Clinton Township, Mich. — It's been Adam Smith's dream to start his own custom injection molding company. He wasn't about to let the coronavirus pandemic stop him.
Smith recently announced the startup of Millennium Plastics LLC, an automotive molder in the Detroit suburb of Clinton Township.
Smith was a member of the Plastics News Rising Stars class of 2016 when he was operations manager at Prism Plastics Inc., an injection molder that specializes in critical safety parts for the automotive sector in nearby Chesterfield, Mich.
At the time, he was asked, "What job do you really want to have in the future?" His reply: "I'm hoping to become a CEO/president of an injection molding company, maybe start my own company."
A year later, right after he turned 30, Smith was promoted to Prism's vice president of operations. He credits his experience at Prism with preparing him to start his own company.
"I learned so much from how to run an operation from the folks there that I got to work with — [President] Rod Bricker and Matt Trisch, who was the engineering manager that I worked under — and I learned what it really takes to run millions of cycles on parts and to run them repeatable every time," Smith said.
"It starts with the mold, and it starts with the approach in doing everything you can to be smart about a tool build, and really build it specifically for running high-volume, tight-tolerance components," he said.
Smith announced the formation of Millennium Plastics on LinkedIn in early March. For now, the company is very lean. He's the only employee, and he's working closely with Omega Plastics Inc., a custom molder in Clinton Township.
Smith said he has a "favorable working relationship" with Omega. He's helping Omega with some automation projects, and Omega officials are letting him use their infrastructure, which can include sampling parts on its presses. There's no financial relationship between the companies.
He has ambitious growth plans.
"A year from now, I'm hopeful that I'll have business in place and we'll be in discussions about moving Millennium Plastics to its own building," Smith said. "And five years from now, it'd be great to have up to an eight-machine operation, running fully lights out. That is really the end game goal."
Smith recently talked with Plastics News at the Omega Plastics plant.
Q: What's your background in plastics?
Smith: I graduated from Ferris State with a degree in plastics engineering and also CAD drafting and tool design. I graduated back in May 2010 started with Prism in the engineering department.
When I started with Prism, they started to rapidly grow in the 10 years I was there. And a lot of good things happened because of it.
Q: Prism was a Plastics News Processor of the Year candidate in 2014, but the winner ended up being a company where you interned, Stihl Inc. in Virginia Beach, Va. Two really impressive companies. Did we pick the right one?
Smith: You know, it's a coin flip. They're both doing really great things, and they both embrace technology.
Q: That seems to be your approach, too. What technologies are interesting to you?
Smith: It starts with partnering with tool builders, and of course being smart about it.
It's understanding your customers and what they need to achieve. Everything really starts with the tool.
In addition, when you're focusing on tight-tolerance, high-volume components, which is what Millennium Plastics is after, you can't use an injection molding machine from the 1980s that's got hydraulic oil leaks and things like that. When you're making safety-critical components, you have to have to be able to utilize technology to its fullest.
But a lot of people can buy the newest machines. If they don't know how to use them, they don't know how to integrate them properly, it's not going to do much for them.
What I see lacking, especially as you get down to the Tier 2 and 3 injection molders, is there's so much Industry 4.0 technology and systems out there and available, and nobody is using it.
Q: Why aren't more molders using Industry 4.0 technology?
Smith: I think maybe they're not exposed to it, they don't go to the trade shows, they can't see the technology working, and they kind of think, 'Hey, our methods are working, we're profitable, why shake the apple cart?' But you have to look beyond that, you have to stay relevant, especially in injection molding.
Q: What end markets are you looking at?
Smith: Automotive is going to be the main target. That's where my main experience is, and the mass of my network. Tight-tolerance, high-volume automotive work is really how my model for Millennium Plastics is set up; that's where we'll be most competitive.
Q: That can be attractive work. Why should an OEM or a Tier 1 pick Millennium rather than an established molder?
Smith: The utilization of technology is one of the more important things. Utilizing SCADA [supervisory control and data acquisition, a computer system for gathering and analyzing real-time data], which is going to be a huge part of Millennium Plastics.
We can really drive scrap rates down with this method, as well as drive quality higher than most of the companies that we would be competing against. Zero defects is the goal, and you're not going to get there without leveraging technology to the absolute fullest.
Q: What was the reaction to your LinkedIn post, announcing the company?
Smith: You know, it's been great. I've seen a lot of support from a lot of people.
Q: Did anyone say you're crazy do be doing this, with the coronavirus pandemic?
Smith: A lot of people are saying good luck [laughs]. You know, with COVID-19, it's a bit of a setback, but fortunately I think we'll be OK. We're still talking to potential customers. And there are still people who need injection molding suppliers. And hopefully we can turn this into an advantage, and we can help customers that are currently seeing supply chain issues.
Q: You're 33 years old. Where does a person your age get the money to do a startup? Did you win the lottery?
Smith: No, I didn't win the lottery. I have been very good with saving my money for a really long time.
My wife works, and we've had conversations about what our finances will look like for a while, when Millennium Plastics is getting started. She's a radiation therapist. She's been extremely supportive of me wanting to follow my dream.
I'm just really passionate about it. I really enjoy plastics and especially injection molding. I really enjoy the problem-solving aspect of it and the science behind injection molding. I am really fortunate that I ended up getting a degree in something that I really enjoyed.