At custom injection molder Midwest Molding Inc. of Bartlett, Ill., officials are focusing on a growth strategy that has the company diversifying from automotive into medical, aerospace and tools.
Along its journey, Midwest Molding officials especially are happy to have been named Minority Manufacturer of the Year by the Minority Business Development Agency.
The news came to Midwest Molding during a time when the company is diversifying not only in end markets but geographically. Its new programs primarily have come from German companies, officials said in an Aug. 24 telephone interview.
“At one point we were 100 percent automotive,” said Sanjay Patel, director of new business development. “Right now, we're trying to get into more complicated components. The days of shoot-and-ship aren't really here anymore. From design requirements and everything in between, we can help them.”
The firm was started in 1996 by Pat Patel, who has been in the plastics industry since 1970. He brought along working partners from his previous company. The group started operations in 23,000-square-feet of space with three presses.
“We picked up the first tool in the trunk of his car from Ohio,” said Sanjay Patel. “That's how it all began.”
Along the way, Detroit-based General Motors Co. selected Midwest Molding to service a safety-critical component program. Midwest Molding remains the sole supplier of that part, which is shipped to six Delphi Automotive LLP plants.
In 2007, the company built a 120,000-square-foot site that would allow for growth. During 2010, Midwest Molding brought in 18 new all-electric presses ranging from 55-200 tons. That took its machinery cache to 48.
With presses of up to 750 tons, the firm does straight injection, insert, two-shot and gas-assist molding; and wire-harness and multicomponent assembly. During the next several months, the company will add a custom-designed press that allows for two-shot and insert molding.
“We have enough space to add large-tonnage presses in the facility,” said Pat Patel, president and CEO. Product and tool design is performed in-house.
Officials cite active, hands-on management of the business and a “whatever it takes” attitude for steering the firm through tough times. Midwest Molding now is experiencing slower volume. It is operating with 110 employees, down from 250 from last year. The firm is running 24-hour shifts five days a week, a slight decline from the 24/7 schedule last year.
Officials are incorporating automation and technology to improve long-term cost efficiencies.
With business coming in from Germany, Sanjay Patel said that Midwest set out to prove to those customers “that we're ready to hold their hand and stand by their side. You don't want to worry about quality issues.”
By 2013, Midwest should be at least 50-50 in U.S.-Germany sales, Pat Patel said. Officials are focused on making designs more efficient and price competitive.
Pat Patel said hands-on management is required of resin pricing especially. The firm runs most engineering grades, including nylon, ABS and acrylic. Midwest Molding has turned away business when the expectation of the customer was unrealistic in terms of price.
“Even when we're pricing out the product, each product has to survive on its own,” Sanjay Patel said of the cost structure of each unit. The company assesses how much it costs to make the product vs. how much the product is earning for the company, he said.
Pricing has to be competitive and it has to be fair, said Pat Patel.
“Many times, certain customers want to compare prices with China,” Pat Patel said. “We live in the United States. We've got all kinds of regulations. We live in America, we have to pay American wages.”
The Minority Manufacturer of the Year Award is governed under the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.