Tech shines as top processor

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The newest Plastics News Processor of the Year, Tech Molded Plastics Inc., offers a good example for other small-to-midsized plastics processors through its balanced, common-sense approach to business.

Credit the second-generation owners, the Hanaway brothers — Scott, Mark and Doug. They’re carrying on the tradition of their father, Bill, and mother, Eva, who founded the Meadville, Pa., toolmaker in 1973. Tech expanded into injection molding, in the time-honored fashion of so many custom injection molders.

And in-house toolmaking gives any molder an advantage — especially a smaller one. The 30 toolmakers at Tech Molded Plastics are very experienced, with almost no turnover. That helped in the recession, since they could handle transfer molds easier. And it enables Tech Molded, with molding sales of $17.7 million last year, to compete against far bigger competitors to get demanding jobs. Tech takes advantage of multi-cavity molds, hot runner expertise and when necessary, the addition of eDart mold cavity pressure sensing.

You can read the Page 1 profile in this week’s issue, and glean at least a few ideas that your company can try. The Plastics News judges said Tech Molded shines exceptionally bright in the areas of employee relations, financial performance, technology, and industry and public service.

Tech Molded Plastics won the award over two other finalists: AMA Plastics Inc., a Riverside, Calif.-based custom injection molder that serves the electronics, medical and consumer products sectors; and Protoplast Inc., a molder in Cobourg, Ontario, that molds parts for automotive, industrial, electronics, consumer and medical/biotech markets.

All these companies are good role models. All three are smaller, closely held companies in their second-generation of ownership with active, day-to-day management by the family members. They can move quickly. No layers of bureaucracy here.

Andy and Cathy Rolph make up a strong husband-and-wife team at Protoplast, the smallest of the three finalists at $11.7 million in sales, 80 employees and 16 injection molding machines. The company still does plenty of prototyping, its original business, and is a major specialist in aluminum tooling. When a customer asked them to get into injection blow molding of auto air ducts, they went for it. More recently, Protoplast is doing injection transfer blow molding. That makes it a big player in ducts that can withstand the high-heat of today’s turbocharged engine compartments.

AMA Plastics is bigger: a $52 million molder with 400 employees (180 full-time) and 90 injection presses. About a third of its full-time people participate in an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. Mark Atchison is the second-generation owner. He astutely put together a strong leadership team, plucking top talent away from other Southern California molders as the industry lost key markets to China, like cell phones and personal computers, and struggled after the Sept. 11 tragedy. Now AMA is one of the largest California molders in the west, under one roof. They have a clean room. And AMA’s gleaming new building has plenty of room for growth — after a $10 million investment in the 90,000-square-foot building, and upgrading it for plastic molding.

The recession weeded out weaker plastics processors, or those laden with high debt. Family owned companies like Tech Molded Plastics and Protoplast, and the ESOP-owned AMA Plastics, are the strong players today. They have a solid future.

Bill Bregar is a senior reporter for Plastics News.