Carl Peters guarantees you already have one of his products inside your house. His New Process Fibre Co. makes millions of tiny parts for La-Z-Boy recliners, Black and Decker drills, Electrolux vacuum cleaners, Lexmark printers, Kohler faucets and dozens of other household-name products.
If you own a blender, a freezer, a furnace, a food processor, a golf club, a desk, a couch or a sink, odds are there’s a New Process Fibre part deep inside it.
Ditto if you own an automobile or an airplane.
That’s not all. Tucked within some bullets and hand grenades are parts born inside New Process’ warren of steel and concrete buildings just past a cornfield on a back road in Greenwood.
The company shipped more than $10 million worth of parts around the world last year, but the owner said most of Greenwood’s 1,085 residents are unaware it exists. Even many longtime residents couldn’t tell you what it’s been making for 90 years, he said.
Greenwood native F. Carl Porter founded New Process Fibre in 1927, the year the Model A debuted, the Holland Tunnel opened, the Yankees swept the World Series and Charles Lindbergh made the first nonstop solo trans-Atlantic flight.
Porter, the son of one of the three local businessmen who founded the Greenwood Trust Co., created a new process to produce vulcanized fiber for use as an electrical insulator. The process flopped, but the name stuck.
The early company produced vulcanized fiber and fabricated parts. Business didn’t pick up until World War II. Even after the war, Porter was more tinkerer than successful businessman, said his grandson Carl Peters. He said it was a good thing his Porter owned the company outright, because stockholders would have burned him at the stake.
Luckily for New Process, Porter’s daughter Nancy met Henry Peters, a newly immigrated
milk truck mechanic who was visiting his aunt in Greenwood.
The company was on the verge of closure when the two were married in 1957, but Peters worked 18-hour days to save it.
When his father-in-law died in 1962, Peters took over the business. His wife’s brother didn’t want it, because he didn’t think it would last.
“It was four or five years before he made money, but, within 10 years, he was a millionaire with a sixth-grade education,” his grandson said.
New Process Fibre no longer makes fiber, but it ships more stamped parts in a single day than it did in a year in the early 1960s. Some shipments go to customers who have been buying parts from the company since 1928.
The factory at the end of a gravel lane has been expanded six times.
Sales more than doubled since Carl W. Peters, the founder’s grandson, took over in 2008.
They ship 3 million to 5 million individual parts a month — everything from endoscopic surgery tools to the white strips that hold potato chip bags at Walmart.
That’s $1 million worth of parts a month — from 24-inch square parts to circular ones so small they must be counted by machines.
A contender for oddest part sold: a stamped plastic piece that goes inside a tool toupee wearers use to clean under their hairpieces.
CEO Carl Peters first came to New Process as a preschooler in his grandfather’s arms. He started sweeping floors as a teen. He was working powerful punch presses by age 16, just four years after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration debuted.
While safety-conscious Peters calls OSHA reasonable and willing to work with manufacturers, he said his dad did not agree:
“My father was old school. He grew up in Hitler’s Germany. His attitude about government was very different. His attitude about OSHA was: “Here’s a guy who couldn’t run his own business, but the government hired him to tell me how to run mine.”
ThomasNet lists only 113 non-metallic stamping companies in the U.S., and many of those are one-man shops. New Process, owned by Peters and his sister Christine Rust, employs 74 workers.
Wooing machinists and other skilled employees to New Process can be difficult, so, Peters said, the company pays more than the area average. “We do struggle because of where we are,” the lifelong Greenwood resident said. “We haven’t even had pizza delivery for at least 10 years until a few months ago. You have to drive 10 miles to the Walmart.”
Like all non-metallic stamping companies, weather affects New Process, but Peters said he doesn’t think it will stop work.
He ticked off the names of his Houston-area plastics suppliers waylaid by Hurricane Harvey — BASF, Braskem America, Dow, Exxon, Celanese, Invista, DuPont, Formosa, Flint Hills Resources…
“If they can fulfill contracts, it’s going to drive the price up, and that’s pretty much immediate. We have to pass that along, and sometimes that’s difficult,” he said.
Peters said customers stockpiled parts until the Recession, but now they use just-in-time ordering: “Before we had a lot of customers who put in long-term orders, and, now, they don’t want to buy ahead, so they need everything right away.”
Peters said the company tries to supply customers who need items in a hurry, although two weeks is New Process’ normal turnaround time.
In extreme cases, the price goes up. They’ve done jobs in a day — for a price. Peters said he’s had companies willing to pay a $1,000 break-in charge on a $100 order to get a part immediately.
New Process’ business model is based on a production method rather than a product line,
so it can quickly segue to where the business is.
As Peters puts it, “We make parts — anything that can be stamped out of a non-metallic material.”
Because the company can cut parts for dozens of industries, it has an advantage. “We have diverse product lines, so, for example, if things go down in the automotive industry, people might buy a Black & Decker drill and we make parts for those too,” Peters said.
With the advent of 3-D printers, injection molding and water-jet cutting machines, Peters is looking ahead. He knows 3-D printers won’t always operate as slowly as they currently do, and he’s thinking new equipment might be faster and cheaper to run.
“You look at it today and you think that 3-D printing will never take the place of stamping,
but it will get there,” he said.
Holding up his smartphone, he said, “Whoever thought you could put a roomful of computers in your pocket.”