Three small custom injection molding companies will vie for the Plastics News Processor of the Year Award.
A team of judges has selected three finalists: Donnelly Custom Manufacturing Inc. of Minnesota, Innovative Injection Technologies Inc. of Iowa, and Wisconsin-based Plastic Components Inc.
This marks the third straight year Innovative Injection Technologies, known as i2Tech, has been a finalist for Processor of the Year Award.
The winner will be announced March 11, at the Plastics News Executive Forum at Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa, Fla. The finalists and winner will be honored at a ceremony and reception that evening. The following morning, a senior executive from each finalist company will participate in a best-practices panel discussion.
Plastics News will profile the winning processor in the March 17 issue.
This marks the 12th year for the award, which honors excellence in well-rounded companies by looking at seven criteria: financial performance, quality, customer relations, employee relations, environmental performance, industry and public service, and technological innovation.
Last year's winner was Mack Molding Co. of Arlington, Va.
The judges are members of Plastics News' editorial staff. The new co-sponsor of the award, Chicago-based Blaige & Co. LLC, helped analyze the financial performance of the nominees.
Here is a look at the finalists, in alphabetical order:
Donnelly Custom Manufacturing Inc.
Donnelly has a catchy slogan that says it all: ``How Short Run is Done.'' The company in Alexandria, Minn., has become an expert on short-run, close-tolerance jobs, while forming close relationships with customers.
Donnelly's sales have climbed steadily, averaging 12 percent annual growth for the past four years, to reach $28.8 million in 2007. The company has been consistently profitable, rising an average of 30 percent during that same period.
Donnelly employs 230 and runs 32 injection molding machines, 19 of them all-electric presses.
Although the judges gave Donnelly good marks for all seven criteria, the processor scored especially well for customer relations and employee relations. Officials at two customers praised Donnelly for on-time delivery, and for upfront design work on major new projects.
Donnelly's manufacturing statistics are astonishing: 2,700 active molds, 15,000 mold changes a year, an average production run of less than 11 hours.
That level of complexity won't work unless you have high-quality, flexible employees. Each day, cross-functional teams meet inside a ``war room'' to set the day's activities. The employees create an action plan for the next 24 hours, held accountable by their peers, not management.
Donnelly also does a lot of training, so employees have plenty of opportunity to move into new positions. Officials aren't shy about investing to improve working conditions, spending more than $80,000 to replace two gantry cranes with overhead bridge cranes, shortening mold changeover times and making the process safer.
Located in Minnesota, the ``Land of 10,000 Lakes,'' Donnelly also got points for its environmental performance. In 1990, founder Stan Donnelly deeded several acres of land to Alexandria, to improve storm-water runoff. More recently, the company granted easements to the Alexandria Lakes Area Sanitary District to allow the relocation and upgrading of sewer lines.
Short-run molding can be a profitable niche, if you can figure out how to do it right. Donnelly officials reinvest much of the profits back into the company - a total of nearly $5 million from 2004 through 2007.
Even from its modest beginnings, when Stan Donnelly founded the company in 1984 with eight employees, Donnelly Custom Manufacturing focused on short-run molding. The first big product was a constant-velocity joint boot for the auto industry. Next came rollerblade parts, which turned into a big market by the mid-1990s. Donnelly leaders thought about moving into the long-run molding business, but decided instead to stay with short-run work, paring down the customer list and moving into other markets.
President Ron Kirscht joined the firm in 1992. He is a frequent speaker at industry forums.
In 2007, the mayor of Alexandria presented Donnelly with an award recognizing its creation of jobs, wages and wealth in the area.
Donnelly was nominated by Christy Domanoski, an account executive at the company's marketing communications firm, Scheibel Halaska of Milwaukee.
i2Tech owners Robert Janeczko and his son, Josh, are hoping the third time's a charm as the molder in West Des Moines, Iowa, is back in the finalists' circle for the third year in a row. The company was nominated by four of its suppliers.
Innovative Injection Technologies generated $26.3 million in 2007 sales. That marks a decline of 4.4 percent from 2006, although profit was up for the year. In fact, i2Tech has been profitable for 17 straight quarters - every quarter back to 2003 when the Janeczkos bought the company.
The company employs 140 people and runs 23 presses, including three new Husky machines with clamping forces of 133, 330 and 880 tons.
Balance is the key word for i2Tech, and that's a big reason why the molder again is a strong contender for Processor of the Year. A lot of plastics companies talk about ``stakeholders,'' but the leaders of i2Tech back it up by making service to customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers and the local community a guiding principle of everyday business.
And it paid off on the afternoon of May 22, when i2Tech's plant and offices were flooded, not by an overflowing river and a heavy rain, but by a water main break caused when the city shut off the water for a construction project. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water streamed through the building, sparing only the warehouse and computer room.
The pressure was so great it buckled up the concrete flooring.
i2Tech, which was covered by business interruption insurance, moved quickly to get back to work. The company called in special contractors, and employees helped clean up the plant. Remarkably, the first press started back up the following morning. More than half of i2Tech's molds needed to be reconditioned.
Through it all, suppliers offered to do anything to help. i2Tech employees put in long hours to make sure customers got their parts on time. A buyer at one major customer called the process ``seamless,'' despite the flood. ``It was amazing the number of part numbers they were able to keep track of. I was simply amazed,'' he said.
At another customer, the head of new product development called i2Tech ``an excellent supplier'' that helps with new product development, design and tooling.
Last year, the largest customer, Deere & Co., inducted i2Tech into its Supplier Hall of Fame for the John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline, Ill. To get there, a supplier has to achieve excellence for five years in a row - an honor won by only a handful of companies.
Another major customer is Arctic Cat Inc.
Robert and Josh Janeczko bought the Iowa operation in 2003 from Morton Industrial Group. The elder Janeczko had been a Morton executive, and he knew the plant. For years, the company was called Mid-Central Plastics Inc., one of Iowa's best-known injection molding outfits.
The Janeczkos have gained a solid reputation as progressive owners who share a high degree of information - including financial details - with employees. A gain-sharing program pays out to each employee, four times a year, if the company meets specific targets, which are measured each month. Throughout 2007, the payout was up 48 percent over 2006.
Goals are changed annually, allowing management to fine-tune the company and improve upon weaker areas.
Another way the owners have been upfront with workers is by making clear their plans for succession. Robert plans to retire in 2010 and hand the reins over to Josh. A veteran management team backs the father-son duo.
i2Tech also is active in the industry and community. Robert Janeczko serves on the board of directors of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Midwest Region. Andy Bondhus, a project engineer, is secretary-treasurer and councilor of the Society of Plastics Engineers' Iowa Section.
Here are the people who nominated i2Tech: Rick Tustin of Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. in Mokena, Ill.; Bob Rozankovic of Nova Tool & Mold Inc. of Windsor, Ontario; Gary Foote of Technical Polymers LLC in Buford, Ga.; and Joy Johnson of Ashland Distribution in Hastings, Minn.
Plastic Components Inc.
PCI is the smallest of the three finalists, with $11.3 million in 2007 sales. But the Germantown, Wis., company is making a name for itself as a small molder that has figured out how to survive, and prosper, in a harsh global marketplace. PCI has its own motto: ``Low cost at home'' - as in Wisconsin, not China.
Its markets are diverse, including automotive, plumbing, small engine components, hand and power tools, appliance, electrical and water-treatment applications. That broad product mix - no one market is more than 20 percent of total business - helps PCI weather downturns.
The company created a Customer Advisory Council in 2006, to get input to help improve operations. Customers contacted by the judges had good things to say. One purchasing agent praised PCI for openness and honesty, even to acknowledge previous failures. ``It has been that way since day one, and I feel I am an important customer. They are my number one supplier,'' he said.
An official at another customer said President Tom Duffey ``made it his personal mission'' to fix the relationship with her company.
Duffey started Plastic Components in 1989, back in the days when most plastics plants still had an operator on every press, opening and closing the gate. From the beginning, the company was fully automated.
Today, thanks to robots and conveyors, PCI employs just 56 people but runs 39 small-tonnage Toyo and Nissei injection presses. That includes a stable of five all-electric Nissei machines.
The company has developed a molding strategy that allows fully automated operation, around the clock, with no direct labor in the manufacturing process. The employees are process engineers, molding quality technicians and material handlers who bring raw material to each press and take molded parts to the warehouse.
An automated plant set PCI apart through the 1990s, as it focused on a customer base within a 50-mile radius of Germantown. Then in 2002, PCI installed IQMS software to monitor the entire plant.
The company also moved to source molds from China, to cut costs for customers. But that had a U.S. twist, too - PCI bought a small mold maker in Menomonee Falls, Wis., to rework molds from China, or build U.S.-made molds on a tight deadline.
After losing some work to overseas molders, PCI in 2005 hired Teresa Schell as marketing manager - another progressive move for a small molder. She launched a formal marketing effort that included starting the customer council.
PCI is very strong on public and industry service. Duffey is taking a leadership role in the industry. A frequent speaker, he is this year's president of the Indianapolis-based Mid-America Plastic Partners, as well as a board member.
The company also is active in the Germantown Manufacturers Alliance, which raises public awareness of manufacturing.
In the community, about half of PCI's employees ran, walked or volunteered at a run for the local Children's Hospital. A food drive netted 58 pounds of food per employee.
Schell nominated her company for the Processor of the Year Award.