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.
We profile Unimark in a Page 1 story this week.
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, with 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 U.S. 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. 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.
Last week, we reported that the state of Ohio is handing out some big bucks to Demag Plastics Group to help keep its main U.S. factory in Strongsville. (For people who haven't been keeping track of DPG's evolution, this means Van Dorn.)
Demag Plastics Group obviously played South Carolina off Ohio, soliciting deals before deciding to stay put in the Cleveland area and extracting the government help. Was Demag Plastics Group actually thinking seriously about pulling out of Strongsville? That's a question for Bill Carteaux and the other top executives. Does it even matter? That's how the economic development game is played.
DPG certainly can use the money. It's suffering just like every other machinery maker that sells into the still-uncertain U.S. market. The past three years have been devastating for everybody.
Already, government money has helped two other Ohio-based machinery makers: Milacron Inc. and the HPM Division of Taylor's Industrial Services LLC.
It's money well spent. Every machinery player could use some help. Because if the market doesn't improve soon, consolidation is bound to begin - and the companies in the best financial shape are much more likely to survive.