MacNeil touts quality, US-made products

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MacNeil Automotive Products Ltd. produces humble automotive accessories — floor mats, cargo liners, mud flaps, shop-floor covering — with a made-in-the-U.S.A. flair, led by founder and CEO David MacNeil.

MacNeil is an unabashed economic patriot. He delivered that message in a keynote speech to kick off the Society of Plastics Engineers 2011 Thermoforming Conference in Schaumburg.

“It’s great to export as Americans, but it’s not great to export American jobs. And so I’ll start off by saying that, over the last couple years, I’ve hired 200 additional Americans to work here in the United States. And none of it has been done with any help from the federal government,” he said.

The audience applauded. It was early Sunday morning, Sept. 18. MacNeil was talking about floor mats.

He laid out his case in plain language.

“Make the best product you can, right here in America. And if you can do that, people will buy it from you. It’s real simple.”

Quality is the key, he said, as a picture of a thermoformed floor liner for the Ford Taurus appeared on the projection screens that flanked the podium. “That’s a high-quality, American-made automotive accessory. And if you really have a good look at it, it fits perfectly,” he said. “And that’s what it’s all about, making the customer happy.”

For years, MacNeil Automotive has run large advertisements in car-enthusiast magazines and television ads. The company has its own in-house marketing and photography department. The print ads show a modern manufacturing operation with Maac rotary and shuttle thermoforming machines and Husky injection molding presses. In his speech, MacNeil said the injection molding area includes four Husky machines with clamping forces of 1,000 tons.

He showed the audience views of the factory floor at Bolingbrook, Ill.

“This is the way factories should look in America, right here,” he said. “Lit. Clean. Air conditioned. Efficient. You know, if you invest in modern machinery, and you have confidence in the American worker, you can compete anywhere, any time in this world. With anybody.”

Jobs and the economy are on top of the political agenda these days. MacNeil told thermoforming officials that American manufacturing can thrive if business leaders insist on perfection.

“I always ask, ‘What’s the best way to do it regardless of cost?’ And then ... we figure how to make it economical so somebody can afford it. It’s not the other way around — it’s not about, ‘We got to make it cheap-cheap-cheap.’ Wrong mentality,” he said.

MacNeil said his employees pride themselves on custom-designed floor mats and cargo liners designed to fit specific models. The company also makes a universal mat for some big-box retailers.

He spelled out how his company custom-engineers WeatherTech floor mats — a process that also is explained on MacNeil Automotive’s website. Engineers use laser-measuring equipment to physically collect data, and recreate the vehicle’s floor area on a computer. They make sample prototypes using stereolithography machines. After any modifications are made, the computer numerically controlled machining centers create the tooling — using American steel and aluminum.

He said the company’s veteran mold makers turn out between 20 to 50 tools a month, both thermoforming and injection molding.

Using stereolithography helps MacNeil Automotive build molds so the end products are a perfect fit, MacNeil said.

“So whatever adjustments we need to make, it’s easy to make them in this stage right now, vs. making them after you make the tool,” he said. “That gets expensive. Or, you can make the tool and go, ‘Oh, it’s close enough, the customer won’t notice. It’s good enough.’ That’s not good enough for me. I want it perfect. That’s what my customers are paying for: American perfection.”

MacNeil started his business in 1989, importing rubber floor mats made in England. “But after a few years, we decided to import those jobs to America and manufacture our floor mats here,” he said.

MacNeil Automotive has its headquarters and factory doing thermoforming and injection molding in Bolingbrook. The company’s engineering and toolmaking operations are in nearby Downers Grove, Ill. WeatherTech Europe is based in Parma, Italy, running a warehouse and sales operation.

The company does import some products, such as side-window deflectors, from Germany, but the U.S. company handles the engineering. MacNeil said he has no problem doing business with the Germans.

“I’m all for balance of trade. Balance. Think about that. You buy 10 from me, I buy 10 from you. Life goes on. The only thing I’m offended by is when you buy three from me and I buy a thousand from you. That pisses me off. I think [about] where I buy my products from: America first, and then the countries that play fair, that have good systems for environmental issues for human rights, animal rights, those kinds of things. Those things matter to me when I go purchase something,” he said, adding: “You can probably guess where I don’t purchase them.”

MacNeil said he hates going into a hardware chain store and finding “85 percent of the stuff is made 7,000 miles away.” He thinks about the environmental impact of those far-flung logistics.

“But I really feel that, with automation combined with some American labor, we’re much better off making the product here,” he said.

MacNeil said the economic impact of building a factory overseas is sweeping, requiring things like earthmoving equipment, construction labor, building materials and industrial machinery — with none of that likely to have been made in America.

“If my neighbors don’t have jobs, sooner or later I’m not going to have a job,” MacNeil said. “So it’s really important to think about where you’re buying things from. I don’t want America to become a service economy of hairdressers and landscapers. We need manufacturing. Hard-core manufacturing. The industrial infrastructure is one of many things that made America great. And we need to preserve that.”