Detroit — Four companies have made it to the circle of finalists for Plastics News’ Processor of the Year Award: Dymotek Corp., General Plastics Inc., Petoskey Plastics Inc. and Trilogy Plastics Inc.
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Dymotek, a custom injection molder based in Ellington, Conn., was a finalist in last year’s award competition. General Plastics is a Milwaukee thermoformer. Petoskey Plastics, based in its hometown city of Petoskey, Mich., is a blown film company that specializes in running recycled plastics. Trilogy Plastics is a rotational molder in Alliance, Ohio. Candidates are evaluated on seven criteria: financial performance, quality, customer relations, employee relations, environmental performance, industry/public service and technological innovation. Last year’s winner was Evco Plastics Inc., a custom injection molder based in DeForest, Wis.
A team of judges — members of Plastics News’ editorial staff — evaluated all submissions and chose the 2016 finalists.
The winner will be announced at the Plastics News Executive Forum, set for March 27-29 in Naples, Fla.
Here is a look at the four finalists, in alphabetical order:
Dymotek has grown from a company set up to injection mold an innovative product developed in 1990 by its founders, brothers Steve and Tom Trueb, into a major molder of liquid silicone rubber and two-shot parts.
The Trueb brothers created a covering for plumbing under sinks, designed to protect people in wheelchairs from burns from the hot-water pipes. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandated that type of protection — and sales of the Lav Guard took off.
At first, the brothers had custom molders make the products. The first two employees — Susan Littizzio and Lynn Crane, hired in 1992 and 1994 — are still working at the molder today.
Inventing the Lav Guard, and outsourcing the molding work, could have been the end of the story. But in 1997, the Trueb brothers hired Norm Forest to set up a molding plant, starting with two machines. The under-sink cover was a good-selling product, but the company needed more work to support its three-shift operation, so Forest grew the custom business.
The Truebs sold the plumbing product line in 2004, keeping the rights to manufacture the safety products. The under-sink protection covering is still made at Dymotek — in a highly automated work cell with two Arburg injection molding machines feeding two six-axis robots that remove the parts and insert fasteners.
The company steadily added injection molding machines, and built an expansion to bring material storage in-house, instead of off-site. Dymotek invested in an IQMS enterprise resource planning system (ERP) in 2004. The molder got into LSR and multimaterial molding and invested heavily in automation.
Dymotek, based in Ellington, Conn., with a second plant in nearby Somers, Conn., generated sales of $23 million in 2015 — more than double its 2012 total. The company is profitable.
The judges gave Dymotek high marks for financial performance, quality, customer relations, employee relations, industry and public service and technology.
Customers praised the company for its LSR expertise, knowledge about tooling and investment in skilled employees, automated assembly and effective management. Several customers noted Dymotek is nimble and agile, with efficient decision-making and the ability to help design products for manufacturing.
“The highest levels of management are deeply embedded in the projects from the beginning,” one customer said.
Dymotek officials said the company has an on-time delivery rate of 99 percent. The molder also has good quality metrics, including an external defect rate of 400 parts per million, and an internal scrap percentage of just 0.6 percent of revenue.
Dymotek has a quality assurance team, which creates the tools needed to verify quality and trains operators, who are responsible for physical product quality once production begins, and perform their own metrology, functional tests and gauging on the factory floor. That helps operators build a deeper understanding of the dynamics of each part.
Markets include plumbing, electronics, medical, food and beverage, commercial/industrial, aviation and aerospace, automotive, and telecommunications. Many products are highly regulated, so the molder is open to more than 20 unannounced audits a year. “That means we are always ready for an audit,” the company said in its submission for the award.
Dymotek scored well on the area of industry and public service. A Charity Committee chooses how the annual giving budget will be spent each year, much of it in the company’s two small Connecticut towns. That includes helping local sports teams and drama clubs, with donations and people power. The company also supports charities such as the American Heart Association, the Wounded Warrior program and the Colon Cancer Alliance.
On the industry front, company leaders also promote a buy-local effort, standardizing on Arburg injection presses from the U.S. operation in Rocky Hill, Conn., sourcing Wittmann robots and other local equipment. Forest is on the board of directors for two local economic development agencies.
Dymotek also is active in the Society of Plastics Engineers, Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the Manufacturers Association for Plastic Processors (MAPP).
The company opens its doors to plant tours, and has been active in Manufacturing Day for the last five years.
The judges gave Dymotek very high marks for employee relations. In 2016, the company won two honors from Plastics News: receiving a Best Places to Work award, and picking up the Plastics News Excellence Award for employee relations, as part of its Processor of the Year submission.
The Hartford Courant has named Dymotek as one of the state’s Best Places to Work for the past three years.
New hires go through a three-day onboarding/orientation program. Dymotek employs a full-time trainer. It starts with a large wall mural that outlines the company history and a timeline, signed by every employee in the year each one started.
“This initial training plays a big role in the company’s low turnover rate,” Dymotek officials said in the submission.
But the education does not end there. Neither does the effort to recruit skilled employees, and the next generation. Dymotek has ended up hiring several interns — and the company has made a special effort to foster a multi-generational leadership.
Senior managers meet annually with all employees, and measure “top” and “bottom” performers as to how they have the capacity to grow and develop. Top performers are put into leadership roundtables that meet every month — including CEO Forest — to discuss a theme, such as mentoring, listening and handling conflict. Bottom performers are put on a path for improvement.
It’s a good way to foster future leaders and combat the shrinking pool of workers.
The hard work is paying off. In its submission for the award, Dymotek even gave a complete list of all 23 employees that it had promoted in the first nine months of 2016.
Dymotek was nominated by Paul Pirozzi of Pirozzi & Associates Inc. in Upton, Mass., an independent sales representative for the molder.
General Plastics Inc.
General Plastics, owned by Robert Porsche, has grown into a major custom thermoforming company that runs some of the largest forming equipment in that sector.
Moves by the company in recent years to run more efficiently and invest in machinery to boost production have paid off. Many of the innovative measures boosting manufacturing are notable for a smaller-sized custom thermoformer.
Financially, officials are expecting 2016 sales of around $13.7 million, an increase of 9.6 percent from 2015 sales of $12.5 million. General Plastics’ sales were around $10 million in 2012 and 2013, before climbing about a million dollars a year in the last three years — a key period of time for the company.
Profitability has also improved, as did operational measurements, such as dollars per labor hour and overall equipment efficiency, according to General Plastics’ submission for the award.
General Plastics did a major plant reorganization in 2015 and 2016, to reduce the number of employee touches and run more efficiently — and also made a $4 million investment as the Milwaukee thermoformer more than doubled its factory size, to 93,000 square feet.
The judges gave General Plastics high grades for all seven criteria, but the thermoformer was especially strong in technology, quality, customer relations, employee relations, and industry and community relations.
The company runs seven single-station thermoforming machines and three rotary formers, including some that also can do pressure forming. It runs seven CNC routers, and four pieces of fully robotic trimming equipment.
The machinery can vacuum or pressure form parts that are up to six feet wide by 10 feet long by four feet deep.
Porsche bought General Plastics in 1987, when the company only had eight full-time employees. Today the company employs 75 people — and the 2016 expansion should generate 10 to 15 new jobs in 2016 and 2017, the company said in its submission.
General Plastics’ report for the award was full of detailed, quantified information.
The company’s markets include rail, marine, office, lavatory, medical, health and wellness, gaming/arcades, food and beverage, agricultural, construction, and machine guarding. Most of the products are cosmetic parts that go on the inside or outside of vehicles, equipment or displays. For the city bus market, General Plastics molds key parts like seat backs, tray tables and side shrouds.
General Plastics brings its customers a high-level of quality — over the past three years, combined internal and external rejects have dropped from an already solid 3.2 percent to 2.1 percent — and Patrick Cain, the plant manager, said of that 2.1 percent, just 0.5 percent are external rejects, ones that got out to the customers.
Customers get flexibility when they deal with the Milwaukee former. The logistics management system lets them decide how they want delivery: just-in-time, Kanban, drop shipments or discrete orders that get shipped out maybe once or twice a year.
On-time delivery has been more than 95 percent since 2014.
Another major investment was a 3-D scanning system that can be used for short-run tooling, and do reverse engineering. Porsche and Cain spelled out in a Society of Plastics Engineers Thermoforming Conference how the company used the equipment to help a customer transition a 200-piece job from injection molding to thermoforming.
Customers told the Plastics News judges they appreciate it. One customer said General Plastics is capable of serving all five of its factories, each of which can have its own logistics, and the supplier makes consistent, high-quality parts.
The company had already installed an ERP system in 2012, which helps forecast production and can perform cost-accounting on every order running in the shop. Cain said it’s rare for a smaller custom thermoformer to have that detailed capability.
In 2016, the company started to implement a total bar code system that Cain said is easy to use, even by the newest hires. The company is expanding its use to shipping and receiving and other areas, printing labels and integrating it with Wi-Fi.
Employee relations was another solid area. General Plastics is cross-training employees so they can move around and reduce bottlenecks. Anti-fatigue mats get replaced every six months.
A profit sharing program pays quarterly bonuses.
And General Plastics invests in helping its people do a better job, for example, purchasing a bulk glue dispensing system with crane and lift-assist for the dispenser, and a bulk drum loading system. That not only improved ergonomics, it saved more than $96,000 a year in spending on glue.
Currently, nearly one-fourth of the employees have been with General Plastics from 10 to 30 years.
In the community, and the thermoforming industry, General Plastics is very active. Porsche has co-chaired two SPE Thermoforming Conferences, and he is a frequent speaker and moderator. He currently chairs the finance committee and is serves on the material committee. And General Plastics is an active supporter of the parts competition, which it has won in several categories.
In 2016, the company won the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce Future 50 Award for companies growing and adding employees in the metro area.
The thermoformer is active in its Glendale committee, including with the Brown Deer High School’s STEM program, as board advisors and mentors.
Good documentation helped General Plastics score well in the environmental performance category. The company recycles 86.4 percent of its scrap, and wants to get closer to 100 percent.
Improvements like optimized oven zones, reducing air leaks and installing sensors that turn lights off have helped the cut its electric bill by nearly a third since 2013.
Petoskey Plastics Inc.
Petoskey Plastics has earned a reputation as a maker of environmentally friendly film, bags and packaging — in an effort that began in 1978, when the company began recycling, and moved ahead in 1992 when Petoskey began offering closed-loop recycling for its customers.
That’s been an ongoing effort. In 2015, Petoskey Plastics reused more than 30 million pounds of plastic.
The company runs 26 blown film extrusion lines and numerous converting lines.
Greencore Recycling Services, a division of Petoskey Plastics, can recycle stretch film and pallet wrap, and clear and colored bags and packaging.
Petoskey can run multi-layer films with virgin resin layers surrounding a middle layer made with up to 70 percent post-consumer recycled plastic. The company makes three-layer and five-layer film.
“What sets us apart from other film producers is the ability to incorporate recycled polyethylene into our multi-layer film structures to produce cost-effective products that are a superior option for our customers and the environment,” Petoskey wrote in its submission for the Processor of the Year Award.
In May, the company won the Closing the Loop Award from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
So it’s no surprise that Petoskey scored very well in the environmental performance criteria. The judges also gave the company high marks in other criteria, especially financial performance, customer relations, industry and public service and technology.
Financially, sales have more than doubled in just seven years — from $67 million in 2009 to about $135 million in 2016. Sales steadily increased each year during that stretch. The company employs 400 people.
The company was founded by Paul Keiswetter, president and CEO, in 1969. Thirty years later, the company bought the assets of a polyethylene film extrusion plant in Morristown, Tenn. Then in 2007, the film maker opened a new corporate headquarters in downtown Petoskey, and later that year, renovated a former garage door factory in Hartford City, Ind., converting the building to a 330,000-square-foot recycling facility. In 2013, the business added blown film manufacturing and converting lines to Hartford City.
The family-owned company plays an outsized role in the three small towns where it manufactures. In 2015, Petoskey Plastics made financial donations to about 90 different charitable organizations — many targeted to efforts to support local children.
To help Flint, Mich., cope with its drinking water crisis, Petoskey Plastics donated recycled-content bags to help collect empty PET water bottles that piled up. The bottles went to Shupan Recycling, another Michigan-based company.
Company leaders are committed to promoting manufacturing to young people, through programs like donating a blown film lab line to a local college for its traveling lab. Other efforts include career days, plant tours and participation in Manufacturing Day.
Markets for the film and bag supplier include automotive, recycling, packaging, construction, medical, institutional, private label and retail. Applications are all over the map. For example, the company developed a number of different film products for the automotive market, everything from seat and steering wheel covers used in auto service, to sheets for masking during painting. Grip-N-Guard film is self-adhering, for home improvement projects.
Petoskey Plastics has a lot of customers — claiming more than 5,000 of them around the world, including more than 30 Fortune 500 companies. Last fall, Petoskey won 3M’s Supplier of the Year Award — one of only 11 suppliers so honored — for helping drive its competitiveness and sustainability.
Customers had good things to say. One customer told the judges that Petoskey has a long-term outlook, is a company that forges a partnership that helps solve problems, and it even helps suggest opportunities in new markets.
Given Petoskey’s expertise in recycled film products, the judges also were impressed by its technology. Making multi-layer blown film is hard enough, and producing that film with a high level of recycled plastics makes it that much more challenging — as well as requiring a substantial investment. Other innovations include contour-shaped film and pouch capabilities and specialty bag closures.
And the company works hard to keep on top of film technology, thanks to more than 60 research and development projects in 2016.
Petoskey Plastics was self-nominated for the Processor of the Year Award by Sue Maskaluk, the company’s corporate treasurer, and Pam Colby, marketing coordinator.
Trilogy Plastics Inc.
Trilogy has been known as a leading custom rotational molder for years, as management has invested significantly in the company’s two manufacturing plants, for equipment and technology that can give the closest thing to closed-loop processing that the rotomolding industry can get.
Trilogy Plastics operates in a modern, 105,000-square-foot headquarters plant in Alliance, Ohio, and a second plant a few miles away, with 108,000 square feet of manufacturing space, set up for longer-run, contract molding.
But the company was not always so high-level — although it does have an interesting history that began more than 100 years ago. The original company, called Old King Cole Inc., turned out some iconic advertising figures like Mr. Peanut and the dog famous for hearing “his master’s voice” on a record.
The company began rotomolding in the late 1950s, the early days of the industry. But beginning in 1970s, hard times hit, and the company went through a series of ownership changes. A creditor took over, changed the company name and was an absentee owner. The business dwindled down at its aging plant in Louisville, Ohio.
Steve Osborn and his partner, Bruce Frank, bought the business in 1987. Osborn was a turnaround consultant in Cleveland with the Ernst & Ernst accounting firm (now Ernst & Young). He was looking for a manufacturing business to buy, and the old rotomolding company was in bad shape — and inexpensive. The company had just 13 employees.
Osborn ran the plant, learning about the rotomolding process at the same time. Frank, whose family ran a manufacturers’ representative firm, had experience selling plastic parts. The old plant was dark. A small creek next to the building threatened to flood during heavy rains. Osborn and Frank leased a second building down the street for molding, routing, assembly and foaming.
The big move came in 2005, when Trilogy built the main headquarters plant in Alliance, a $5 million investment that greatly improved work flow and boosted production capacity by 30 to 40 percent.
Today Trilogy Plastics employs about 160 people. Osborn expects final-year 2016 sales to reach nearly $17 million. The projection for 2017: $18.2 million. Under the current ownership, Trilogy has had a compounded annual sales growth rate of more than 13 percent, and 29 straight years of profitability.
The financial numbers are solid at the mid-sized rotational molder. The owners put money back into the company, buying new rotomolding machines from Ferry Industries Inc. down the road in Stow, Ohio.
Trilogy also has invested in Ferry’s IRT technology that uses infrared sensors to continuously monitor the external mold temperature and then adjust heating and cooling time, as well as Rotolog, also from Ferry, which uses sensors inside the mold to help set good molding parameters for the IRT. The rotomolder’s technicians also use EZ Logger to measure in-mold temperatures, a product from Paladin Sales in Uniontown, Ohio.
The last four rotomolding machines Trilogy purchased all were equipped with IRTs on the machine in both the ovens and the cooling chambers. A few years ago, another machine got retrofitted with the technology.
Osborn believes that Trilogy’s stable of four routers for seven rotomolding machines at its headquarters plant is one of the highest ratios of routers to molding machines in the industry. Eighty-five percent of products in that main plant go through the routers, he said — so the parts coming off the rotomolders have to be consistent.
Even with the technology, people are the fundamental element in rotomolding, which is more labor-intensive than other plastics processes. Machine operators bolt and unbolt molds, feed in plastic powder, initiate the mold’s move into the oven, and pull out the often-large hollow parts. Hard physical work.
Starting salaries are competitive with the local Alliance labor market, and the compensation system is geared toward pay and promotion based on performance. Employees can move up by learning new skills and taking on more responsibility. To advance, they must take in-house courses in leadership, “emotional intelligence” and supervision, in addition to specific technical training.
Trilogy offers a bonus for perfect attendance. Osborn gives out a $50 president’s award.
Trilogy started its move to become a world class company three years ago. Daren Balderson, vice president of operations and a veteran of Trilogy, said it’s a mindset to motivate, inspire and engage employees. The rotomolder already had a strict attendance policy, and the company has become more selective when hiring people, Balderson said.
Making sure people come to work each day is critical to maintain an on-time delivery rate that has been more than 99 percent the last several years, Osborn said.
The attendance program has more carrots than sticks. An employee can be terminated for getting 20 points a year — equaling 10 days of unexcused absence. But Trilogy also gives a $100 bonus each month for perfect attendance. And you can “work off” points by serving the community at the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and the Alliance for Children & Families.
Osborn said many employees with no attendance issues do the volunteer work, as does management. The company was named the 2016 Large Company of the Year in Alliance, and was one of Plastics News’ Best Places to Work.
The good works locally helped Trilogy score well on the criteria of industry and public service.
On the industry side, Trilogy has been a member of the Association of Rotational Molders since 1987. Osborn, who was inducted in the Rotational Hall of Fame in 2012, has served on many ARM committees and served on the board of directors.
Trilogy also has regularly kept up with processes to boost its environmental performance, phasing out of solvent-based mold releases for water-based ones, and moving to Teflon-coated molds, in the 1990s. On the firm’s many foamed parts, Trilogy was one of the first to convert to water-based foams, even ahead of government mandates to cut foaming agents that damage the ozone layer and cause greenhouse gases.
The company changed to energy-efficient lighting about five years ago. The company also has added variable-speed compressors, and now is looking at ways to improve the insulation of its ovens.
Trilogy prides itself as being a safe rotomolder, running more than 585 days without a lost-time accident. The company also pays for work-related training, brings industry experts into the plant, and sends employees to seminars and conferences.
Trilogy scored good marks on customer relations, thanks the good OTD record and to its institutionalized method of handling customer complaints, which are logged and followed through to find the exact cause, if possible.
Customers said Trilogy takes care of any issues immediately. “They do a great job for us. They always follow through on what they say,” one customer said. Another said Trilogy is “very organized. I’ve been to probably 15 different rotomolders. There’s nobody like Trilogy when it comes to things like that. they hold their tolerances tighter than everybody. And in rotomolding, that’s hard to do.”
Often, Trilogy assembles the complete product and ships directly to a retailer or customer warehouse.
Osborn nominated his company for the award.