Three custom injection molders and a pipe extruder are the finalists for Plastics News' Processor of the Year Award.
A team of judges has picked four finalists: GW Plastics Inc., a Vermont-based processor that has transitioned into a medical molder; Montrose Molders Corp., a New Jersey molder now in its third generation of family ownership; Plastikos Inc., a molder of electrical connectors in Pennsylvania; and PolyPipe Inc., a polyethylene pipe extruder based in Texas.
PolyPipe also was a finalist for the award last year.
The winner will be announced March 9 at the Plastics News Executive Forum in Tampa, Fla., where the finalists and winner will be honored and a senior executive from each finalist will participate in a best practices panel discussion.
Plastics News will profile the winning Processor of the Year in the March 15 issue.
Here is a look at the finalists, in alphabetical order:
GW Plastics Inc.
GW Plastics has been in an expansion mode since the 1990s. Over that decade, the Bethel, Vt.-based company spread its wings beyond its home state, adding plants in Tucson, Ariz., and San Antonio. GW also established a medical molding operation at its mold-making plant in Royalton, Vt.
Then 2005 was a year of global expansion, as GW added factories in both Mexico and China.
Along the way, GW Plastics managed to flip its core business from automotive to health care. Today the company runs seven clean rooms. GW is especially strong in the area of surgical instruments, including injection molded parts for catheter systems, drug delivery and diagnostic testing.
The health-care/medical market generates about two-thirds of GW Plastics' overall sales, which totaled around $80 million in 2009.
Automotive accounts for most of the remaining one-third of sales, as GW molds parts for critical safety applications such as seat belts and air-bag systems.
Company officials said GW has always delivered a profit, and they plow money back into the company for capital investments. Worldwide, GW employs 600 people and runs more than 160 injection molding machines.
GW was founded in 1955 by John Galvin and Odin Westgaard, using their initials to come up with the company name. They sold the company in 1973 to Carborundum Co., which later became part of Standard Oil Co.
In 1983, Frederic Riehl headed a group of company managers and investors to buy GW kicking off stable ownership and a focused management that has lasted the past 27 years. His son, Brenan Riehl, a 20-year GW veteran, is president and CEO. Frederic Riehl remains chairman.
Members of the senior management team have an average of 15 years of employment. And GW currently has 16 hourly employees with 30-48 years of service.
GW Plastics scored well in all seven criteria, scoring especially well in customer relations, quality, employee relations, technology and environmental performance a must, in a state like Vermont.
GW is a member of the federally funded Green Suppliers Network, which helps small and midsized manufacturers keep competitive while reducing their environmental impact.
Through its membership in Efficiency Vermont, the molder has cut its energy consumption. The company also uses regrind where allowable, and sells about 375,000 pounds a year to recyclers.
GW has more than a decade's worth of experience at a technology center at the Royalton facility. Technology such as mold-flow simulation and prototyping, as well as help with product design for manufacturability, gets GW in the door early.
Several medical customers praised GW and said they are letting the company quote on more work.
They're on top of their game, and they inject ideas into our company, said one customer.
GW is serious about quality and training its employees. Under the Six Sigma program, the company has graduated seven black belts and 18 green belts and has generated nearly $500,000 in savings.
GW Plastics was nominated by Bill Carteaux, president and CEO of the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington.
Montrose Molders exudes stability from its long-term family ownership to its solid list of long-term customers.
But officials of the molder in South Plainfield, N.J., are not afraid of change. They are known for steadily investing in new machinery, and under the vice president of sales, Todd Nicolay (who nominated Montrose for the award), the company has attracted 10 new customers in the last year.
The result: Sales have steadily increased, from $10.3 million in 2005 to a projected $17.3 million for 2009. Despite the recession, 2009 was a profitable year and sales increased 4 percent over 2008.
Montrose Molders has boosted its sales force and tightened financial controls, forming an advisory board a few years ago.
The company has very little debt.
William B. Wilson started Continental Precision Corp. in 1966 as a 22-person mold shop specializing in tight-tolerance tools for injection molding.
In 1973, he incorporated Montrose Molders. As of 2008, both companies operate under the Montrose Molders name.
In-house mold-making remains a strong point. So does project management, which takes parts from design through tooling, molding, decorating and assembly. Markets include office products, point-of-purchase displays, lawn and garden items and some medical products.
The judges gave Montrose Molders solid grades, especially in financial performance, customer relations, environmental performance and technology.
Customers said Montrose employees work quickly to solve any problems that come up. They like dealing with a molder that is an expert at making molds.
We look at these guys as part of our company from the design phase forward, one customer said. Customer returns are miniscule.
William B. Wilson's eldest son, William H. Wilson, is currently the top executive, and his sons Brendan and Andrew also work at the company.
An official at another customer called the generational changes seamless.
What they do carries on very well from generation to generation, he said.
Though Montrose is a smaller molder, the company regularly invests in new injection molding machines, including the addition in 2009 of two Nissei presses with clamping forces of 620 and 1,000 its largest press. Robots run on 23 of the company's 35 injection presses.
Under environmental performance, Montrose Molders saved $55,000 a year by adding energy-efficient lighting. But the best is yet to come, officials said, as they are exploring the addition of solar panels for the company's warehouse space.
Outside investors would pay for the solar panels and get state and federal credits, so the panels would be at no cost to the molder, while cutting its electricity bills.
Founded in 1989 in the plastics-intensive city of Erie, Pa., Plastikos has remained focused on what it does best: mold electrical connectors from liquid-crystal polymers. As a result, Plastikos runs small presses 27 machines topping out at 130 tons of clamping force.
The custom molder's roots are in the tooling business. Its sister company, Micro Mold Co. Inc., began building molds in 1978, and developed strong working relationships with key customers in medical, electronics, defense and aerospace. Many of those same relationships have helped Plastikos, which was founded in 1989 by Timothy Katen, David Mead and Gary McConnell.
Plastikos and Micro Mold, located about fives miles apart, have the same ownership. Plastikos has moved to a second generation of leadership. Katen's sons, Phillip and Ryan, are general manager and engineering manager, respectively. Mead's son, Matthew, is project manager.
In the past several years, Plastikos executives have taken steps to boost training for its 100 employees, improve lean manufacturing and process monitoring, and create a sustainable, green molding operation.
The company has beefed up its sales force and embarked on a marketing plan, with good results. In the past year, Plastikos has added four customers, in two new markets of automation products and telecommunications. A sales engineer hired last fall will help the company expand into the Southeast.
After growing consistently since 1989, sales declined from a high of $20.9 million in fiscal 2006, to $18.7 million in 2007 and down to $15.8 million the most recent fiscal year, 2008, which ended Oct. 31, 2009. But that was not a surprise, according to company officials. They explained that Plastikos accepted a large transfer project from an existing customer that was consolidating its manufacturing to a single building.
In 2006, at the height of the work, Plastikos was molding about $2 million worth of parts for that customer. Once the facility was finished, Plastikos transitioned the molds back to the customer. Plastikos has remained solidly profitable.
The owners are very conservative fiscally, carrying no debt and keeping a significant amount of cash on the balance sheet for upgrading its plant. Also, the development of a proprietary method to reduce resin consumption saved the company nearly $500,000 in savings last year money invested back into Plastikos to buy a new all-electric Arburg injection press, a laser welder, special inspection equipment and increased training.
The Plastics News judges gave Plastikos strong marks for all seven criteria, especially for the high level of quantification throughout the company's submission.
Several of Plastikos' large customers mold some of their own connectors, but they rely on Plastikos for its focus and technical ability. A supply chain manager at one company said, They're very experienced and knowledgeable in the products we buy. They're very good at it.
Plastikos makes use of IQMS enterprise resource planning software, Shotscope monitoring software, Moldflow MPX and RJG's eDart technology tied to mold-cavity-pressure monitoring.
The company has improved quality big-time. At the end of 2007, Plastikos recorded an annual bad-part-per-million figure of 2,386. Every department got involved, scrutinizing things like startup success and on-hold product, or parts that need to be held for further inspection and rework. A year later, total bad PPM fell to 1,580. As of September, the score was 926 closing in on the goal of 500.
As skilled employees are critical to quality, Plastikos has spearheaded Global Standards for Plastics Certification in the U.S., working with the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors and Penn State Erie's Behrend College.
On the environmental front, Plastikos has racked up savings through new lighting, buying all-electric injection presses and converting old desiccant dryers to compressed air. Its proprietary technology has reduced its need for virgin liquid-crystal polymers by 65,000 pounds annually.
The Young Erie Professionals group picked Plastikos as its Green Company of the Year for 2009.
Dan Snyder, who works in technical sales at Plastikos, nominated his company for the award.
PolyPipe, a major extruder of smooth-wall polyethylene pipe, is back in the hunt for Processor of the Year, after reaching the finalist circle last year.
The Gainesville, Texas-based company extrudes pipe at six factories, in Gainesville; Erwin, Texas; Fernley, Nev.; Sandersville, Ga.; Evansville, Wyo.; and the newest plant in Midland, Texas, which opened in 2009.
PolyPipe was founded in 1977 by local investors interested in the market for oil and gas production. The company expanded and, in 1995, opened a plant in Nevada to gain a national presence in PE pipe manufacturing.
That same year, concrete pipe maker Hydro Conduit Corp. bought PolyPipe, then six years later split the PE pipe business off to create the PolyPipe division of Rinker Materials Corp.
A big change came in 2005, when Halifax Group, a private equity firm, bought PolyPipe and financed a major expansion into very large-diameter, smooth-wall PE pipe. The company's Nevada site extrudes pipe measuring 65 inches in diameter, which it claims is the largest in North America. The first installation of the 65-inch pipe came in 2009. Under Halifax, PolyPipe also built the Wyoming factory to serve the industry for coal-bed methane-gas production, and the plant in Midland to cover west Texas.
Other breakthroughs in 2009 also helped PolyPipe score high marks for technological innovation. The company said it perfected production of commercial quantities of 36-inch pipe with a 4-inch wall thickness very thick pipe to withstand higher pressures and resist corrosion for a mining application in Mexico. And PolyPipe worked with Dow Chemical Co. and industry experts to create a high-performance natural gas pipe with improved safety and longer life, using Dow's bimodal PE resin to make medium-density PE pipe.
PolyPipe also is active in industry efforts to add PE pipe to codes and standards for handling process water at nuclear power plants.
The company does not give out sales, but Plastics News' most recent ranking of pipe, profile and tubing extruders estimates that PolyPipe had sales of $200 million in 2008, up from an estimated $180 million in 2007.
PolyPipe earned solid marks in several categories, including industry service for work in trade associations like the Plastics Pipe Institute Inc., ASTM and the American Gas Association.
In employee relations, PolyPipe officials hired a safety czar in 2008, and took several steps to create a culture of safety. The result: In 2009, PolyPipe dramatically reduced its total recordable incident rate, to a level well below the industry's national average, according to the company.
Customers said PolyPipe works hard to train customers about installation and pipe technology. There's absolutely no question on the quality of the product, said a person at a pipe distributor.
PolyPipe was nominated by J.C. Goodson, president of Rainmaker Sales Inc., a pipe distributor in Shawnee, Okla.
Now in its 14th year, PN's Processor of the Year award honors excellence in well-rounded firms by looking at seven criteria:
* Financial performance.
* Customer relations
* Employee relations.
* Environmental performance.
* Industry and public service.
* Technological innovation.
The winner last year was Plastic Components Inc., a custom injection molder in Germantown, Wis.
The judges are members of the Plastics News editorial staff. The co-sponsor of the award is Deloitte Corporate Finance LLC.
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