(Feb. 9, 2003) — The winner of Plastics News' Processor of the Year Award is Unimark Plastics — a highly diversified plastics company that makes everything from plastic cutlery to parts for shotgun shells to medical products that help keep people alive.
Unimark is an interesting company owned by the equally interesting Jarden Corp. Last year, Jarden reached its own milestone of recognition when Forbes magazine named it one of America's 200 Best Small Companies for its financial performance.
It will be interesting to watch Jarden and Martin Franklin, its young, dynamic chairman and chief executive officer. By orchestrating two acquisitions in 2002 and 2003, Jarden and Unimark became the largest U.S. molder of plastic cutlery. More deals are sure to come. Unimark also has the opportunity to mold for other Jarden units; that happened after Jarden bought the company that makes the FoodSaver in-home food preservation system.
Before the cutlery purchases, Unimark already was a premier, if smaller, molder strong on medical and consumer products.
Unimark's seemingly dissimilar products have something in common: They are used up, then purchased again.
They also demand highly automated manufacturing, albeit for different reasons. For cutlery, robots are keeping some work in the United States by cutting labor costs to the bone. Cost plays a role in medical molding too, of course, but quality and sanitary molding are the main factors. For many of those parts, human hands can't touch them in the factory.
Led by President Curt Watkins, Unimark also picks its targets selectively. Sure, the company wants new business, but what Watkins and his company really push for is long-term relationships in which Unimark can use its design operation, called Innovative Solutions, to help customers improve their products.
Unimark is doing the right things to survive in the harsh world of U.S. manufacturing today. It focuses on a smaller number of good customers rather than the old scatter-shot custom molding approach. It does assembly, even complete production and shipment for its customer. It offers design; it is the plastics expert for its customer.
That doesn't mean that Unimark — or any other U.S. processor — is 100 percent guaranteed of success. No molder can say that these days. But Unimark is on the right track.