Clearwater Beach, Fla. — Becoming technology-focused and data-driven are keys to success for plastics processors, according to Matt Fish, president of Vital Plastics Inc.
"They can be something as simple as putting a camera system within the manufacturing facility. We did that. We bought 70 cameras and put them up for our facility, and they paid for themselves about 10 times over," Fish said at the Plastics News Executive forum in Clearwater Beach.
Fish spoke about bottom-line considerations for plastics processors.
Thanks to the cameras, "we've avoided work comp claims; we've actually resolved harassment disputes. I've actually gone out to customers that are trying to give us a reject because they said the wrong parts were in the wrong box, and I said, 'Give me the serial number on the label.' And I went back and I was able to focus in on the box and say, 'No, they're not.' That is simple. But it's been really, really helpful for us," Fish said.
Vital Plastics is a custom injection molder in Baldwin, Wis., with two plants, about 200 employees and 60 injection molding machines. About 120 of the workers are full time. The company also has a contingent of assembly workers who pick up components, take them home and bring them back assembled a week later.
Fish was chief financial officer for five years before being named CEO a year ago. Vital Plastics was a finalist for Processor of the Year in 2018 and winner of the PN Excellence Award for employee relations.
Other examples of becoming data-driven are to use RJG molding technology and IQMS enterprise resource planning systems, Fish said.
"Our goal is not to develop a new tool unless we fully analyze it and determine whether or not we can bury an RJG sensor in there," Fish said. "We think that's a value and we can sell to our customers."
On the ERP system, Fish said that's been "the most transformative [technology] for us."
"I think for a smaller company, we use it very well. We do payroll. We track all our molds. We have a machine monitoring system. And it drives all of the decisions in our organization. Data doesn't carry emotion; data can get to the heart of an issue really quickly," he said.
Becoming technology-driven is one of three key points that Fish said can make processors more profitable. The others are to create and engage with a meaningful network within the plastics industry and to develop a pricing strategy.
Building a meaningful network "can be overwhelming, just like technology," Fish said. He talked about what Vital Plastics gets out of its relationship with the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors and Harbour Results.
"This isn't a plug for vendors," Fish joked. He cited specific examples of how he has collaborated with other MAPP members, gone on plant tours and learned from his peers.
"You need a network that will push you. That's a meaningful network," he said.
On the pricing strategy point, Fish told a story about how his son and daughter both had summer jobs at a Wisconsin supper club. His daughter was a host, while his son had a grunt work-type position. It was his son who talked his manager into giving him a raise.
"How do you apply that to plastics processing? What's your pricing strategy? Do you even have one? I'm probably the least comfortable person to get up in front of a customer and try to sell something," Fish said. "But you have to go on the offensive. You have to know your value proposition. You have to be audacious."
Bringing all these key points together — data, networking and a pricing strategy — have made Vital a more successful company.
"You know what I found? Buyers actually prefer that. They know you know what you're talking about. They know that you got your eye on the ball," Fish said. "They want someone that can execute and deliver on time. They'll say it's all price-driven, but it's not. When you can illustrate and execute and show your capabilities, they'll respond to that."