Denver — CareerWise, a broad-reaching apprenticeship program that started in Colorado, is moving to other states, and apprenticeships are getting bipartisan attention from presidential candidates. And it all began at a small custom injection molder in Denver, Intertech Plastics Inc. — the latest Plastics News Processor of the Year.
Noel Ginsburg and two partners founded the company in 1980 when they bought the assets of a local molding plant that was closing. Intertech was originally named Container Industries, and it molded pails for the food industry. Ginsburg had developed the business plan for a college project at the University of Denver.
He renamed the company Intertech Plastics in 1995, to highlight its position as a custom molder.
These days, Ginsburg spends his time on CareerWise, which is modeled after apprenticeships in Switzerland and now covers much more than advanced manufacturing. It includes three-year apprenticeships in education, hospitality, business operations, information technology and health care. Coming up next will be automotive technician, property management and facilities management, according to Noel's son, Corey Ginsburg, who is Intertech's director of sales.
But the activism in apprentices keeps paying off at Intertech. The company recruits many of them from local high school robotics clubs, especially Eaglecrest High School, where Intertech sponsors the team with $5,000 and executives attend the spirited competitions.
In an industry struggling to attract skilled young people, Intertech is well-placed with a long-term pipeline of talent, President Jim Kepler said.
"Our apprentices have not only allowed us to build a sustainable workforce, but accelerate our ability to implement new ideas, processes and automation at a pace that previously wasn't possible," he said.
Kevin King, the company's first apprentice, is now a full-time automation technician. Intertech is paying for his engineering degree. King spearheads projects like a two-camera vision system and automation for a combination picnic table/bench that guarantees employees pack all the right parts in the box — and saves an image of each finished one, for proof it was done right. A six-axis Fanuc robot moves the box through a taping station and stacks them.
Kepler said it was King's idea to do the turnkey automation system, which became fully operational in January. Now, he said, rather than assigning specific projects, Intertech is giving its apprentices more responsibility to identify opportunities for reducing labor costs or cutting scrap.
The high school interns take their ideas to Chief Financial Officer Robert Edwards, who runs the numbers with them on data such as percent labor content and annual costs, looking at the return on investment.
"They've had a substantive impact on us and good financial implications," Edwards said. "They'll source from the vendors, they design everything in SolidWorks and then go out on the floor and actually build it."
The apprenticeship program sets Intertech apart — as well as using the 4DX process to make big strategic decisions. Both have worked together to improve profitability while holding down costs at Intertech, which generated sales of $25 million in 2019.
But so does the molding, replete with vision systems, robots and some advanced in-mold labeling. Intertech runs 50 injection molding machines, about evenly split between two plants: Intertech Medical, with clean room molding, and Intertech Plastics, which handles custom molding of consumer and industrial products. Clamping forces range from 35-1,500 tons. Most of the machines are Toyos, but the company also runs some Husky and Milacron presses.
Intertech employs 130. A third of them have been with the company for more than nine years. And a year ago, one of the big 4DX WIGs ("wildly important goals") was to build a team of leadership employees to support bumped-up sales of $30 million and more, by hiring people to fill 14 key positions.
"We were certainly stretching our workforce and our team, so we had to make some investments to grow to the next level," Kepler said. "I would say we're really trying to increase our technical bench strength in engineering, quality and operations to then support the revenue growth. Because that's really where the execution is, where you'll be successful or not successful is on that front end of design/build alignment during that new product introduction of revenue opportunities."
It kept Human Resources Manager Jen Lockman busy. She color-codes her calendar, and it looked like a rainbow. Kepler noted the company's painstaking hiring process for the right cultural fit, even more than job skills experience. "They're high-level people, and we're extremely picky," he said.
Plastics News presented Intertech officials with the award and honored this year's finalists at a dinner Feb. 26 during the newspaper's Executive Forum in Naples, Fla. Intertech Plastics was a finalist for last year's Processor of the Year Award, which was won by MTD Micro Molding of Charlton, Mass.
Last year, Intertech also won a PN Excellence Award for industry and public service at the forum, largely because of Noel Ginsburg's work on CareerWise, starting the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, and his and his wife Leslie's work on the state's I Have a Dream Foundation that helps at-risk students.
Scott Walton, chief operating officer of Harbour Results Inc., nominated Intertech for Processor of the Year.