Trilogy has been known as a leading custom rotational molder for years, as management has invested significantly in the company's two manufacturing plants, for equipment and technology that can give the closest thing to closed-loop processing that the rotomolding industry can get.
Trilogy Plastics operates in a modern, 105,000-square-foot headquarters plant in Alliance, Ohio, and a second plant a few miles away, with 108,000 square feet of manufacturing space, set up for longer-run, contract molding.
But the company was not always so high-level — although it does have an interesting history that began more than 100 years ago. The original company, called Old King Cole Inc., turned out some iconic advertising figures like Mr. Peanut and the dog famous for hearing “his master's voice” on a record.
The company began rotomolding in the late 1950s, the early days of the industry. But beginning in 1970s, hard times hit, and the company went through a series of ownership changes. A creditor took over, changed the company name and was an absentee owner. The business dwindled down at its aging plant in Louisville, Ohio.
Steve Osborn and his partner, Bruce Frank, bought the business in 1987. Osborn was a turnaround consultant in Cleveland with the Ernst & Ernst accounting firm (now Ernst & Young). He was looking for a manufacturing business to buy, and the old rotomolding company was in bad shape — and inexpensive. The company had just 13 employees.
Osborn ran the plant, learning about the rotomolding process at the same time. Frank, whose family ran a manufacturers' representative firm, had experience selling plastic parts. The old plant was dark. A small creek next to the building threatened to flood during heavy rains. Osborn and Frank leased a second building down the street for molding, routing, assembly and foaming.
The big move came in 2005, when Trilogy built the main headquarters plant in Alliance, a $5 million investment that greatly improved work flow and boosted production capacity by 30 to 40 percent.
Today Trilogy Plastics employs about 160 people. Osborn expects final-year 2016 sales to reach nearly $17 million. The projection for 2017: $18.2 million. Under the current ownership, Trilogy has had a compounded annual sales growth rate of more than 13 percent, and 29 straight years of profitability.
The financial numbers are solid at the mid-sized rotational molder. The owners put money back into the company, buying new rotomolding machines from Ferry Industries Inc. down the road in Stow, Ohio.
Trilogy also has invested in Ferry's IRT technology that uses infrared sensors to continuously monitor the external mold temperature and then adjust heating and cooling time, as well as Rotolog, also from Ferry, which uses sensors inside the mold to help set good molding parameters for the IRT. The rotomolder's technicians also use EZ Logger to measure in-mold temperatures, a product from Paladin Sales in Uniontown, Ohio.
The last four rotomolding machines Trilogy purchased all were equipped with IRTs on the machine in both the ovens and the cooling chambers. A few years ago, another machine got retrofitted with the technology.
Osborn believes that Trilogy's stable of four routers for seven rotomolding machines at its headquarters plant is one of the highest ratios of routers to molding machines in the industry. Eighty-five percent of products in that main plant go through the routers, he said — so the parts coming off the rotomolders have to be consistent.
Even with the technology, people are the fundamental element in rotomolding, which is more labor-intensive than other plastics processes. Machine operators bolt and unbolt molds, feed in plastic powder, initiate the mold's move into the oven, and pull out the often-large hollow parts. Hard physical work.
Starting salaries are competitive with the local Alliance labor market, and the compensation system is geared toward pay and promotion based on performance. Employees can move up by learning new skills and taking on more responsibility. To advance, they must take in-house courses in leadership, “emotional intelligence” and supervision, in addition to specific technical training.
Trilogy offers a bonus for perfect attendance. Osborn gives out a $50 president's award.
Trilogy started its move to become a world class company three years ago. Daren Balderson, vice president of operations and a veteran of Trilogy, said it's a mindset to motivate, inspire and engage employees. The rotomolder already had a strict attendance policy, and the company has become more selective when hiring people, Balderson said.
Making sure people come to work each day is critical to maintain an on-time delivery rate that has been more than 99 percent the last several years, Osborn said.
The attendance program has more carrots than sticks. An employee can be terminated for getting 20 points a year — equaling 10 days of unexcused absence. But Trilogy also gives a $100 bonus each month for perfect attendance. And you can “work off” points by serving the community at the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and the Alliance for Children & Families.
Osborn said many employees with no attendance issues do the volunteer work, as does management. The company was named the 2016 Large Company of the Year in Alliance, and was one of Plastics News' Best Places to Work.
The good works locally helped Trilogy score well on the criteria of industry and public service.
On the industry side, Trilogy has been a member of the Association of Rotational Molders since 1987. Osborn, who was inducted in the Rotational Hall of Fame in 2012, has served on many ARM committees and served on the board of directors.
Trilogy also has regularly kept up with processes to boost its environmental performance, phasing out of solvent-based mold releases for water-based ones, and moving to Teflon-coated molds, in the 1990s. On the firm's many foamed parts, Trilogy was one of the first to convert to water-based foams, even ahead of government mandates to cut foaming agents that damage the ozone layer and cause greenhouse gases.
The company changed to energy-efficient lighting about five years ago. The company also has added variable-speed compressors, and now is looking at ways to improve the insulation of its ovens.
Trilogy prides itself as being a safe rotomolder, running more than 585 days without a lost-time accident. The company also pays for work-related training, brings industry experts into the plant, and sends employees to seminars and conferences.
Trilogy scored good marks on customer relations, thanks the good OTD record and to its institutionalized method of handling customer complaints, which are logged and followed through to find the exact cause, if possible.
Customers said Trilogy takes care of any issues immediately. “They do a great job for us. They always follow through on what they say,” one customer said. Another said Trilogy is “very organized. I've been to probably 15 different rotomolders. There's nobody like Trilogy when it comes to things like that. they hold their tolerances tighter than everybody. And in rotomolding, that's hard to do.”
Often, Trilogy assembles the complete product and ships directly to a retailer or customer warehouse.
Osborn nominated his company for the award.