In the tight-knit world of thermoforming, relationships are what make the industry strong, said the 2007 Thermoformer of the Year, Curtis Zamec.
``That's what makes us successful, what makes us different than the injection molders and the blow molders and the rotational molders and the guys that make steel,'' said Zamec, the president and chief executive officer of Chicago-based Wilbert Inc. ``Our goal should be to grow our industry. Only we can do this, and only we can do this together. We can't do it separately.''
Wilbert supplies components for burial vaults to licensees across the country, and through its Wilbert Plastic Services - with nine plants and 1,500 employees - is a major thermoformer and injection molder.
Zamec accepted the award during a Sept. 17 dinner at the Society of Plastics Engineers Thermoforming Conference in Cincinnati.
A Cleveland native, Zamec began his plastics career about 30 years ago, when he worked at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Akron, Ohio, in a division that marketed polyester films. Soon after he joined, Goodyear closed that business, and Zamec joined a Cleveland distributor of plastic and rubber products.
He got into thermoforming when he became president of R.B. Plastics, a small, heavy-gauge former in Rochester, N.Y., that was in Chapter 11 protection. He helped turn the company around. During that same time, he started a company, Zamec Industries, to make single-station thermoforming machines, because R.B. Plastics could not afford to buy large new machines.
Zamec then moved to Thermoform Plastics Inc. in St. Paul, Minn., which was owned by Wilbert. TPI formed the plastic liners for Wilbert's concrete burial vaults.
Zamec is known today as a plastics deal maker, and you need a scorecard to keep track of Wilbert's moves. It all started in 1996, when Zamec, then president of TPI, made his first acquisition - Plastivax Inc., with plants in Cleveland and Gastonia, N.C.
In 1999, Zamec was promoted to the top spot at Wilbert. The company continued to make plastics acquisitions, as Thermoform Plastics bought TransPak-USA to expand into thermoformed pallets.
Meanwhile, Wilbert was making moves in the death-care industry. In 2000, Wilbert made an offer to buy the nation's second-largest casket maker, York Caskets. Wilbert purchased a significant share of stock. York ended up selling to another suitor, but the profit from the sale of the York stock helped Wilbert make a blockbuster plastics deal - buying the thermoforming operations of Alltrista Corp.
Alltrista itself had purchased Triangle Plastics Inc., which also owned TriEnda Corp. The deal also included the Synergy World and Capri Bath businesses.
After the deal, Wilbert claimed to be the world's largest heavy-gauge thermoformer.
Soon, Wilbert was back in acquisition mode, purchasing thermoforming plants and some large-part injection operations of Morton Custom Plastics LLC.
That got Wilbert, already adept at large-part thermoforming, pressure forming and twin-sheet forming, into injection molding.
Today, Zamec said, heavy-gauge thermoforming generates about $190 million of the $280 million in sales for Wilbert Plastic Services.
WPS runs 58 three- or four-station rotary thermoforming machines and 78 computer numerically controlled trimming stations. Zamec said technology has improved greatly since his first thermoforming assignment at R.B. Plastics.
``The machines have gotten better, the trimming fixtures have gotten better. It's evolved into a profession,'' he said.
Zamec touched on Wilbert's impressive numbers during his Cincinnati acceptance speech. But people, he said, are the key to the thermoforming industry.
``Why is this award special to me? Because of all of you in this room. That's what this business is all about to me,'' he said.