Excellent! And the winners are …

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Plastics News photo by Bill Bregar A DeKalb Molded Plastics employee paints the structural foam molded base of one of Sauder's convertible Trey multifunction task chairs.

Plastics News has announced three winners of its PN Excellence Awards — Plastic Molding Technology Inc., DeKalb Molded Plastics Co. and Rodon Group LLC.

PMT, a custom injection molder in El Paso, Texas, won the award for the category of customer relations.

DeKalb Molded Plastics, which makes structural foam parts in Butler, Ind., picked up the award for employee relations.

Hatfield, Pa.-based custom molder Rodon won for industry and public service.

This is the third year for PN Excellence Awards — in fact, DeKalb won the customer relations award two years ago.

DeKalb and Rodon both are finalists for this year Processor of the Year Award.

Check out video features of finalists DeKalb and Rodon.

The judges, who are Plastics News reporters and editors, evaluated those three criteria, three of the seven used to decide the overall top Processor of the Year Award.

Plastics News honored the winners March 5, during the newspaper's Executive Forum in Tampa, Fla. The Processor of the Year also was named at the event: Hoffer Plastics Corp. of South Elgin, Ill. (A video feature of award-winner Hoffer is available here.)

Here are the category winners:

Plastic Molding Technology — Customer relations

PMT made a major business decision in 2004: to relocate from its home in Seymour, Conn., to El Paso, Texas. The reason: Customers wanted PMT closer to the Mexican maquiladora plants.

PMT said its top 15 customers have been with the molder for an average of more than seven years each. About half of overall sales of $14.9 million come from automotive precision parts like gears, bushings, lamp sockets, knobs and wire harness and fuse components.

Plastic Molding Technology transferred some key employees to Texas. It was a big move for a small custom molder.

PMT's core values, including passion and commitment, drive the company, especially the customer servicer and quality.

The company has made impressive improvements in reducing scrap and the production of bad parts per million.

Customers had good things to say when the award judges called.

"They are a very capable supplier that has shown the ability to meet and exceed our expectations for the design and analysis of plastic component parts that we use in our door latch assemblies," said a product engineer with a multinational auto customer in Mexico. He said PMT has helped make design changes and suggested cost savings. "They have consistently been able to meet our timing and delivery schedules on multiple component parts."

A supply-chain executive at another customer called PMT "a reliable supplier with a lead time of less than two days planned for most items." The molder has an on-time delivery record of more than 99 percent, he said.

PMT won new work when a customer moved manufacturing of an electrical product from California to Mexico. "PMT worked tirelessly to make this transition successful," said a global sourcing person.

DeKalb Molded Plastics — Employee relations

When it comes to good employee relations, DeKalb covers all the bases, with some flair.

President Rick Walters, himself a veteran of DeKalb Molded Plastics, sets the tone by taking each of the company's 130 employees out to breakfast or lunch on his or her anniversary. They leave work and go to a restaurant. Walters said it's a great way to get to know people.

But DeKalb's employee efforts go far beyond a free meal with the boss. A safety committee meets every month. And each quarter, management meets with all employees to talk about business and give an update on profit sharing.

In an era when it's tough to find good workers, DeKalb management stresses hiring veterans. In fact, veterans made up about one fourth of the 35 new hires last year. Press operator Skylar Jac­quay, a National Guard member, surprised executives by nominating his company for a top award, and DeKalb won. Jac­quay's is a classic plastics factory story: He was a temporary worker who became full time, and in just two years, rose through the ranks to become a setup technician.

At DeKalb, 12 percent of the total workforce is either active or retired members of the U.S. armed forces. The company has expanded its efforts for veterans, now even making up the difference in pay when they are deployed, for up to six months.

Kassy Davis, human resources director, is a dynamo who brings progressive ideas to the small-town processor. DeKalb went totally tobacco free in mid-2012. How is that special? DeKalb was a veritable chimney of smokers — more than 52 percent partook.

It's all part of a wellness program that Davis has launched. You can get a free chair massage, attend a health fair, or take a Zumba class, right at the factory.

Employees can earn up to $400 off on their health insurance premiums of they are active participants in their overall health.

And if you go into the lunchroom, certain food items in the vending machines are labeled as "better for you."

In recent years, DeKalb has revamped its new-employee orientation process, to explain the molder's core values and future goals. The firm also has a general tuition-reimbursement program.

Throw in events like family cookouts, a minor-league baseball game and a children's Christmas party, and DeKalb is a fun, fulfilling place to work.

And when DeKalb experienced a fire, an emergency response plan worked well, resulting in no injuries.

Rodon Group — Industry and public service

Rodon and its sister company, K'Nex, are great examples of U.S. manufacturing prowess — and thanks to an effort spearheaded by management, that message is spreading to everyday Americans.

Michael Araten, president and CEO, and Jill Worth, who handles web communications and marketing, have done a great job promoting K'Nex construction toys through social media and television shows like the History Channel's Modern Marvel.

The message is clear: "We Beat China Pricing." Araten serves on the board of directors of the American Made Matters trade association.

K'Nex recently won approval to sell some of its toys in China — a twist on the normal toys-from-China onslaught that deserves applause.

The publicity reached its peak when President Barack Obama, fresh off his re-election, visited K'Nex and Rodon.

Rodon has an advantage over traditional custom molders, since about one-third of its sales come from molding K'Nex parts. Now Araten and Worth are working to publicize Rodon the same way they promote K'Nex. Rodon has tried for the Processor of the Year Award two years in a row now — and made it to the finalists circle each time, without winning the ultimate prize.

Rodon is a solid contender for the top award, and we're glad to help spread the word about Rodon. Amazingly, the company is still not very well-known within the plastics industry — a fact Araten wants to change in order to increase capacity utilization on the molding machines.

Rodon and K'Nex employees participate in the Global Corporate Challenge, a worldwide health and wellness program.

The company and its employees are active in a slew of local events, from sponsoring a bike team to Habitat for Humanity.

And the firm takes care of its own. In the annual adopt-a-family project, Rodon two years ago adopted one of its own families hit by medical costs. Rodon people held raffles, pot-luck lunches and made cash donations.

Rodon is an excellent example of efficient, lean manufacturing. One operator can handle 15 injection molding machines. As reported in Plastics News, Rodon is one of the first industrial companies to buy the two-armed Baxter robot from Rethink Robotics Inc.

As more work returns from China, companies like Rodon are poised to benefit.