Some people are lucky enough to have jobs they love. Arthur Buckel is one of those people.
Buckel was named 1999 Thermoformer of the Year by the Society of Plastics Engineers' Thermoforming Division, for his diligence and dedication to the craft of thermoforming.
``[Thermoforming] goes beyond heat, suck, trim and ship,'' Buckel said. ``If you think that is all there is to thermoforming, you are in big trouble.''
Buckel grew up in San Diego and began his work with plastics while still in high school. His father enrolled him in an apprenticeship program that included fabricating flexible vinyl. That move eventually would help steer his career course.
``My dad instilled a hard-work ethic in me, and he introduced me to a craft that fit me perfectly,'' he said. ``I loved math, and I loved being creative and inventing new things. God gives all of us a gift and some of us are lucky enough to find and utilize it.''
By 19, Buckel had obtained his journeyman's card. He enrolled in San Diego State College as a math major while manufacturing interior automotive components part time using a machine he bought himself, to earn tuition money.
After two years of college, Buckel decided to drop out because he was bored. In 1959 he was drafted by the U.S. Army and spent two years stationed in Oklahoma working in artillery observation.
After returning home from the service, Buckel knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He started Pacific Auto Accessories Inc., which made soft goods for auto interiors and tops.
When firms like Toyota came calling for hard parts, Pacific couldn't use injection molding for the small volumes they required.
``We kind of drifted into thermoforming to fill those customers' needs,'' he said. ``No one else was doing it in San Diego. We bought the thermoforming machine and that is kind of how everything started.''
Buckel started Specialty Manufacturing Inc. in 1972 to manufacture vacuum formed heavy-gauge parts for import automobile companies. Ten years after the firm was started, SMI was a U.S. leader in thermoforming and fabrication.
``I wasn't nervous about starting the company,'' he said. ``The only thing that was on my mind was that I wanted a group of people who would work together well. I didn't want a company that was just pointing toward money.''
Buckel said he feels SMI has been successful not only because of its employees, but also because of its willingness to communicate with resin suppliers.
``When we would get calls for jobs we would contact the resin companies and make sure we were using the right material for the right application,'' he said. ``The resin companies can't help thermoformers unless they are called upon for help.''
After 20 years at SMI, Buckel decided he needed to sell the firm — but not leave the plastics business. He wanted to remain involved with thermoforming and plastics. He met Bill McConnell, a fellow thermoformer and lecturer, at a conference.
``I met Bill in 1974, during a time when thermoformers really had no place to turn for help. In fact, I think there was one book on thermoforming available for reference.''
McConnell was working as a sales manager for Texstar Inc., a thermoformer in Grand Prairie, Texas, when he decided to start McConnell Co. Inc. The Fort Worth, Texas, firm helps thermoformers with problem solving, plant analysis, parts trouble-shooting and design, and legal research.
McConnell, who was named Thermoformer of the Year by SPE in 1982, said Buckel was a great choice as an associate because he has hands-on experience.
``He was a textbook for me,'' McConnell said. ``He can give firsthand advice, because telling people things will work in theory just isn't enough. He helps get things across using his humor — this job was just a natural fit for him.''
Buckel hopes he has changed some of the stereotypes about the thermoforming business.
``Thermoforming used to be the really primitive laughing stock of the plastics processing world,'' he said. ``I believe we have come a long way.''
Buckel said he has no plans to leave the business any time soon. Along with working at McConnell Co., he now is helping SPE develop a thermoforming division for New Zealand and Australia.
``People ask me, `Why don't you retire and do things that you enjoy?' Hell, if retirement is doing things that you enjoy, then I guess I'm retired. I just keep on plugging away.''