Elgin, Ill. — From the start, Troy Nix wanted the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors to be different.
"We didn't want to duplicate efforts of any other organization," Nix, the group's executive director, said about the early days of the organization, then called the Mid-America Plastics Partners. "We created our niche. We haven't deviated from what we've wanted to do since 1996."
For Nix and the early members, that meant focusing on a sense of community among the processors. For the founders, being able to sit at a table and share ideas was important, he said.
"One of the things that the founding fathers did when they looked at the foundation of the organization is, they said, 'Sharing is vital to our sustainability,'" Nix said. "When you look at our activities and what we try to do each and every day, we try to connect the business leaders of processing companies and get them to open up and share."
That sharing is on display several times a year when members open their facilities for plant tours. The events serve as learning experiences for both the processor opening its doors and the executives who attend. MAPP has been doing the tours for the last decade, Nix said.
"This is community," Nix said at Hansen Plastics Corp. in Elgin in May. "People don't understand when they ask what MAPP is. You can't put it on a piece of paper. It's community. And it's phenomenal."
About 60 executives from all over the country came to Hansen to understand how it developed a lean manufacturing culture and to give suggestions on how it could improve operations. The tours took attendees through five different aspects of the business, and groups of executives discussed items they thought the company were doing well and potential areas of improvements. When the event is over, there are pages of takeaways for Hansen and those in attendance.
Charles Sholtis, CEO of Plastic Molding Technology Inc. in El Paso, Texas, said he always gets great takeaways from plant tours. Sholtis is also a board member of MAPP.
"It truly is [a community]," he said. "It is different than any other plastics trade group or organization that I've been involved with in my 30-year career. MAPP is truly unique. It gets the grassroots of the membership, and it gets the engagement you see at the plant tour as far as a free exchange of best practices and ideas."
Sholtis said he has gotten countless of ideas to take back to his company from previous tours.
"Some of it is pretty mundane, from tool room layout to quick changeover techniques. But some are a little more lofty like marketing approaches to customers or total cultural changes from an organizational standpoint," Sholtis said. "Some of those things we've adapted. Some of those things we've planned to adapt in the future because they take time."
Roy Lily, CEO of Hansen Plastics, said he wasn't nervous about bringing in MAPP members to see every aspect of the company's operations.
"I consider this a room of friends, I really do," he said.
The company joined MAPP about four years ago and attended a meeting where lean expert Paul Akers spoke.
"The guy just floored me," Lily said. Since then, it has been on the journey to become a lean organization.
He said it was important that others can learn from Hansen's work, and his company could take tips from others.
"We've lost enough people in this industry," Lily said. "It's not good for the industry to lose any more. We need to help one another."
Lily said at every tour event, people are very open and honest, but the conversations are done with respect.
"I think it's done with genuine concern," he said. "They want our business to improve. What can be better than that?"
Nix said everyone at the event is there to continually improve.
"Our purpose is to connect people so they can become better. We spend a lot of time doing nothing but connecting," he said. "Quite frankly, oftentimes we don't have the wherewithal to answer a question, but we have a network of almost 400 companies and all their staffs. At any time, we can send an email out or make a phone call and say, 'I need help with this.' And the network responds. It's really powerful."