In 1987, Stephen Osborn bought a small 13-person rotational molder in Louisville, Ohio, that was on its last legs, an aging building hard by a small stream prone to flooding.
Osborn was a Cleveland-based turnaround consultant at Ernst & Ernst, now Ernst & Young. He was looking for a manufacturing business to buy, and picked the rotomolder that began more than 100 years ago as Old King Cole Inc. The financial guy had to learn rotomolding. He brought in Bruce Frank, a longtime friend, to handle sales and be a partner.
Trilogy Plastics Inc. generated more than $18 million in sales in 2017. The company runs nine rotomolding machines — seven at its main custom molding plant in Alliance, Ohio, built in 2005, and two at a second plant down the street that is dedicated to high volume work. The main headquarters factory has four CNC routers, which Osborn said is one of the highest ratios of routers to machines in the rotomolding industry.
Since Osborn and Frank bought the company 30 years ago, Trilogy has made money every year. Compounded annual sales growth is more than 13 percent.
Markets include retail, industrial, medical, and truck and bus. The company does assembly and foaming.
Although the business has been steadily growing, the 20 percent growth in 2017 presented a challenge, as Trilogy boosted employment from 160 a year ago to 208 today.
Osborn, Trilogy's president, said about one-third of the workforce has less than one year's experience. All those new employees presented a challenge to Trilogy's good record for quality and even safety. But the rotational molder has a strategy to become a world-class company, an effort led by the vice president of operations, Daren Balderson, a Trilogy veteran and Alliance-area native. Hard work by management and a culture of honesty, openness and mutual respect has paid off.
Trilogy's string of 852 days without a lost-time accident is impressive for rotational molding, which is hard, hot, labor-intensive work. A safe factory is central to the award category of employee relations, one of Trilogy's strongest.
Once a month, each supervisor meets with every single employee privately, one-on-one, in what the company had dubbed a "pulse meeting." They talk about work. In one meeting, a machine operator mentioned how telescoping magnets that roofers use to pick up errant nails could help Trilogy operators find dropped mold bolts. Management agreed and bought them for all the machines.
The informal meetings cover personal topics too: An aging parent. Car problems. Divorce. Things like that can impact workers on the job.
The supervisor writes up a brief synopsis and it gets put into the human resources computer system. Trilogy's HR director, Holly Blanton, also randomly conducts "stay interviews" — a play on the term "exit interview," the common exercise that comes too late to answer an employee's issues. It all adds up to an extraordinary number of "touches" with the people who work in the plant.
Employees can move up by learning new skills, through a three-level system that includes pay raises and passing a written test. Trilogy also gives employees a $100 bonus a month for perfect attendance.
Trilogy has done even more for its employees since becoming a Processor of the Year finalist last year. Management has added more recognition awards, including weekly top-operator awards for both molding and finishing, to promote excellence in safety, productivity and attitude. Winners attend a monthly breakfast with Balderson. Pay also increased to reflect improved productivity, and the company's 401(k) match was more than doubled. For the third year in a row, the company absorbed the total increase in health insurance costs.
And — in an innovative effort that hits both the criteria of employee relations and the industry and public service — employees can "work off" points assessed for missed attendance by serving local charities such as the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity and Alliance for Children & Families. Many employees who don't have attendance issues also volunteer, as does management.
The judges also gave Trilogy good grades for customer relations and technology.
For customers, Trilogy has an on-time-delivery record of more than 99 percent. The company closely tracks customer complaints, and follows through to find the cause of the problem. Complaints have been cut in half from 6.8 per month in 2014 to just 3.6 percent in 2016, even as sales have increased.
Contacted by the Plastics News judges, customers praised Trilogy for never missing deliveries and dealing immediately with any quality issues. One customer said Trilogy is flexible and nimble. The company has "often been one step ahead of us in anticipating our needs," he said.
Trilogy continues to invest in technology, as it moves to be as close as rotational molding can get to closed-loop production. The business uses the IRT technology of infrared sensors to monitor temperatures on the surface of the mold and make adjustments to the molding cycle. Another technology, Rotolog, uses sensors inside the mold. EZ Logger also measures in-mold temperatures.
Trilogy also added production monitoring at each machine, and several monitors that show cycle times and other information are placed at operator stations. The display turns yellow if production falls slightly behind the target, and red if it gets way behind.
Long term, the plan is to network every machine into a comprehensive monitoring system for all machines that will be available on every work station, and on large flat-screen monitors throughout the plant.