Company leaders take the same approach with customers and suppliers.
``We really hold i2tech in high regard as an excellent supplier,'' the head of new product development at one customer told the Plastics News judges. ``The company helps us in new product development, tooling and design. It's an excellent supplier, willing to help and provide services.''
I2tech takes advantage of its larger-tonnage injection molding machines - including a Husky Quadloc with 3,000 tons of clamping force that the company claims is the largest in Iowa. Others include Milacrons of 2,200 tons and 1,760 tons. That gives i2tech an advantage in winning custom molding as well as contract work.
The biggest markets are agriculture and recreational, especially for large, highly cosmetic parts for customers like Deere, Arctic Cat Inc. and Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp. Jet skis, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, components for crop seeding and harvesting machines - it adds up to a well-rounded, diverse lineup of jobs.
``We have multiple vehicles, and they all have different seasons,'' Josh Janeczko said.
Total i2tech sales, including income from plastics work and tooling, have been relatively flat for the last three years, in the $27 million range. Plastics sales have steadily increased about $1 million a year during those years. Plastics sales jumped by 31 percent in 2004, the year after the new owners took over. The company is solidly profitable.
The recreational segment has held steady at about 40 percent the past two years. Other markets include industrial, and a small bit of appliance molding.
Too much dependence on one customer can hurt a plastics supplier. Before the ownership change, Deere had generated more than half of total sales. That steadily declined to less than 30 percent by 2006, as i2tech diversified into new markets such as building and construction. But Deere jumped back up, to 44 percent, in 2007. A big part of the reason was the molder lost an overflow construction-products job when the customer pulled molding back in-house.
Is i2tech too concentrated on Deere? Josh Janeczko pointed out that i2tech ships to 19 Deere factories in the United States and even around the world, to Mexico, Germany and South Africa. It's almost like 19 separate companies.
``They all have different markets. They all have different customers. They all have different seasons. They all have different products that we produce for them, different locations that we ship to, different quality personnel, different purchasing people,'' he said.
During a plant tour in January, the 3,000-ton Husky was molding a black roof for a Kawasaki two-person utility vehicle. A six-axis Motoman router, positioned near several large-tonnage presses, trimmed off the gate. The Quadloc has run other large cosmetic parts, such as a hood for a utility vehicle.
Another press molded a green cab skirt for Deere combines, cotton pickers and sprayers.
Nearby, i2tech has lined up three Husky Hylectric presses in a row, a 550-ton press, a 650-tonner and the newest one, an 880-ton press that started up in February. Inline Husky robots remove the parts to the end of each press, instead of the side, saving space and allowing i2tech to set the machines closer together.
The company molds parts on 23 injection presses, ranging from 40 to 3,000 tons. Pushing technology, i2tech uses gas-assisted molding, Twinshot coinjection, molded-on graphics and sequential valve gating. To get better control of the entire operation, i2tech recently installed a new Syscon-PlantStar production and process-monitoring system, a major upgrade of its existing one that was more than 15 years old.
The machines are mostly Milacrons, plus a few Nisseis. One of the first injection molding machines turned out by Milacron Inc. in 1968 is still molding seed discs.
But i2tech has been on a Husky buying spree. The 880-tonner was its sixth Husky press in the past four years, part of a long-range investment plan. ``Every new Husky we purchased, we eliminate two presses,'' Josh Janeczko said.
Three Huskies bought in 2007, the 880-ton press and presses of 330 tons and 133 tons, are part of more than a million dollars in capital purchases made last year. In fact, the owners have invested more than $5 million since buying the company.
To accommodate the 3,000-ton Husky, purchased in 2004, i2tech had to raise the roof in part of its plant.
The machines make a wide variety of parts. One important one is a seat base assembly with a safety grip handle for the souped-up Kawasaki Ultra 250X Jet Ski. The 11-pound part, made by gas-assisted molding, won the award for recreation and leisure at last year's Alliance of Plastics Processors conference.
At i2tech, workers finish the part, glue chrome accents onto the grip handle, then package the finished product into soft reusable bags - part of a push to cut packaging costs and become a greener company.
Deere and Arctic Cat have responded by giving the company top supplier awards nearly every year since 2000. Last year the John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline, Ill., inducted i2tech into its Supplier Hall of Fame. That induction recognized five straight years of excellence in five areas, including quality and delivery. Only a handful of suppliers reach that level.
I2tech also turns the tables to recognize its suppliers, hosting an annual Supplier Day and giving out awards for top suppliers of materials and tooling. Attendees hear presentations and play golf. That's rare for a molder, especially a small one like i2tech, but it fosters a sense of teamwork. ``They draw you in. They want you to be a part of the company,'' said an official with one supplier.
A sign of that close relationship is that four suppliers nominated i2tech for the Processor of the Year Award: 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.
Surviving the floods
Fostering those intimate relationships really paid off mid-afternoon on May 22, 2007, when a 10-inch water main burst and flooded the plant with several inches of water. The pipe feeds i2tech's sprinklers. The city of West Des Moines had shut the water off for a few hours to do some work.
The water pressure heaved up the concrete floor. It buckled some walls. ``It just lifted up the whole floor, made it slanted. You couldn't get any of the doors open. The whole slab picked up,'' Bob Janeczko recalled.
Everybody evacuated, including some customers who were visiting that day. When the city got the sprinkler line shut off, it revealed a wet, swampy mess. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of water had streamed through the plant, offices and engineering department. Only the warehouse was spared.
Leaders of the company, which had business interruption insurance, reacted quickly to call in special contractors to clean it up. They sent home the second shift. By the time the third shift arrived the electricity was turned back on, and employees pitched in to help.
Crews started the first press back up at 11 a.m. the next day, and soon the plant was back at full production, even as contractors tore down walls and hauled away debris. People came in on weekends to clean and recondition molds.
White-collar workers juggled offices. Engineering was temporarily moved into a trailer in the parking lot.
Suppliers offered to do anything to help. Employees made sure quality parts went out on time. Remarkably, there was very little disruption, according to customers.
``It was amazing the number of part numbers they were able to keep track of,'' said a buyer at one major customer. He called the process ``seamless.''
Just two weeks later, another pipe broke - this time a 3-inch water line break on a Sunday afternoon. This time, the water just ran down an aisle and out of the plant. No harm done. But i2tech employees will never forget 2007, the year that two plumbing-related floods struck.
Morgan Endecott loves horses, and when i2tech's chief financial officer found out about an Iowa charity called Healing Hearts with Horses, the company backed her up. In 2007, donations from the plastics company totaled more than $11,000, including a company truck with a snowplow.
Endecott said the nonprofit, founded by Deb Hoyt of Runnels, Iowa, pairs at-risk teenagers with abused and neglected horses. Learning to groom, halter and connect with a horse can boost the youngster's self confidence, Endecott said.
The company support follows i2tech's public service philosophy: select a local charity that one of its employees is willing to champion. Also, i2tech regularly supports literacy programs in the Des Moines area.
That community-minded belief extends to the ``community'' of plastics, since i2tech is a strong backer of SPI and the Society of Plastics Engineers. Bob Janeczko's term on the SPI Midwest board runs through this year.
For SPE, i2tech sponsors the Iowa Section newsletter and a golf outing. Andy Bondhus, a project engineer, serves as secretary/treasurer, and a councilor from the section. Another project engineer, Roger Womack, is a long-time SPE activist.
Meanwhile, Josh Janeczko is pushing a ``green'' agenda - and not just ``John Deere green.'' Although i2tech already handles more than 200,000 returnable containers a year, cutting down on waste paperboard, he wants to do more.
He is developing a strategic plan that includes reducing energy use, water consumption and waste resin pellets. Under the plan, i2tech will recycle 100 percent of its purge piles, the waste generated when you change over material. This year, the company will try insulating barrel wraps on injection presses, which saves energy. If it works out, Josh wants to expand it to all injection units by 2011.
The company already installed high-efficiency factory lighting, with automatic on-off sensors. By lowering electricity costs, the lights paid for themselves in one year.
Josh said he got inspired to tackle environmental issues at the 2006 Plastics News Executive Forum in San Diego, which featured several spirited sessions on the subject. ``We just haven't done enough as a company and as a management team to focus on the environment. We've got to do a better job,'' he said.
In January, i2tech hired a training coordinator. Initially, he will do environmental training. But Josh said he also will work to improve skills of operators, mold setters, material handlers and technicians. Top-notch people are important when you handle more than 1,000 molds, over 1,500 part numbers and 275 different resins.
``These are the areas that require the most internal training, and we've had a difficult time recruiting and retaining and hiring processing people. And we have got to recruit from within, and do all the training, because we're not able to go out into the market, especially here in West Des Moines, Iowa, and find plastics people.''