Plastics News correspondent Frank Antosiewicz talked with George Danis, owner and CEO of Hudson, Mass.-based injection molder ResTech Plastic Molding Inc., about how the plastic industry has changed in the past 32 years.
Q: I know that you have been involved with American manufacturing for 45 years. How did you first get involved with plastics?
Danis: We were manufacturing metal fabrication prior to the plastics. The last 35 to 40 years the industry started exploding. Most important is because of the conversion of many metals into plastics I decided to start the plastic injection molding business. The business is really because of the conversion to plastics. The materials have different types of combinations. You have over 35,000 different material combinations. That is how broad and expansive the industry has become. It will continue on for a long period of time because it is much easier to use. With engineering and development, you have a product that you can continuously use the same molds to make your parts.
Q: What year did you get involved with plastics?
Q: Do you remember the first part you made?
Danis: We made a part for Analogic. It was a very small piece of their board and then we continued to build for them. Then we started business with Motorola — some of their modems were used in those days to transmit data. Then, of course, we did business with many others including Lucent, General Electric, IBM and some of the military companies — Raytheon and others. The entire industry really started to convert all metals. They expanded into research and development and found a much faster and more effective way than when they were trying to take piece of metal and bend it, form it or do whatever you needed to do with it.
Technology has really improved. The old machines were much more difficult to operate, and not as flexible or accurate. As the technology improves the products get smaller and smaller. Many of the secondary services to the metal fabrication are now incorporated in the mold to start off with it. Whatever you can dream of, you can make it. The materials that they were using in the past needed painting and all kinds of cosmetics whereas with plastics you can automatically have it done right at the start.
Q: What have you learned from the plastics industry over the years?
Danis: How quickly you can really adapt and improve your processes. Because when you finish the part you have the complete part to assemble that the exact product the customer is looking for. For example, with the telephone: The industry started with big phone, then a cell phone or car phone. That become smaller and smaller. Today it becomes a smartphone, even replacing the laptop. You make billions of those across the world. Unfortunately, some of that is in a different part of the world because of the labor cost that we can't afford in this country.
What we are doing more and more looking in this country is looking to automate to take some of cost out of process so we can compete with low-cost countries. We are very committed — both the industry and ourselves to resourcing and bringing back manufacturing to the U.S. That is the only way to create jobs. The political leaders are talking about creating jobs, but you can't create them unless you invest in automation so you can be competitive. That's exactly what we need to do and that's what the industry is doing and that's what we are doing here at ResTech Plastics Molding. We're very committed to reshoring and creating jobs and making products we need and can market in our own country. For many years we have been continually automating and adding training processes for what is the most important area of manufacturing and the general economy. We have patented a training machine that we can have [instructions] both visually and orally and the operator doesn't have to be wondering what to do. It is all there. They can hear as often as want and visually see it.
So the industry in total has accelerated its growth and technology. Innovation is really the key and the foundation to creating more jobs in America.
Q: How would you say that the industry has changed over the years that you have been involved?
Danis: I believe the industry is continuously evolving in the areas that we need to keep up with in technology and the invention of new products. We are committed to the manufacturing and it is one of our most technological challenges. Today miniature products have been growing rather than shrinking like other manufacturing product lines in past.
Q: What is new in the industry? Are there new materials or processes that make a difference in how the industry operates?
Danis: Again, new equipment is more up to date, more versatile, easier to operate and more consistent in output. Quality improves. Productivity improves and energy reduction is much more effective than in past. We have new equipment that can run with half the energy that was needed in the past. A lot of equipment is also electric so you don't have to use hydraulic oils and things that are sometimes becoming hazards to our environment and difficult to dispose of.
The materials again, I believe, between the combination of colors and raw basic materials that we have multiplied by a thousand times to few thousand times to over 35,000 different material combinations available for our future.
The addition to the industry of the two-shot equipment so you don't have to worry about making a part in two or three or four different colors without removing it from your tool. ResTech Plastic Molding has invested and we have four of those two-shot machines doing a super job, and they are very effective to make the final product. It comes out whether it is red- black, or red-white, or blue-white, and it Is a finished product and ready to go to final assembly. So, technology in the Industry really accelerated and is continuously moving in right direction.
Robotics takes out some of cost of labor where we were finding difficult to compete in earlier years. The low-cost countries have very low labor costs so unfortunately we needed to automate with robotics and automation including packaging — you take it from machine to box automatically. Obviously depending on volume, you can have total automation including inspection.
Q: What is the biggest challenge the plastics industry faces at this point?
Danis: I believe the human elements of technological experience. We are lacking that due to the past years of losing our manufacturing economy and we have not really have tried to continuously educate our young people to look at manufacturing as a good job with good wages and a future career. So the more we are expanding in the industry, the more we need better technical and experienced people. I believe that UMass Lowell has really been a pioneer in the plastic engineering and we applaud their dedication and their innovative ways of moving forward in plastic engineering.
Q: I know ResTech is growing through acquisition, the latest being the acquisition of Northeast Mold and Plastics. Is there a certain size a company needs to be to operate efficiently?
Danis: I believe that to be most efficient to be somewhere between $10 [million] and $20 million. Location is very important as well because industry and customers are looking for an emergency plan in case of a catastrophe in one plant. So, one of the criteria that must be built into your growth plan is to have more than one plant to satisfy a customer's contingency needs.
Q: Is the perception of plastics changing and how can companies work to maintain a good image?
Danis: A customer looks for engineering work up front, assistance to develop a manufacturing product to be effective and someone to hold their hands because they are looking to cut costs. That is one thing they are looking for. The other is to provide and deliver on time with impeccable quality that don't have to scrutinize or try to figure how to use it or what needs to be done.
Quality is a very expensive process so it must be up front and focused. That is why Restech developed portable wireless system and brings it to the machine. Everything will be paperless. Everything is in videos and on our screens that are portable and we move it. Everything from blueprints to all work orders to all documentation including the count and everything that was needed on paper is now on screen and stored for repeatability without any human hands on it. Not soiled, not ripped — no mistakes.
Q: Lastly do you find young people more ready to work in the industry?
Danis: I believe it is true that they see the industry growing. They see it as a viable alternative to other careers. It is also looked as a way to get back to the manufacturing end of the economy.
I am very encouraged because a lot of people enjoy clean areas and they enjoy seeing the final product — it is something not very visible or doable in other industries. You have to move things from one end to the other before you see it, but here it is out of the machine, into a box and you send it into shipping room. One thing I have seen is young people interested. Young people do come around and want to learn.