At Prism, they often talk about “The Prism Way”: A statistics-driven approach to molding that removes as much variation as possible from the molder of critical automotive parts such as seat belt parts and fuel-connector bodies.
Prism was born in 1999 by three men — Rodney Bricker, Gerry Phillips and Jerry Williams — who had left their executive positions at Huron Plastics after it was purchased by LDM Technologies Inc. From day one, they bought only all-electric Toshiba injection presses and Yushin high-speed robots, and implemented IQMS to tie operations together through an enterprise resource planning system. Standardizing on equipment and an ERP gives uniformity for employees and management.
Williams died Aug. 27, 2014, after battling stomach cancer for several years. He was 51.
Jeff Ignatowski was hired as Prism's director of sales and marketing in mid-2014. Ignatowski self-nominated his company for the Processor of the Year Award.
Altus Capital Partners, a private equity firm focused on middle-market manufacturing companies, is majority owner. Altus bought the majority stake from the founders in May 2014. Bricker and Phillips, both vice presidents, retain ownership positions, and Williams' estate also has a stake.
Management runs the company and makes the decisions, said Bricker and Phillips. It's a team approach, with no single “president.”
The company generated $30.1 million in 2014 sales. Prism has been consistently profitable.
Prism employs 70 people and runs 31 Toshiba injection presses at its three highly automated factories in Chesterfield Township and Port Huron, Mich., and Harlingen, Texas. Clamping force ranges from 65-390 tons. Even the auxiliary equipment is uniform companywide.
Company executives say each plant is “right-sized,” housing no more than 16 presses. In the near future, they are looking to start a fourth plant. Too many presses under one roof can result in too many unique processes, and leave employees scrambling to react to problems instead of preventing them, they said.
As its reputation for automotive molding grew, in 2005, Prism opened a second plant, in Texas, and expanded its Port Huron plant. In 2012, the company opened the Chesterfield Township factory, and moved its headquarters there.
Prism officials have a goal of reaching $100 million in automotive sales by 2020. Additional production capacity also will allow Prism to target new markets beyond automotive, such as medical, appliance, industrial and aerospace/defense.
Prism runs lean. It takes just three people to run the plant floor, per shift.
The super-automated plants have extremely low defective parts per million — even on technically demanding parts on presses running molds with up to 32 cavities. That's a big reason the judges gave Prism high marks for quality. Another specialty, optimizing the size of runners, reduces customer costs.
Ninety-nine percent of the parts are never touched by a human hand. Of course, that means the humans that are working in the plant have to be top-notch. Prism's employees are highly skilled technicians that know scientific molding and take ownership of parts — since the company does not have a dedicated quality control department.
Prism has very low turnover. Employees become 100 percent vested in the 401(k) on their first day at work. Prism holds its holiday party at a Christmas tree farm, and employees take home a tree or wreath.
Serving customers is a key to Prism's growth. In 2014, one customer, a steering systems supplier, gave Prism awards for perfect quality and product launches, and superior customer service. Prism molds seat belt components for Takata Corp., which named the molder Supplier of the Year in 2013. Prism received Autoliv Inc.'s Supplier of the Year Award in 2011.
Contacted by the Plastics News judges, customers praised Prism for its responsiveness and quality. “When I deal with somebody at Prism Plastics, they feel like they have ownership in the company. They know that the owners are behind them in everything they do,” said a supplier quality manager at one customer.
Stihl International GmbH is a major Germany-based manufacturer of chainsaws, string trimmers, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers and other power tools for forestry, landscape maintenance and the construction industry. Founded in Stuttgart in 1926, the company remains owned by the Stihl family.
The plastics operation of Stihl's U.S. plant in Virginia Beach, Va. is trying for the award. Stihl also has factories in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Brazil and China, and the vertically integrated U.S. manufacturing complex — which includes the largest plastics operation — is measured against those global operations, and has to compete, according to Benjamin Hoffmann, manager of polymer technologies in Virginia Beach.
Hoffmann nominated his plastics operation for the Processor of the Year Award.
Stihl scored high marks from the judges, especially for the categories of technological innovation; employee relations, where the company has a leading apprenticeship program; quality and environmental performance.
Hoffmann's submission gave a high level of detail and quantification — and explained to the judges how the U.S. plant stacks up favorably to Stihl's other global plastics operations. Less easy to spell out, however, are customer relations — since the captive plastics plant sends its parts directly to the Stihl assembly lines — and financial performance. Stihl USA generates sales of more than $1 billion, selling to Stihl dealers, but the private company does not break out sales for its internal plastics processing.
The German company had 2013 sales of more than 2.8 billion euros ($3.4 billion).
Still, it's safe to say Stihl's “customers,” people who buy the products, are well served. The company has been recognized for high quality by Consumer Reports, Consumer's Digest, Popular Mechanics, Men's Health and a host of other consumer and trade magazines.
The highly automated Virginia Beach factory employs 1,900 people. That includes 400 plastics employees. In addition to plastics, the complex makes some parts that Stihl distributes around the world, such as crankshafts and pistons. The location won Plant of the Year from Assembly Magazine in 2014 and, the year before, the AME Manufacturing Excellence Award.
Plastics-wise, Stihl runs 89 injection molding presses at two factories in Virginia Beach. The main molding plant has 62 presses — 53 Engels, eight all-electric Milacrons and one Boy — with clamping forces from 10-660 tons. That plant runs about a thousand active molds on presses with magnetic platens. Seventeen of the presses are fully integrated into automated cells, using six-axis Fanuc robots.
The main plant also blow molds 4 million fuel tanks, oil tanks and other parts on four Bekum machines.
The second plant makes accessories, under a factory-in-a-factory concept. When Stihl opened the plant in 2006, the goal was to integrate all production for mowing heads for string trimmers in a single area. Twenty-seven all-electric Milacron Roboshot presses turn out 65 million parts a year. The defective parts per million is less than 100, and the scrap rate is less than 1 percent.
Magnetic mold platens allow technicians to change a mold in just 20 minutes.
So far, 20 injection molding presses are equipped with eDart systems from RJG Inc. The company uses gas-assisted molding, using sequential gating, most often to produce hollow handlebars.
The accessories plant also runs four Davis-Standard extruders producing trimmer line — 240,000 miles of line a year. Fully automated equipment winds the line onto spools — that Stihl molds from in-house scrap from the molding presses.
Stihl USA had been No. 1 in quality in the total Stihl Group for the past seven years, according to the company's submission for the award. The operation leads all locations for the least defective PPMs. All Stihl plants worldwide exchange information about operations. The company uses lots of analytical metrics to measure quality.
For plastic parts that go directly to the Virginia Beach assembly, the short feedback loop helps the plastics plants learn about and solve any problems quickly.
Employee training and retention is a huge issue for U.S. manufacturing these days. Stihl in Virginia Beach shines in that effort, with its German-style apprenticeship program, established way back in the early 1980s. This past September, Stihl USA became just the third company on the East Coast to gain German certification for its program.
The apprenticeships cover tool and die, CNC machining, maintenance, mechatronics — and polymer technologies.
The Virginia Beach operation is helping other local companies adopt the apprenticeship model.
One benefit: Employee turnover is just 6.3 percent at Virginia Beach. The average tenure is 9.5 years.
Stihl also gave lots of details about its recycling and energy saving efforts — resulting in a much better-than-average grade for the environmental performance category. For example, the operation works with a recycler that grinds plastic parts that contain steel, and the firm removes all metal and sends the plastic back to Stihl to be blended back into regrind. That will reduce waste by 640,000 pounds, officials said.
The operation buys only all-electric presses for new machines under 330 tons, and hybrids for larger presses. Today Stihl USA runs 37 all-electrics, saving 950,000 kilowatt hours
Six small windmills generate electricity for the factories.
Stihl also excels at industry/public service. Stihl USA is a member of MAPP and the SPI. Most of its engineers are members of the Society of Plastics Engineers
Of course, the company donates time, money and chainsaws to the forestry and conservation sectors. A Stihl cycling team participates in the Stihl tour des Trees, which raises $3,500 for urban trees and education.
And Stihl donates chainsaws for clearing trees after disasters and storms.