Oshkosh, Wis. — To hear Dale Evans say it, the people running Evco Plastics Inc. are simple, humble Wisconsin farm folk — who are in the middle of a $12 million investment to expand in the United States, China and Mexico.
Don't be fooled by Evans' soft-spoken demeanor. Evco, which turned 50 years old in 2014, helped pioneer the plastics factory of the future, dubbed the Advanced Manufacturing Plant (AMP), and established a mold-building factory in China — and both big moves came in 1989, well before other plastics processors.
The company is an interesting blend of a family atmosphere, fostered by the Evans family owners, and a large and long-term global presence, with factories in Wisconsin, Georgia, China and Mexico. Under Dale Evans, the longtime president, the company has become international and gotten into clean room molding.
When Evco celebrated its 50th anniversary, events happened at its plants around the world. In the headquarters city of DeForest, Wis., near Madison, 800 people packed Evco Circle to hear music, eat, drink and tour the molding factory.
“We had a good time. A lot of people had a good time,” Evans said. “When you advertise, in Wisconsin, ‘Free Beer,' a lot of people come. It's really simple to draw a crowd.” He laughed.
Though Dale Evans sometimes has an aw-shucks way of speaking, he is a savvy plastics veteran who started out working for his father, Don Evans,
in the family basement with a Giddings and Lewis molding machine. “I was probably 12 years when I started running the molding machine,” he said.
Fast forward to today: Evco generated about $145 million in 2015 sales from North America, including Mexico, for the sixth straight year of sales growth since rebounding from the Great Recession. The debt-to-equity ratio declined by 25 percent last year. The company employs about 1,000 people worldwide.
Evco runs about 150 injection molding machines, including 28 large tonnage injection presses, from 1,000 to 3,500 tons of clamping force — making Evco a major force in large-part molding. The 3,500-tonner runs at Evco's factory in Oshkosh.
Now, Evco is a major force in industry awards, as the newest Plastics News' Processor of the Year. Plastics News presented Evco officials with the award, and honored all the finalists Feb. 17 at its Executive Forum in Naples, Fla.
Evco earned high marks from the judges — who are Plastics News reporters and editors — on all seven criteria. Exceptional categories were financial performance, customer relations, employee relations, industry and public service and technology.
Evco won the Processor of the Year Award over the three other finalists: Nicolet Plastics Inc., Dymotek Corp. and MTD Micro Molding. All four finalists are custom injection molders.
In addition to its strong position in large-tonnage molding, Evco also offers multi-shot molding, overmolding, insert molding, in-mold decorating and labeling, gas-assist molding, stack molds, thin-wall packaging, automation and assembly. Evco does Class 8 clean room molding.
The Evans-family owned company has become big — and global — but they make sure Evco retains a welcoming approach to new employees, while offering advancement opportunities for long-term people. Dale Evans believes a manufacturer should hire for attitude and train for knowledge.
Give them the skills as needed, and boost the pay of employees who gain more skills, Evans said. Evco, like most plastics processors, used to try and hire employees with experience and existing skills for specific tasks. But management found that people with plastics molding background often were rigid, not open to try new things.
“Yes, it's difficult to change people, unless they want to change themselves,” Evans said.
Evco regularly invests in technology. The big 3,500-ton Engel press was installed three years ago in Oshkosh. Evans said the company now uses magnetic mold clamping on every large-tonnage press it buys, allowing for faster mold changes.
The most recent investment of $12 million, which Evans announced last year during NPE 2015, includes a 36,000-square-foot expansion and added a 3,300-ton Ube press at Evco's factory in Calhoun, Ga. — that plant's first above 3,000 tons; relocating its China molding factory to another city and putting in a Class 8 clean room there; and in Monterrey, Mexico, adding a 2,500-ton Engel press and a large crane.
Having the massive injection molding machines sets Evco apart. “We had turned down a bunch of work, because you can't even quote on it before when you didn't have the big equipment. Now we can,” Evans said. Existing clients had asked Evco to expand into larger tonnage presses.
But it's not easy. Floors need to be reinforced. Hefty cranes are mandatory. At Oshkosh, one big mold on the shop floor weighs 90,000 pounds; the plant has cranes of 80 tons and 33 tons lifting capacity, and they can be used in tandem for the really giant molds. “Not many people put in the infrastructure and the equipment to go with it. You need both,” Evans said. “We started new [by building the Oshkosh plant], so we could put the infrastructure in place to do that.”
Evco has three plants in Mexico, but, given the large press sizes, Evans said room is running out. “There's a finite amount that we can grow with our current facilities. We're almost to that point,” he said. “We've added some more equipment, but it's going to be another year or so that we won't be able to do that. So facility four will have to be looked at.”
Evco's groundbreaking year of 1989 comes along maybe once in a custom molder's history. Evco set up the mold-building factory in Shenzhen (and began molding there in 2000). AMP, which molds parts in the DeForest headquarters plant, has utilities underground in a big, walkable trough and sports a high level of automation — forward looking, especially by the standards of 1989.
Dale said his brother, Steve Evans, played a major role in designing AMP. A mining engineer, Steve likes to develop systems.
“And so the AMP plant was a giant system,” Dale said, from the layout of utilities and resin flow to how product moves through the plant to shipping.
“All of our newer facilities are takeoffs of what we learned in that AMP plant there,” Dale Evans said. Evco didn't try to duplicate the entire Advanced Manufacturing Plant. “You took what worked. All the utilities at the AMP plant are underground. Well, OK that's fun, but it's an expensive way to do it. Our newer facilities, we've saved money, we keep them at the same level [as the molding presses]. It adds more clutter to the facility, but on the other hand, it's not as expensive,” he said.
In addition to Dale and Steve, other family members play important roles at Evco. Dale's daughter Anna Bartz is marketing director, and another daughter, Katherine Bashir is business unit leader in sales. Founder Don Evans still comes in regularly, and thinks up new plastic products.
And now the fourth generation has arrived. Bartz and Bashir in January gave birth to their first babies — and Dale's first grandchildren — within three days of each other. They work from home offices in the Chicago area.
Plastics News visited Evco's 100,000-square-foot Oshkosh plant in mid-January. The company purpose-built the facility in 2003 and expanded it three years ago. It employs 75 people and runs 19 injection presses, a mix of Engels, Arburgs, Van Dorns and smaller, all-electric Toyos.
Oshkosh specializes in large part molding, including shorter runs. Plant Manager Spencer Wright said that every time a molder makes a big growth spurt, it's like an entirely new company to run. But Wright said Evco keeps everyone grounded.
“We've got that conservative Midwest philosophy. We want to do it right. So you maybe take it a little slower than someone might. But you do it right. And you do it conservatively,” Wright said. “We all got a little farmer in us. We have that mentality. I think my most important job for Dale and for Evco is that, as we get bigger, we don't forget where we came from.”