Plastics News has named three finalists for its 2003 Processor of the Year Award: two automotive molders - Blackhawk Automotive Plastics Inc. and Kam Plastics - plus Unimark Plastics, a highly diversified plastics operations owned by Jarden Corp.
The newspaper will honor all three finalists and reveal the winner Feb. 2 during an evening reception at its Executive Forum 2004 at the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort in Summerlin, Nev., which is about 10 miles north of the city.
The winning company will be profiled in the Feb. 9 issue of Plastics News.
Last year the honors went to two companies that tied as Processor of the Year - Precise Technology Inc. of North Versailles, Pa., and Tech Group Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz. It marked the first time the judging ended up in a tie since Plastics News started the award in 1996.
Here are snapshots of the three finalists, listed in alphabetical order:
Blackhawk Automotive Plastics has emerged from its days as Worthington Custom Plastics Inc. as a formidable contender in automotive molding, due to a strong capital investment program, and expertise in technologies such as in-mold appliques, air outlets and instrument panels.
The Salem, Ohio-based company said it generates about $225 million in annual sales from three plants and a joint venture at a fourth, minority-owned Nescor Plastics Corp. All the plants are in Ohio, but Blackhawk soon will announce a new plant outside of the state. The company employs about 1,780.
A lot has changed in the four years since Worthingon Industries Inc. sold the automotive molder to an investment group that included former Worthington managers such as Clifford Croley, president and chief executive officer.
The former parent company was a conservative steel processor that wanted to supply both steel and plastics parts to automakers. It was a low-key company, and plastics was not its primary emphasis.
A year after buying the plastics business, the new owners changed the name to Blackhawk Automotive. The sleeker name reflected a new image and attitude.
Blackhawk was independent, focused on plastics only - and ready to make major investments for new equipment. Since the 1999 acquisition, Blackhawk has invested $65 million on more than 50 new injection molding machines, a Kiefel in-line vacuum forming machine, numerous robots and conveyor lines, paint lines, a laser-cutting machine, a new centralized computer system and the new factory. The company also doubled the number of employees at its Troy technical center in Michigan.
Still, Blackhawk brings history to the table. The company has produced more than 400 million louvered air outlets since 1969. Another pioneering effort came by molding the first plastic automotive exterior grille for the 1967 Pontiac LeMans.
But innovation did not end in those eight-track-tape days. More recently, General Motors Corp. picked Blackhawk to be the first molder of a commercial application of a thermoplastic polyolefin resin with a nanocomposite filler, a running board for two GM vans.
Blackhawk also scores high on quality, with a steadily declining number of defects measured by parts per million, down to 34 ppm this summer. The company uses kanban-style cards, and clear progress boards in its plants to track production. Its lean manufacturing principles are based on those of Toyota Motor Corp.
Blackhawk also does well with customer relations. Since 1994, the company has played a key role in more than 25 ``black box'' design projects, including grille assemblies, ashtray assembles, seat trim and a large number of air outlets.
Blackhawk nominated itself for the award.
A small injection molding company with just $10.2 million in 2002 sales, Kam Plastics uses total dedication to customers, a full-service approach and people power from its 115 employees to win automotive business - and reach the finalists circle for the Plastics News award.
The custom molder in Holland, Mich., runs 33 presses, ranging in clamping force from 8-310 tons.
Kam was founded in 1994 by Paul Kalkman and Cleon Morgan, two former executives of Holland-based automotive mirror maker Donnelly Corp. Peter Prouty came over from Donnelly a year later. The three owners signed up other industry veterans in manufacturing and quality. The management staff has a combined 195 years of experience, giving Kam a level of plastics-business maturity that belies its nine years in operation.
In 2002, Magna International Inc. purchased Donnelly. Thanks to the personal connections and Kam's expertise at producing mirror components, Magna Donnelly remains Kam's largest customer, accounting for 40 percent of business. Overall, automotive accounts for 70-80 percent of sales. The firm turns out a lot of small parts for mirrors, window-crank knobs, insert-molded electrical components and arm rests.
Kam scored high in relations with customers, who could not praise the company enough when the judges called. ``Every time I've been out there, you can feel that they all click,'' one said. ``It's something you can sense.''
Kam officials have worked to diversify the company's customer base outside of automotive. For example, they have won jobs molding small, precision components for the Holland-area's extensive office-furniture business, and also contracts to mold gauges for boats and snowmobiles and even parts for chicken feeders.
For a small company, Kam offers a full-service menu. It has a close alliance with Fredricks Design Inc. of Grand Haven, Mich., to provide part design. Kam also offers chrome plating and painting, plus larger-tonnage molding capacity, through alliances with other companies.
In the plant, all employees can see a large, color-coded, magnetic board that tracks production. The easy-to-understand scheduling system has cut waste and improved the flow of parts through the plant. Kam also uses color-coded signs that show which resin is being used - plant leaders stick them on the press, the dryer, the grinder, boxes of resin, everywhere. They also employ totes that are color-coded and stamped with the press number to help match the myriad of small parts with the right press.
Excellent employee relations help Kam stand out. Employees praised the company for its good communication and family-like atmosphere. The firm pays profit sharing each month, instead of quarterly or yearly like other companies. It shares month-end financial information, along with updates on manufacturing and quality. The company has started a program to promote and celebrate injury-free days.
In community relations, Kam donates 3 percent of its pretax profit to local organizations.
Jeff Mengel, a partner with consulting group Plante & Moran LLP in Auburn Hills, Mich., nominated Kam for this award.
Greer, S.C.-based Unimark is a division of Alltrista Plastics Corp., which in turn is a subsidiary of publicly traded Jarden Corp. in Rye, N.Y.
Here's a recap of the corporate history: In 1993, Ball Corp. spun off seven divisions to form Alltrista Corp. Seven years later, backed by a New York investment firm, British deal-maker Martin Franklin bought a stake in publicly traded Alltrista. Under Franklin, the company became Jarden, sold most of its thermoforming businesses, then embarked on a path of acquisitions.
Jarden's highest-profile product is the Ball home canning jar, a very traditional product that is still made of glass. But the Unimark unit is an established player in plastics processing. The division expects to generate 2003 sales of about $100 million.
Diversity is obvious when you look at Unimark's five U.S. injection molding locations: in Greenville, S.C.; Reedsville, Pa.; Springfield, Mo.; East Wilton, Maine; and Tupper Lake, N.Y. The company has seven plants in those five cities.
Unimark molds a wide variety of products, including medical items such as suture trays and catheters; consumer goods like contact-lens carriers; components that go into shotgun shells, and caps and closures under the Yorker Closures brand. In 2002 and 2003, Unimark became a dominant U.S. player in plastic cutlery after Jarden bought two companies, Diamond Brands Operating Corp. and O.W.D. Inc.
Jarden also picked up a company that makes the FoodSaver home vacuum-packaging machine for sealing food.
So you can use products molded by Unimark when you go to the doctor, hunt wild game and pull out the plastic knives and forks for a picnic.
Unimark runs 150 presses at its U.S. plants, and has another 25 presses offshore, including in plants in Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom.
In the award judging, Unimark earned high marks for its financial performance, quality performance and technological innovation. More than 65 percent of the company's injection molding presses are equipped with robots.
Two people nominated Unimark for the award. One was Dan Raher, executive vice president of Ohio Valley Plastics of Evansville, Ind. He deals with the cutlery factories in Maine and New York, and he said the highly automated Maine plant is especially impressive.
``Their ability to take resin and bring it to a retail box, and in turn, into corrugated [boxes] for shipment is a wonderful, magical process,'' he said.
Customer relations is another strong point. Evidence of that is the fact that the other person who nominated Unimark is a customer: Jim O'Reagan, vice president of research and development at Span-America Medical Systems Inc. of Greenville. He praised Unimark for responsiveness and hard work to get Span's production started quickly, by providing contract molding and assembly work.
A committee of Plastics News editorial staffers selected Blackhawk, Kam and Unimark from among 20 eligible nominees. For the second straight year, Ernst & Young Corporate Finance Inc. co-sponsored the award, and also helped the judges to analyze the nominated companies' financial performances.
This year, injection molding operations accounted for 15 of the 20 nominated companies, with the balance represented by three extruders, one blow molder and one thermoformer.
Eleven candidates were nominated by third parties, such as machinery or resin suppliers and economic development agencies. Nine companies nominated themselves.
The editorial staff reviewed materials sent by each nominated company; interviewed customers; suppliers and analysts; searched news reports; and researched public records for health, safety and environmental issues.
Now, in the home stretch, project coordinator Bill Bregar is visiting each of the three finalists to get more insights, before the final decision is made.
The award, which began in 1996, honors a company in North America that has displayed excellence in seven criteria: financial performance, quality, customer relations, employee relations, environmental record, public service efforts and technological innovation.
The Plastics News committee judged the nominees primarily on their performance from Sept. 1, 2002, to Sept. 1, 2003, though it also considers longer-term performance.
The award contest is open to private or public companies and operating divisions engaged in North American plastics processing for at least five years.
This year's winner will join a respected group. Past winners include Precise Technology and Tech Group; Cascade Engineering Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich.; Tessy Plastics Corp. of Elbridge, N.Y.; Royal Group Technologies Ltd. of Woodbridge, Ontario; Courtesy Corp. of Buffalo Grove, Ill.; Nypro Inc. of Clinton, Mass.; and Bryan Custom Plastics of Bryan, Ohio.