other companies have been investing in China, and Tech-Long's been investing in other markets around the world," he said. "Our business is becoming as big for Tech-Long outside of China as it is inside of China. And I'm really optimistic that's going to continue."

Tech-Long entered the U.S. market in 2012 and invested $5 million in a headquarters near Atlanta in 2015.

"We made a commitment to the U.S. market in 2012, and we've done nothing but invest in the U.S. since that time," he said. "We sold our first line to Sriracha sauce [maker] Huy Fong Foods in California. It's been there now for six years.

"What I'm proud of is that we sell the first system to a customer and they come back and buy a second or third or fourth, right?" he said. "My goal is to get customers and then to keep 'em."

Tech-Long also started manufacturing blow molds in Duluth about six months ago, he said.

"As our installed base grows of the Unique injection molding machine, it makes sense for us to do some manufacturing in the U.S.," he said.

"We spent over $1 million dollars in capital equipment to do that, and we're creating some jobs in Atlanta," he said, noting that three people have been hired there.

At NPE, Tech-Long showed two PET stretch blow molding machines, an eight-cavity machine running a carbonated soft drink bottle at "industry-leading speeds," and, in a product introduction, a newly designed two-cavity machine running oval containers using the company's preferential heating technology.

The two companies have had what Boss termed a "strong affiliation" for several years. Tech-Long in China used to be an investor in Unique, but Boss said that Unique purchased back those shares from Tech-Long in 2017. The firms, however, continue to work together.

He said the partnership also stems in part from a long-term friendship he has with Unique's owner, River Xu.

"River and I have worked together for a long time," said Boss, including at Husky Injection Molding.

He said Tech-Long management also felt that Unique was making gains in the market.

"We've been monitoring the progress that Unique is making, and it's pretty significant, so we want to be part of that," Boss said. "We're very bullish on the product, and we feel we can sell it into our market. I think the market's looking for alternatives."

Unique's perspective

For Unique, which has installed 150 systems in China and 50-60 in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas, the time is right to push into the U.S.

"In the Chinese market, all the customers are [just] looking for low price. It's a problem," said Xu. "But in the U.S., it's a developed market. They are looking for new technology and some innovation technology.

"I think the U.S. should be my main project in the future," he said. "I think in the coming years we can get a very big increase in the U.S. market."

To start, Tech-Long will be distributing Unique's PET preform systems, but more Unique products will be added, Boss said.

The companies said the combination will result in offering a complete packaging line from preforms to package filling and said it extends to service as well.

Both Boss and Xu acknowledge the influence their work at Husky has had on their business strategy to have the two firms provide a complete solution.

"Really there's only one other player that does what he does," said Boss, referencing Husky.

Unique is small in the U.S. market, but Boss said that in 2017, Unique's sales in the United States grew 100 percent over the year before, selling two machines.

"We're going to go small, and we're gonna do it right," Boss said. "So, I believe we can be a significant player in the market."

He estimates about five years are needed to really build the market in North America. Boss and Xu also said that the U.S. market will help them enter Mexico and South America, particularly in Brazil, Peru and Argentina.

To help that push, the companies also announced that Fred Pinczuk, a 22-year industry veteran, has joined Tech-Long Americas as business development manager for both Unique and Tech-Long equipment and will head marketing, sales and service.

In an interview at Chinaplas in late April in Shanghai, both Boss and Xu also reflected on the threat of a trade war between the U.S. and China but said it does not worry them much.

Xu said he doesn't see it as a long-term problem: "This is the way we can go forward. I trust we can go into the U.S. market."

Boss added, "We've come too far to turn away, so we'll just have to weather the storm if it happens. You know I believe that this is a negotiation and that in the end, what gets resolved, it will be less bad than what's being presented today."

But he acknowledges that there will be competition in the U.S. market, although mostly from European manufacturers.

"[If there is a trade war,] our plan B is to stay in the market and to price in a competitive way. If that means adjusting our pricing, we'll have to adjust our pricing. Hopefully it's not for a long-term situation," he said. "We're not afraid of the European manufacturers. We can compete with them from an innovation standpoint and from a price standpoint as well."


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