Three custom injection molders are the finalists for Plastics News' Processor of the Year Award: AMA Plastics Inc., Protoplast Inc. and Tech Molded Plastics Inc.
A team judges from the Plastics News editorial staff picked the finalists.
AMA Plastics is based in Riverside, Calif. Protoplast is in Cobourg, Ontario. Tech Molded Plastics hails from Meadville, Pa.
The winner will be announced Feb. 25 at the Plastics News Executive Forum in Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa, Fla. The finalists and winner will be feted at a reception that night. The next morning, leaders from each finalist processor will answer questions during a best practices panel discussion.
Plastics News will profile the Processor of the Year in the March 3 issue.
Judges evaluated all candidates on seven criteria: financial performance, quality, customer relations, employee relations, environmental performance, industry/public service and technological innovation.
Last year's Processor of the Year was Hoffer Plastics Corp., a custom injection molder in South Elgin, Ill.
Senior reporter Bill Bregar, who coordinates the Processor of the Year Award, will visit all three finalists.
Once again this year, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. is sponsoring the Processor of the Year Award.
Here is a look at the three finalists, in alphabetical order:
AMA, one of the largest custom injection molders in the western United States, molds parts for electronics, medical and consumer products on 90 presses, nearly all of them Toyo machines. Clamping forces range from 35-720 tons. The majority are equipped with Yushin robots.
Its plant in Riverside runs a 6,000-square-foot, Class 8 (100,000) clean room.
Sales have climbed steadily, to $52 million in 2013, up from $31 million in 2009 —and AMA fared well in the recession, showing just a small dip in sales.
The company employs about 400. About 180 are full-time. That number includes a 33 percent Employee Ownership Stock Plan that began in 2008, and employees were fully vested in 2012, according to Katie Eckles, marketing associate.
AMA began in 1971, when brothers Joe and Jim Atchison founded Moldtronics Inc. in Anaheim, Calif. Joe's son, Mark Atchison, bought the company in 1993.
Joe and Jim have passed away. Mark remains CEO today. Cheryl Buhler is president.
AMA has adopted RJG molding principles. General manager Ken Pravitz is an RJG Master Molder II and a certified instructor, and the RJG knowhow has spread through the entire company. AMA has six Master Molders, and has 21 technicians trained in systematic molding.
AMA has been in a steady expansion track. In 1993, the company opened a 35,000-square-foot plant in Tucson, Ariz. An even bigger move came in 1995, when AMA moved from Anaheim, where it had grown to occupy five small buildings, to a single, 90,000-square-foot factory building in Corona, Calif. AMA officials later closed the Tucson plant, and Corona became the official headquarters in 2002.
After a period of rapid expansion, in 2011 AMA moved to a 150,000-square foot plant in Riverside, investing about $10 million for the building, infrastructure improvements, plus 6.6 acres of land.
Recent injection molding press investments include a 240-ton Arburg two-shot machine and three more Toyos, of 50, 90 and 110 tons, plus a 200-ton all-electric press in a clean room.
The molder has used an IQMS system since 2005. Also, AMA practices decoupled molding.
AMA scored well in quality, customer relations, employee relations, and industry and public service.
AMA has shown steady improvement in quality, after a bump up in defective parts per million during the 2011 relocation from Corona to Riverside, AMA dropped problems per million parts to 1,248 in 2013. And only the good stuff gets out the door: Just a minuscule number of pieces shipped, get returned.
AMA runs an advanced quality department, with several coordinate measuring machines and other testing devices.
Quality leads to good customer relations. Every person in customer service has at least 10 years of experience. AMA has received several top supplier awards, although non-disclosure agreements with customers do constrain company officials from giving many details.
Employee safety is a major goal. AMA has gone 1,379 days without a lost-time accident. In the last three years, the company has hired 74 new employees.
And AMA is active in the community. Mark Atchison is active in Riversides' Economic Development Agency, and serves as president of the Oakmont Hunter Business Park. AMA contributed more than $4,500 to the battle against multiple sclerosis. Employees donate toys and gifts to foster children at Walden Family Services during Christmas.
Protoplast is a small Canadian molder strong on craftsmanship and quick action to serve customers. The company excels at taking projects from concept to finished part quickly and cost-effectively.
Protoplast supplies automotive, industrial, electronics, consumer and medical/biotech customers, running 26 injection molding machines with clamping forces from 38-530 tons.
Eighty percent of the presses are three years old or newer, said Patricia Hart, manager of inside sales and purchasing at the molder in Ontario. The company was founded in 1981.
For automotive, Protoplast injection molds air ducts, CVJ (constant velocity joint) boots, parts to protect suspension components and under-the-hood parts. That focus led to a major investment of about $1.5 million over the last three years — to adopt injection blow technology to make the air ducts from thermoplastic vulcanizate. The molder invested money during the recession.
Originally, an automotive customer approached Protoplast with an idea for a part it was unable to manufacture using conventional blow molding. As a result, the molder now uses injection blow molding, giving the accuracy of injection molding with the flexible variety of a blow-molded part.
Protoplast is pushing the boundaries a little more by introducing injection transfer blow molding, to make air ducts for car turbochargers. That molding process lets the company use high-temperature thermoplastic polyester elastomers instead of standard TPVs, for that especially demanding application.
Protoplast is a small processor, generating $11.7 million in sales for 2013. That's the same level of 2011, as sales jumped to $13 million in 2012, then dropped back again. The reason for the decline: Facing tightening production capacity, executives decided to reduce molding work for two customers. They helped them find other suppliers, and both remain Protoplast customers today, at a smaller level.
That decision — never easy, especially at a small company — opened up the required capacity and financial resources to allow Protoplast to push into injection blow and injection transfer blow molding, new areas.
And profit levels held up throughout the change, even as sales dipped.
Protoplast gets involved in projects early on, and a strong background in tooling helps. A fully equipped tool shop, including "lights out" mold-making at night, means the company can make tools fast—in-house or working with offshore suppliers and finishing the molds in Cobourg.
Customers — including some big automotive and technology companies — praised Protoplast for moving fast to handle transfer tooling, helping to improve part design and juggling its schedule to meet tight product launch deadlines.
Protoplast, owned by husband-and-wife team of Andy and Cathy Rolph, treats its 80 employees like family. One employee wrote that they allowed her to take as much time as she needed to stay with her father, in intensive care at a hospital an hour-and-a-half away. They hired additional personnel, gave her a company cell phone and configured a laptop for her. The woman's father spent about a month at the hospital before he died.
Patricia Hart said the entire organization feels that way, holding fundraising events to help coworkers deal with medical expenses or the loss of a loved one.
And new hires know they can work their way up. The current quality control manager started as a machine operator 12 years ago.
Nicole Smith, marketing associate at IQMS Inc., nominated Protoplast for the Processor of the Year Award.
Tech Molded Plastics
This company, located in the plastics processing and mold-making center of Meadville, celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2013. "To thrive for four decades in the uncertain business environment associated with manufacturing in America, we credit the development of strong relationships that extend far beyond financial decisions," Vice President Mark Hanaway wrote in nominating his family owned company for the Processor of the Year Award.
Tech Molded Plastics is on the small side, generating $19.6 million in 2012 sales. Sales for last year are not available yet. The Great Recession hit Tech in 2009, but business rebounded, to nearly double in 2010.
Since 2000, annual sales have grown an average of 7.5 percent. The company reports more than 20 straight years of profitability.
Tech runs 32 injection molding machines, with clamping force from 40-440 tons.
Tech Molded has deep roots in the Meadville mold-making scene. Bill Hanaway, a journeyman toolmaker, and his wife Eva had four young children and not much money when they opened Tech in 1973. A couple of used machines clunked away in a rented garage.
Today, Tech Molded Plastics employs 120 people. Ninety of them are plastics employees — and of those, 10 of them are certified as RJG Master Molders. That's more than one in every 10 Tech workers. One has reached the highest status, so he can train others.
Mark Hanaway said Tech , in recent years, has adopted more of the RJG process into its molds. When new molds warrant it, Tech's toolmakers build them eDart-ready, complete with pressure transducers.
Tech Molded Plastics uses systems to ensure quality and foster a group of well-trained, skilled employees.
On the quality performance criteria, Tech reports 7,225 defects in internal parts per million over the past 12 months — and more importantly, zero external parts per million for multiple years. A detailed program management tool, designed in-house, guides the process through all phases of manufacturing, through product launch.
Customers appreciate the effort. They awarded very high marks for things like pricing, quote response time, on-time delivery and customer service.
The judges gave Tech Molded Plastics a very high score for employee relations. Tech runs a certified apprenticeship program for tool and die makers. On the molding side, employees have four different training requirement classifications, starting with newly hired employees. The other skill designations have a set number of hours of training, and the company spells out what is needed. Pay is based on the level of Class A, B., C or new hires. Employees get a bonus, tied to profitability, two times a year.
Tech executives say the company has had no days lost for injuries for the last decade.
Tech Molded Plastics even provided the judges with an audio file of employee comments.