For some companies, the abrupt changes in 2020 have brought about new business. One company that has benefited is Core Technology Molding Corp.
Core President Geoff Foster spoke with Plastics News Publisher Brennan Lafferty to discuss how his North Carolina-based company has balanced an influx of orders from the health care industry along with a hiccup from the automotive sector.
What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation. The full interview is available online at www.plasticsnews.com/audio as part of our new "What Keeps You Up At Night?" podcast.
Q: How is business? Is the shop floor open? Is the team healthy?
Foster: Most importantly, the team is healthy. We've been really blessed. We're sanitizing and cleaning up after each shift. For the last five years, we've been operating 24/7, but for the last month, we've gone to 24/5. So, Monday through Friday, we're working 24 hours a day then we're closing the weekends.
Q: Plastics has always played a major role in personal safety in the medical industry. But the spotlight really seems to be shining on plastics now. Have you been able to fill some needs of health care companies, given the pandemic's visibility in the U.S.?
Foster: Yes. We were already a Tier 1 supplier to Merck [& Co. Inc.] and the biological pharmaceutical space. However, now we're getting even more business with face shields and other personal protective material. We'll be producing quite a bit more than we expected, even 60 days ago. So, Merck will be a third of our business. We'll be supplying North America, Japan and the Netherlands. It's been exponential growth because of COVID-19.
Q: When you launched Core, you were 100 percent automotive-focused. Automotive is still an important part of who you are. But with an automotive slowdown, how important has it been to your business that you've diversified to serve other end markets?
Foster: We wouldn't have made it without diversification. Aerospace was one of our largest customers last year, making components for interior trim. We're also doing appliance and outdoor lawn equipment with Husqvarna. Those areas are growing. Even though automotive is down for a month, we have these other areas that we're still running 24 hours a day, five days a week.
Q: Car dealerships are closed. So next month, you're going to start to see orders resume for companies like BMW?
Foster: Yes, their releases are showing up. BMW is the largest exporter in North America for the last three years and 85 percent of their SUVs are presold. So, we're really excited to add them as a customer and be a Tier 1 supplier. We ship to South Carolina. We ship to Germany, China, Russia and South Africa. And those areas are coming back. They're needing our parts now. We'll be shipping in two weeks.
Q: Are you still teaching at North Carolina A&T? Does that university remain an important part of your pipeline of talent at Core Technology?
Foster: Absolutely. I am still teaching, but it's remotely. For the last two months, we've been doing online teaching, which is really different, especially for STEM students and applied engineering, but they're still getting the same information. We're just doing it remotely through Zoom. We continue to build a pipeline.
We even hired a student in December over Christmas break, who is an Applied Engineering student. He's doing design work for us. He comes here half a day and does his homework after. In the summer, he will work 40 hours a week as an intern. We have a recent graduate who's in our quality lab division system. We continually build this pipeline of engineers that have gone through the program. We've kind of — pun intended — molded them. And then they turn into a full-time employee where they're working on some really big programs in automotive, medical, aerospace. They get these great opportunities early in their career, whether they're 22-23 years old, and they're managing multimillion-dollar programs.
Q: The coronavirus has hit many African-American communities hard. That's true here in Detroit, where Plastics News is based. Black families here make up a disproportionate number of cases. And as a black man, does this make the work that Core is doing right now in the health care field more meaningful?
Foster: Way more meaningful. It is definitely impacting minorities in the United States. But I think what I realized is how we are really having a positive impact. If you can imagine this, we're going to make 100 million parts for vaccines next year and 200 million a year after that. Out of that 100 million, 25 million are going to be for infants only. It's going to impact the world, not just North Carolina.
Q: Core has really been on a roll for growth. Will that upward trajectory continue this year, financially, or is 2020 a speed bump?
Foster: It's actually going to accelerate us because we've already signed some long-term contracts. This medical piece with biologicals is unbelievable. Coronavirus just exposed some things globally that there are some additional vaccines needed, there's more development needed.
As a Tier 1, we work very closely with the customer on the development of the end product, so that makes us even more valuable. We just keep growing and seeing double-digit growth and then four-digit growth on the on the bottom line.
We just got a new ERP system with IQMS and that has also really helped us be more efficient. We can remotely look at data and make better decisions and be proactive.