Four firms named finalists for Processor of the Year

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The finalists for Plastics News’ Processor of the Year Award are two companies that were finalists last year — Evco Plastics Inc. and Nicolet Plastics Inc. — plus two newcomers — Dymotek Corp. and MTD Micro Molding.

All four are custom injection molders. Evco is based in DeForest, Wis., Nicolet is in Mountain, Wis., Dymotek is based in Ellington, Conn., and MTD is in Charlton, Mass.

Candidates are evaluated on seven criteria: financial performance, quality, customer relations, employee relations, environmental performance, industry/public service and technological innovation.

2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the award. Last year’s winner was Stihl Inc., the U.S. plastics manufacturing operations of the German maker of chain saws and other types of outdoor power equipment, in Virginia Beach, Va.

A team of judges from the Plastics News editorial staff evaluated all submissions and picked the 2015 finalists. The winner will be announced Feb. 16 at the Plastics News Executive Forum in Naples, Fla., and will be profiled in the Feb. 22 issue. The Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. sponsors the award.

Here is a look at the four finalists, in alphabetical order:

Dymotek Corp.

Don Loepp Workers pack boxes at Dymotek Corp., a specialist in two-shot liquid silicone rubber molding based in Ellington, Conn.

A specialist in two-shot and liquid silicone rubber molding, Dymotek is a fast-growing molder that runs two factories in small towns in Connecticut — the headquarters in Ellington and a newer factory in nearby Somers. The company runs 25 injection molding machines, ranging in clamping force from 35-440 tons.

Dymotek’s markets include plumbing, electronics, medical, and commercial/industrial. Many of its parts components go into food pumping systems. Those end-market sectors are demanding — meaning that Dymotek is open to about 20 unannounced audits a year.

Dymotek’s sales more than doubled in the last three years, from $10 million in 2012 to about $23 million in 2015. The company is profitable. Dymotek employs more than 100.

It’s no surprise that Dymotek earned points for technological innovation. The company’s history began with a dramatically better product, when brothers Steve and Tom Trueb developed a covering for hot-water pipes under sinks in public restrooms that protects people in wheelchairs. The product took off when the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated under-sink protection. At first, the brothers used custom molders to make the Truebro line of safety products. Then the fast growth prompted them to open their own molding facility in 1997, with two machines. They hired Norm Forest, an injection molding veteran.

In 2005, the Trueb brothers sold the plumbing product line and maintained the rights to manufacture the parts. They adopted the name Dymotek (for Dynamic

Molding Technologies) and expanded custom molding operations.

Dymotek got high marks for working with customers to help them innovate. Customers had good things to say about the molder’s expertise in LSR and plastics — not an easy task since LSR, a thermoset, has to be bonded to a thermoplastic, and in the end-products Dymotek supplies, the seal must be perfect between the two materials.

And, hand-in-hand with good customer relations, Dymotek has strong quality. The external defective parts per million is 14.8, and the internal scrap rate is just 0.6 percent of revenue. The company has expanded the use of vision systems, and has several automated work cells for long-running jobs. One cell turns out disposable pumps for liquids, a part with seven components of LSR, thermoplastic elastomer and plastic using two ABB articulating robots to assemble and fully pressure test the pumps. It runs 24/7.

Dymotek has standardized on Arburg injection molding machines.

Another dedicated cell makes the company’s original protective plumbing product. Two Arburgs feed two six-axis ABB robots, set up between the injection presses. Each robot removes the long, flexible part and quickly inserts fasteners.

Dymotek has very strong employee relations. The Hartford Courant has named the molder one of the state’s Best Places to Work for two years in a row. Every new hire undergoes a three-day training process with the company’s full-time trainer, including a grounding in Dymotek history, corporate culture, and the basics of injection molding, including Paulson training.

Dymotek fully reimburses employees for education — even if it’s not plastics-related. Forest, the CEO, holds a monthly roundtable discussion with employees. Each month, senior managers meet to review metrics and go over strategy. The goal: maintain transparency within the company.

And an active internship program has yielded two full-time employees — solid young people, meeting a critical need for the plastics industry.

For the industry and public service section, Dymotek has a committee that decides how the annual charity budget will be spent each year. Local schools, colleges, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops and local citizens are welcome to tour the plants. For industry action, the company is active in the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors, the Society of Plastics Engineers, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and two state groups — the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology.

Dymotek exports to 35 countries. That earned the company the President’s E-Award in 2015, from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Evco Plastics Inc.

Don Loepp Evco Plastics Inc., based in DeForest, Wis., began clean room molding in the mid-1990s.

Evco is owned by the Evans family, and for a humble family-run business, the custom molder has grown into a global player. Evco generated $133 million in sales in North America, according to Plastics News’ most recent ranking of injection molders. Global sales were not available.

Evco runs nine plants around the world, including Mexico and China; four in its home state of Wisconsin — three headquarters in the DeForest area, one in Oshkosh — and one in Calhoun, Ga.

Management likes to keep a diverse range of customers, including industrial, agricultural, power sports, medical and packaging.

Under President Dale Evans, the company regularly invests back into operations. Last year, Evco pledged to invest more than $10 million to expand large-press molding Georgia; move its plant in China to a 70,000-square-foot, custom-built facility with a clean room in Dongguan; boost machining operations in Wisconsin and add injection molding presses in Mexico.

Evco set up a mold-building factory in China in 1989, well before the rest of the North American plastics industry ventured there. That same year, Evco made another pioneering move: launching its Advanced Molding Plant (AMP) in DeForest, putting utilities underground and pushing the envelope on the use of robots. Other molders followed, but most came well after Evco’s AMP.

Evco offers a range of technology, including multi-shot molding, overmolding, insert molding, gas-assisted molding, stack molds, unscrewing molds and in-mold labeling and decorating. The company specializes in hard-to-mold, challenging parts.

Included in its stable of injection molding machines, the company runs 28 large-tonnage presses, with clamping forces from 1,000 to 3,500 tons. And more than 120 robots run companywide (including 12 new robots added in 2015), everything from three-axis, six-axis, side-entry and SCARA pick-and-place robots.

Evco began clean room molding in the mid-1990s.

All that helped Evco score points for technological innovation. But Evco is more than a technology powerhouse. The company also scored highly in employee relations, industry and public service, quality and customer relations.

Evco has reached partner status with John Deere, a level achieved by only a few suppliers. And customers had good things to say about the molder, which has an on-time delivery record of 99.5 percent. Customers said Evco has a strong technical expertise, and helps with product design, getting the molder involved at an early stage.

“They do a great job,” one customer said. “If there are any issues they’ll contact us and let us know.” Another customer said Evco does a good job making high-volume, complex cosmetic parts. “Quality is very good, which is why this latest program that I just awarded them is coming from a bad situation and I moved it to them specifically because they would be able to fix it,” he said.

For quality, Evco’s global defective PPM is 121. The Evco team wants to cut that to 3.4 by making each product launch smooth, by building partnerships with customers and suppliers.

For employee relations, Evco offers standard benefits like paid holidays and vacations, health coverage and a 401(k). But the efforts go beyond that, to include a monthly gainsharing based on profitability, on-time delivery and quality. A wellness bank pays each employee $300 per year for things like gym memberships, race fees, weight loss and help to stop smoking.

Employee suggestions are taken seriously. In 2015, a suggestion for a more efficient way to package parts freed up space in the molding plant and helped a customer on its assembly line.

Evco also promotes from within. The company targets 4 percent of payroll for training, under the adage “hire for attitude and train for knowledge.”

And Evco employees get to use the company’s 10-acre garden in DeForest.

Evco’s headquarters is in small-town DeForest, where the business takes a leadership role. For more than 25 years, Evco has partnered with DeForest High school’s co-op program. Evco also provides two scholarships a year for local students studying engineering or technical skills. The doors are always open for tours.

For the environmental performance section of the award, Evco closely tracks electricity, water usage and ponds of waste generated at its facilities. In the past year, the molder added energy-efficient presses, upgraded its lighting and bought a new cooling tower.

In DeForest, machine hours increased 24 percent, but the operation was able to reduce utility consumption by 10 percent in 2015.

And the company developed its own returnable packaging system for customers, called EV-PAC.

MTD Micro Molding

MTD Micro Molding MTD Micro Molding, based in Charlton, Mass., specializes in medical molding, specifically parts implanted in the body.

Medical molding is demanding, but MTD takes it a step further: 80 percent of the components MTD produces are implanted in the body — and three-quarters of those are bio-absorbable.

As its name says, MTD does micromolding at its plant in Charlton, Mass. According to MTD’s own definition, those are parts so small you need a microscope to see them, or parts as large as 1-inch-by-1-inch that have micro features. According to company officials, the vast majority of products MTD makes would fit into a space of three square millimeters.

MTD makes parts for the medical device industry. Everything is molded in ISO Class 8 clean rooms. MTD can mold these tiny parts with walls, edges and corners, holes and radii.

MTD was an early innovator in micromolding, first by making tools suitable for the highly specialized area. Richard Tully founded the company in 1972, as Miniature Tool & Die Inc. In 1988, the firm began molding micro parts for medical. Richard retired in 2008 and his son, Dennis Tully, took over as owner and president.

The company changed its name to MTD Micromolding in 2010.

MTD is small, with 12 molding cells and 27 employees. Sales for fiscal year 2015 were $6 million, up from $5.21 million in 2014. (The fiscal year ends June 30). The company is profitable.

MTD’s sales did fall from $7.63 million in fiscal 2010 to $4.37 million in 2013, but have grown again in recent years as the company has diversified its customer base to include more top-25 medical device companies.

The judges gave MTD high marks for quality, customer relations, employee relations, industry and public service, and technology.

The medical molder did a good job of showing improvements in quality and on-time delivery. On-time delivery has improved from 78 percent in 2013 to 94 percent at the end of fiscal 2015. For 2016, the goal is 95 percent, and so far, MTD is on target to top that performance.

That on-time delivery helps build good customer relations. Customers said MTD has good communications and is strong at converting ideas into final products, probably because of its history as a micro-mold maker.

“They are good on service and send weekly reports about their progress on making molds,” said one customer. Another said MTD has been involved with five development projects since molding parts for the company in the last two years. “They are doing some good things for us, and we continue to engage them for future projects,” he said.

As a small molder, it’s challenging to find and add new employees. MTD has hired 11 over the last two years. The average tenure for all employees is five years, and MTD claims a retention rate of more than 90 percent.

MTD’s submission included testimonials from employees, taken in a recent poll. “I love the challenge. Every day brings new opportunity,” one said. “Parts are more complex and smaller, materials are more exotic as time progresses.”

Other employees described the excitement of molding medical parts. “It is motivating to be making such a large impact as a small company,” another said.

Befitting a smaller business, each employee gets a birthday card and a gift. Employees get five extra vacation days on their five and 10-year anniversaries. At the three-year anniversary, they get a $100 gift certificate.

MTD also scored for industry and public service. The company sends employees to trade shows and conferences. Officials also are active at career fairs at leading colleges, such as Penn State Erie and University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

The sales team presents “lunch-and-learns” at medical device companies several times a month. And MTD brings the lunch! In the Charlton community, MTD is very active, sponsoring blood drives, a charity golf tournament, supporting local police and fire departments, and churches, with donations and volunteers.

Any company that makes medical implantable parts has to have first-rate technology. MTD does cavity separation, in-line vision inspection and has high-level quality inspection equipment. MTD uses Sarix micro-EDM technology to make a precise gate on tiny parts, including an implant for glaucoma treatment. MTD also bought a new state-of-the art OGP measurement system.

MTD has established a strong relationship with Sodick machines, buying its first two in 2001. Now, 11 of its 12 molding machines are Sodicks. MTD officials said Sodick machines are able to process many different materials without the need for major modifications, and are very repeatable. MTD also has purchased a highly innovative injection molding machine from a Spanish company that uses an ultrasonic horn to melt plastic, minimizing the heat history.

Nicolet Plastics Inc.

Don Loepp Nicolet Plastics Inc., based in Mountain, Wis., has earned a reputation for its ability to manage complexity.

The small custom molder is located in tiny Mountain, Wis., in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, about 200 miles north of Milwaukee. But Nicolet Plastics has earned an outsized reputation for its ability to manage complexity and build a cross-trained workforce.

Nicolet, which employs about 70, expects to generate about $12 million in 2015 sales. The molder has 20 injection presses, ranging in clamping force from 51-610 tons. Nicolet installed the 610-ton press, a Toyo, this summer.

Bob Macintosh and three partners founded Nicolet in 1985, and they incorporated the following year, with Macintosh as president and CEO. Over time, he bought out his partners, who were toolmakers.

The company began as a traditional molder, looking for all types of jobs. But the Great Recession hit in 2008. Work was moving to China, much of it high-volume molding. So Nicolet focused on smaller runs.

Macintosh and the management team developed a Skills Matrix, where employees learn new skills and can make more money by earning “apples” (a play on Macintosh’s name). Courses in the Skills Matrix have prerequisites, like in college.

Sales were just $5 million in 2009, but began a growth spurt when Nicolet, in 2010, reinvented itself with Quick Response Manufacturing — the way Amazon works by giving customers what they want, when they want it.

The molder serves a wide range of markets, including medical, aerospace, consumer products, energy, agriculture, dental, mining and process equipment. “If you’ve ever flown in an airplane, flushed a toilet, or drank a craft beer, you’ve experienced Nicolet Plastics,” the company wrote in its submission.

Nicolet uses the term Fast, Fluid and Flexible (FFF) to describe the company. The goal is to eliminate time spent on semi-finished parts, and keeping the parts moving. One big breakthrough is a conveyor that takes parts every 15 minutes to a quality and packaging area. Employees there check the parts and input the details into an IQMS system.

Employees are the key. At Nicolet, workers get a dispatch list several times a day that details what is running. A scheduling board in the factory has movable tiles and dry-erase markers. The cross-training means the workforce is flexible and can move to different jobs as needed.

In the quality area, Nicolet introduced something called visual quality worksheets into its inspection process. Quality standards are specific to the individual part, instead of one standard for all parts. Management found that too often production employees were scrapping good parts.

Nicolet also has been moving to put all part information and storyboards onto computer tablets at the order fulfillment area and at the presses, replacing paper. That allows changes to be made, and shared, quickly.

Another big change: Operators wear GoPro cameras to record the correct manufacturing steps. Before a job is run, the employee must first watch the video.

All these efforts helped Nicolet do more than 5,200 mold changes a year.

A heavy use of IQMS and mold temperature controllers gives information in real-time, boosting quality.

Customers are aware of Nicolet’s special strengths. Most have made the trek to the plant in Mountain. One customer said that Nicolet molds parts, does assembly and packaging and ships the final product to its distribution center. “The processes they set up are one of the most organized I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Another customer said Nicolet can respond quickly to changes in orders for its product, which is driven by consumer demand. “That’s an advantage for us,” the customer said.

The processor runs Nicolet Plastics University, led by Doug Baril, vice president of manufacturing, and designed for buyers and engineers. So far, the program has educated 250 people from more than 30 companies.

The company is active in MAPP and has hosted a member tour of its plant. It revamped its internship program, and in the past year Nicolet has employed four interns from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Ferris State University and Michigan Technological University. Nicolet took one of the interns to NPE 2015.

Locally, the molder continues to sponsor the community’s annual Nicolet Walk Run to benefit emergency response and fire department services, which has raised nearly $60,000 since the event began in 2003.

Nicolet Plastics is the largest employer in its county — a rarity in the plastics industry.

In the technology section of the award, Nicolet has begun using its plug-and-play robot, dubbed UR-5, designed to be moved from press to press. For long-running jobs, the company sets up “swim lanes” so parts can be run lights out over the week