An uptick in business for Baraboo, Wis.-based Flambeau Inc. has come with some assembly issues and deadline pressures for the manufacturer of plastic products ranging from custom cases to fuel tanks to lawn mower chutes.
Operations manager Butch Greenwood needed to think outside the injection and blow molding company for help with a couple of projects — assembly of eye washing stations and emergency survival kits. He ended up rekindling a relationship from about 10 years back with the Vernon Area Rehabilitation Center Inc., which is based in Viroqua, Wis.
VARC has a clientele of about 400 pre-vocational trainees who are exploring their options to fit into the workforce as they deal with physical, developmental and mental illness challenges. They are eager to earn while they learn skills for jobs where it doesn't matter if they use a wheelchair, were born with Down's syndrome or were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
The partnership has been so successful, Flambeau is planning a third project with VARC, which has 125,000 square feet of production space, 60,000 square feet of warehouse space and five facilities in Wisconsin equipped with a total of 16 L-bar sealers, six blister machines, three automated pallet-wrapping machines, a four-color pad printer, drill presses and more.
Greenwood said he made a good call when he contacted the private, non-profit agency.
“They did a really good job on the survival kits, which had about 20 steps, and they did it on short notice for us,” he said in a telephone interview.
For the kits, Flambeau employees molded the water-resistant, crush-proof high density polyethylene cases to specifications of the American Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency. VARC clients then filled the yellow “ReadyBoxes” with bottles of water, food bars, thermal wraps, whistles and a few days of worth of other emergency provisions. They sealed some of the small items in plastic bags, applied adhesive-backed stickers to the cases and shipped about 800 of the finished products from their facility to the customer.
The kits — called “ReadyBoxes” — are being sold online through Home Depot to people who want to be prepared for times when disaster strikes.
VARC clients now are onto the next job for Flambeau — assembling molded plastic parts into 4,000 portable eye wash stations. Flambeau ships the parts to the vocational trainees, who are attaching them to a tank of eye cleaning solution.
“For this product we're talking about a hose, some small intricate assemblies and eye cups,” Greenwood said. “When they get our part they run it down their assembly line, put all the pieces together, inspect it and put it in shipping containers.”
Flambeau pays VARC per piece and VARC does the same. Clients are paid per piece and their wages are direct deposited into their accounts every other week, according to Elizabeth Filter, VARC's director of rehabilitation.
“Every client knows when it's payday and it's a very exciting time,” she said in a telephone interview. “Although we have a direct deposit system, they receive the check stub. It's a tangible item and a point of pride. They have a sense of accomplishment and contribution. This is real work they're completing.”