Plastics News has picked four finalists for its 2004 Processor of the Year award: Hancor Inc., Miniature Precision Components Inc., Rotonics Manufacturing Inc. and U.S. Farathane Corp.
Last year's winner was Unimark Plastics of Greer, S.C.
Plastics News will announce the 2004 award winner March 1 in Phoenix, during its Executive Forum 2005. The finalists and winner will be honored at a ceremony and reception ... and we will keep the winner hidden until then!
The winning processor also will be profiled in the March 7 issue of Plastics News.
Here are snapshots of the finalists, in alphabetical order:
Hancor is one of the largest makers of high density polyethylene pipe in North America. The company dates to the late 1800s, when its hometown of Findlay, Ohio, saw a boom in clay drainage pipe.
Hancock Brick & Tile Co. formed its Hancor Division to get into plastic pipe in the late 1960s, then quickly converted entirely to plastic.
In the judging, Hancor scored high in technical innovation, quality, customer relations and public service. Judges gave Hancor its highest marks for environmental performance - starting with its nomination for the award by Philip Milburn, Ducks Unlimited's director of corporate relations. Hancor is Ducks Unlimited's ``supplier of choice'' for products for wetlands protection.
``Hancor has excelled in providing quality, innovative products, being an environmental steward and contributing to their community,'' Milburn wrote.
Milburn highlighted two Hancor products: EcoFirst, a dual-wall HDPE pipe that uses at least 50 percent recycled resin, and its Water Control Structure, a gate for lowering and raising the level of water in a pond, lake or drainage area. Both are officially licensed Ducks Unlimited products, which means Hancor donates a percentage of each sale to the group for conservation efforts.
EcoFirst is not Hancor's first pipe product marketed for its recycled content. That's a contentious issue in the corrugated drainage pipe arena, and Hancor deserves credit for pushing the envelope.
Hancor carries its environmental commitment through to public service. The company donated about 30 acres of land behind its headquarters to the University of Findlay for environmental studies.
Hancor is accredited to the ISO 9001:2000 quality standard. Its Ohio facilities for engineering and product development, production support, quality control and corporate offices have achieved ISO 9001.
Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse named Hancor its 2003 Suppler of the Year in the category of rough plumbing. Other customers praised Hancor for its marketing and delivery, and they used the word ``partnership.''
``The difference with Hancor is the way they go to market,'' one customer said. ``They go to market forming a true partnership.''
Hancor also is a strong innovator, developing 17 patents in the past 24 months.
In employee relations, Hancor sports a low turnover rate and a strong emphasis on safety. The pipe company runs a scholarship fund. Another fund helps out employees caught in natural disasters to get back on their feet.
Officials of privately held Hancor are very reluctant to talk about financial performance. According to data from Plastics News' ranking of pipe, profile and tubing extruders, Hancor had estimated sales of $279 million in 2003, from 14 pipe factories.
Miniature Precision Components Inc.
A finalist in 2002, MPC again has made it to the finalists' circle. The Walworth, Wis.-based maker of engine and other under-the-hood automotive parts was founded by Jay Brost in 1972, in his garage. Brost patented one of the first plastic check valves for automotive engines - and the company has been an innovator ever since.
MPC has developed several other groundbreaking products, including a PCV valve and a quick-connect system for vacuum lines. The company is one of only two U.S. processors to use the suction blow molding technology. MPC deploys suction blow molding to make air ducts, fill pipes, power steering lines and other complex tubular shapes.
The company now occupies more than 435,000 square feet of space and employs about 1,600.
Officials estimate 2004 sales will be $178 million, up 18 percent from $151 million in 2003. By 2005, they expect to reach $200 million. The financially stable, family-owned company has been able to grow without taking on a lot of debt.
MPC runs factories in Walworth, Prairie du Chien and Richland Center, Wis.; and in Santa Ana, Mexico. Every plant is automated.
The automotive market remains No. 1 for MPC, by far. But the company has diversified into medical, recreational, commercial and consumer products.
MPC's automotive products tend to be small, precision parts. Many are difficult to mold. Last year, MPC shipped 119 million finished parts to 1,224 locations, averaging 226 shipments a day. You don't think much about them, unless they fail and your car breaks down - so quality is important. MPC plants meet QS 9000 and ISO standards for quality systems. The company reports excellent results for part quality and on-time delivery.
Automotive customers had good things to say. Several said they trust MPC to do complete testing and recommend new materials or manufacturing processes. One customer needed a blow molding process for a coolant bottle - something MPC did not have. MPC bought a blow molding machine for that specific application. MPC also recently added rotational molding to mold a special automotive part.
MPC also has a sophisticated business-to-business Web site for online quoting.
Miniature Precision Components also did well in the categories of environmental performance - where it uses the ISO 14001 standard and has reduced noise in its plants - and employee relations - for a strong benefits package and investment in education for employees and their children.
The firm keeps busy in public service. It even has a charity committee that will donate $50,000 this year to organizations and individuals.
For a family-owned processor with deep local roots, public service gets personal. Jay Brost, an artist as well as a plastics executive, has donated large sculptures of historical figures to local communities.
Miniature Precision Components was nominated by Stephen Geimer, senior vice president of M&I Marshall & Ilsley Bank in Milwaukee. Geimer said M&I has been MPC's bank for about 20 years.
Rotonics Mfg. Inc.
Run by the legendary Sherman McKinniss, Rotonics is a leading rotational molder, thanks to diversity from its 10 divisions, technology and experience. McKinniss had retired as president and chief executive officer in 2001, though he remained chairman, as Robert Gawlik was promoted to fill the top jobs.
In 2003, Gawlik left the company and McKinniss returned as president and CEO.
The Gardena, Calif.-based company employs more than 400 at 11 plants. RMI earned a profit of $1.3 million on sales of $40.3 million for fiscal 2004, ended June 30. That was a 12 percent increase over 2003 sales of $35.9 million. Sales had declined in 2001, 2002 and 2003 before rebounding this year.
RMI is the sixth-largest rotomolder in North America, according to Plastics News' most recent ranking. It is traded on the American Stock Exchange.
McKinniss said the pickup in sales reflects overall economic improvement, new products and higher resin prices.
RMI pushes the envelope in new technology and materials for rotomolding. The company plans to add three rotomolding machines in the current fiscal year. Nova Chemicals Corp. turned to RMI to help develop its new Surpass-brand enhanced polyethylene for rotomolding.
Rotonics steadily invests in new molds and equipment. Eleven automated routers run in its factories. The company has purchased a fully computer-controlled oscillating oven machine from Ferry Industries Inc. to manufacture large tanks with thick and thin sections, such as septic tanks.
Tanks remain a big part of RMI's business, but the rotomolder is very diverse. RMI pioneered decorative rotomolded lampposts. Other products include fountains, large planters, seats and storage compartments for boats, buoys, laundry carts and even a line of classic carousel horses.
Customers said RMI gets the job done. ``RMI's track record from a quality and engineering standpoint has been such that, we wouldn't look to get it a buck cheaper elsewhere. It's coming in at a competitive price,'' one said.
The firm has many employees with 10-plus years of service. Two employees told the judges that RMI spends time and resources to develop its people. They credited McKinniss and his personal touch.
This recent retirement is not the first time McKinniss has left rotomolding, then came back. McKinniss was first introduced to rotomolding in 1961. He has founded several rotomolding firms, sold some and bought quite a few, all the time devoting plenty of time to trade associations.
David Fair, general manager of RMI's plant in Brownwood, Texas, has worked for several companies in more than 20 years of rotomolding. ``The thing that makes it unique is Sherm's personal touch. He's accountable, and he holds others accountable. But he's never too busy to talk if you need him,'' Fair said.
U.S. Farathane Corp.
In the often brutal world of automotive plastics, U.S. Farathane has worked hard to make sure it stands out - by evolving from a shoot-and-ship molder to a company that embraces new technologies such as two-shot and microcellular molding and welding reservoirs for brake fluid.
The company has not blindly spent its money on new technology. Under President Andrew Greenlee, the goal is to invest in technologies that strengthen the bottom line. ``Growth is secondary to profitability,'' he said in a Plastics News story in 2001, just after he was promoted to president.
USF was self-nominated by Deb Ramar, assistant to the president. USF, she wrote, ``has grown from a marginal $30 million company [with quality issues] to a profitable $70 million company.''
USF expects 2004 sales to total $71.5 million. Sales have doubled since the mid-1990s. In recent years, sales have bounced around in the mid-$60 million level, which the company attributes to its ongoing divestiture of shoot-and-ship molding. Meanwhile, a greater portion of sales is coming from new business thanks to two-shot molding and the other new technologies.
The company has been consistently profitable.
U.S. Farathane was created in 1971 by Cy Edwards, when two companies, U.S. Plastics and Farathane Corp., merged into one entity.
Today the company runs 82 injection molding machines with clamping forces from 75-720 tons in four plants, all in Michigan - two at its headquarters in Sterling Heights, one in Utica and one in Madison Heights. The company does molding and assembly of a wide range of automotive parts, including window-latch assemblies, stabilizer bushings, jounce bushings for struts, molding and automated assembly of headrest guides and molding and hot-plate welding of the brake reservoirs. USF uses two-shot molding to make parts like head- and taillight housings, seals, side seat panels and other interior trim parts. USF also does urethane molding.
Earlier this year, the injection molder expanded into profile extrusion, when it bought the assets of a supplier, Hahn Elastomers in Plymouth, Mich., which had closed its doors in August.
Renamed the USF Plymouth Division, the plant extrudes hood seals, bulb seals and other parts. The coextrusion capability fits well with the USF's two-component molding expertise, officials said.
USF employs 530.
Technology is a strong point, but Farathane also scores high marks for major quality improvements, solid customer relations and public service. The firm has won supplier awards from several automakers, including the DaimlerChrysler Gold Award in 2002. A dual-durometer air-conditioning seal was a finalist in both a Society of Plastics Engineers competition and the Pace Awards, an automotive supplier award sponsored by Ernst & Young and Automotive News, a sister publication of Plastics News.
Farathane's public service efforts include mentoring college students, sponsoring a golf outing for a children's hospital, helping renovate an elementary school playground and, at the extrusion factory in Plymouth, giving jobs to disabled people who live in a group home.
The firm also stresses good employee relations, providing tuition reimbursement, an extensive English-as-a-second-language program, a Safety Committee and paid time off for perfect attendance. One result: a low absenteeism rate.
* * *
Plastics News Processor of the Year past winners
Unimark Plastics of Greer, S.C.
Precise Technology Inc. of North Versailles, Pa.
Tech Group Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz.
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.
Bryan Custom Plastics of Bryan, Ohio