Plastics News has named three winners of its PN Excellence Awards — Mar-Bal Inc., Atek Plastics and Bemis Manufacturing Co.
Mar-Bal, a thermoset molder and compounder from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, won in the category of customer relations.
Atek, a medical injection molder in Kerrville, Texas, picked up the award for employee relations.
The award for industry and public service goes to Bemis, a custom molder based in Sheboygan Falls, Wis. Bemis also was a finalist for the Processor of the Year Award.
This is the second year for the PN Excellence Awards. Customer relations, employee relations and industry/public service are three of the seven criteria used to determine the overall top award, Processor of the Year. The judges, who are Plastics News reporters and editors, separately evaluated the extraordinary efforts in those three areas from among the overall crop of firms nominated for the Processor of the Year.
Plastics News honored the winners Jan. 31 at its Executive Forum in Tampa, Fla. The Processor of the Year winner also was named at the event: Steinwall Inc. of Coon Rapids, Minn. (See Page 1 story)
Here are the category winners:
With about $47 million in 2011 sales, Mar-Bal is a midsized plastics processor. But in the world of thermoset molders, that makes the company a big kahuna. So maybe it's not surprising that Mar-Bal counts some giants as customers, makers of well-known brands like Whirlpool, Maytag, Amana, Electrolux, Siemens, Eaton and Schneider Electric.
Mar-Bal's products for those companies include knobs, handles and trim vents for ovens and other home appliances, and heavy-duty insulators for electrical distribution such as switch gears, motors and circuit breakers.
Last year, the company invested $1.5 million to build an in-house facility at the Chagrin Falls headquarters. The process, which Mar-Bal markets as Thermital, makes thermoset plastic knobs, handles and other such parts look like they have a metalized finish, to resemble stainless steel, chrome or copper.
Now Mar-Bal is adding Thermital to its plant in Cuba, Mo., which will make larger parts like rear consoles for ovens and ranges.
Led by brothers Scott and Steven Balogh, respectively the president/ CEO and vice president, the family-owned molder forges an uncommonly close-knit bond with customers.
The most impressive example is Mar-Bal's linkage with Whirlpool Corp., a major customer for more than 20 years. Mar-Bal has become closely involved with Whirlpool's intensive Six Sigma Operational Excellence program. In 2003, Steven Balogh participated in Whirlpool's four-week program OpEx course, living at Whirpool's Michigan training and conference center.
Since that time, three other Mar-Bal employees have participated in OpEx. The star has been Li Bradshaw, a Mar-Bal materials chemist, who was certified by Whirpool in late 2010.
Bradshaw now leads OpEx training at Mar-Bal. The first class graduated last spring.
Eaton Corp. named Mar-Bal a Premier Supplier of the Year, an honor reserved for the top half-percent of Eaton's global supply base. Eaton recognized Mar-Bal for quality, delivery, innovation and cost management.
Mar-Bal employees regularly hold face-to-face, cross-functional discussions with customers. Those so-called “knowledge shares” have resulted in more than $2 million in new business, company officials said.
Customers said Mar-Bal management is willing to invest in technology. Company officials communicate well and move quickly to solve any problems, they said.
Food also is good for bonding. The Baloghs know the old-fashioned way to a customer's heart. Every year, Mar-Bal founder Jim Balogh, a native of Hungary who settled in Cleveland in 1962, joins with his sons Scott and Steven and colleagues to make homemade Hungarian sausages that are used in Christmas holiday cheese trays. A tasty treat from Mar-Bal!
Employee involvement is a big reason why Atek Plastics excels at medical molding. Atek has pioneered the linkage of process data off the injection presses through RJG eDart, with an IQMS enterprise resource planning software system, to get real-time information and ensure quality production. But ultimately, people have to crunch the data.
Atek has several RJG master molders on staff.
Atek shares much of the production data with customers. People-to-people relationships also are key to forming those close partnerships, a priority of President Tom Houdeshell.
With just 52 employees, every single person is important. In its award submission, Atek spelled out its employee relations programs.
Some of the ideas are unusual — a contest to create Christmas ornaments out of reject parts or purge, dubbed “Splurge with Purge.” Employees also created a seasonal cookbook.
Atek shares financial, quality and other company data with employees. A spreadsheet covering all cumulative data against yearly goals, showing progress, is displayed in the break room. Last year, Atek built large visual boards for each department that display key data for that area.
A monthly narrative is included with pay checks. All employees get updates from human resources, engineering and manufacturing, quality, delivery, and about sales and overall success.
Some other employee-friendly efforts:
* An employee suggestion box in the break room. Management reviews all suggestions monthly and picks the top-three winners each quarter, paying out cash rewards.
* An employee of the month receives $100 and a prominent parking space.
Retirees and current workers are invited to an annual employee appreciation banquet, where the company hands out prizes for perfect attendance and years of service.
* Atek pays employees time-and-a-half to take Paulson training. In 2010, all employees filled out a survey to determine team dynamics, then worked on team-building exercises. Each year, the company surveys workers to measure morale.
* Atek encourages its employees to have a healthy lifestyle, through a wellness program. Discounted medical premiums are given to employees who take a health screening, and employees and family members who are tobacco-free also get a break on their premiums. The company also offers discounted gym memberships.
* Atek stresses safety training and recognizes employees with a monthly catered meal for no accidents or recordable injuries with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. And recordable accidents dropped — to zero in 2010 and one in 2011.
Atek Plastics in Kerrville is part of Atek Medical Group, which was purchased by Vention Medical in November.
Atek Plastics was a 2011 finalist for the Plastics News Processor of the Year Award. The company randomly picked one employee to attend that year's Executive Forum in Summerlin, Nev. — and Chester McMillon from maintenance got a paid trip to Las Vegas and $200 in spending money.
Industry and public service
Bemis and its employees give back to the industry and to the firm's picturesque hometown of Sheboygan Falls.
Bemis employees are active in the community and industry. CEO Peter Bemis sets the tone. He has served on the board of directors of the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., both on the national board and the Midwest section. Several other Bemis employees have followed his lead. Company leaders also are active in the Society of Plastics Engineers.
Peter Bemis once served as chairman of the National Plastics Center and Museum's board of governors. He also has been an active member of the General Electric Quality Council and the Harley-Davidson Supplier Advisory Council.
Over the years, Bemis Manufacturing has actively supported the products competition — and won plenty of awards — at the SPI Structural Division's conference, now called the SPI Alliance of Plastics Processors.
Bemis employees are active in the Sheboygan Falls YMCA, Junior Achievement, a local performing arts center, plus hospital boards, cancer charities, hospices and other local community groups.
The custom molder and extruder shares much of its expertise with the plastics industry, as well. Bemis officials are frequent speakers at industry seminars, conventions and trade shows, giving presentations on important current subjects.
Throughout the past three decades, Bemis has made a major impact on the revitalization of historic downtown Sheboygan Falls. Together with another local company and local preservation groups, Bemis was a supporter of one of Wisconsin's first such projects.
After demolishing the original Bemis factory along the Sheboygan River, the company donated the land for conversion into what today is Settler's Park,
The firm, which claims to be the world's largest maker of toilet seats, transformed a neglected downtown building into the award-winning Bemis Bathe Shoppe retail store. The Wisconsin Main Street Program has recognized the store as the best downtown facade in the past 20 years.
Bemis also opened up land for local walking and bike paths, granting easements to the city to create links to connect the paths.