Intertech was founded by Noel Ginsburg as Container Industries in 1980 when he bought the assets of a local molding plant that was closing, to produce pails for the food industry. Now Intertech has become a leader in apprenticeship programs to draw new people to manufacturing.
Ginsburg started the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance. He led an apprenticeship program called CareerWise, modeled after apprenticeships in Switzerland, by connecting businesses, educators and high school students to give them on-the-job training. It's going statewide in Colorado, and other states are taking a look.
He has led state leaders to Switzerland to learn about apprentice programs.
CareerWise Colorado is now in 14 school districts. And it's not just advanced manufacturing, but also covers education, hospitality, business operations, information technology, financial services and health care.
Ginsburg even ran for Colorado governor in 2018, but he dropped out before the primary election.
And it all started at Intertech, a small molder that now has 130 employees and runs more than 50 injection molding machines with clamping forces from 30-1,500 tons.
Apprentices give Intertech a long-term competitive advantage, 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.
Kepler said Intertech partners with the local Eaglecrest High School, which has placed three CareerWise apprentices at the molder. But the company draws apprentices from several different high schools. Eight students were working at Intertech in 2019, and Kepler said the company plans to have 11 apprentices this year.
Kepler said Intertech draws talent from the Eaglecrest robotics team, which the company sponsors. The first apprentice, a robotics team member named Kevin King, came in his junior year and built vision system that uses two cameras.
"Today, Kevin is a full-time automation technician and [we] are paying for his engineering degree," he said.
From the beginning, Ginsburg positioned his company to be both a successful business and an avenue to build a solid community. Ginsburg "didn't start the company to get rich; it was built to make a life," Intertech officials said in their submission for the award.
Intertech, a finalist last year for the Processor of the Year Award, earned the 2018 PN Excellence Award for industry and public service.
Intertech scored high marks in all seven award criteria.
Sales were $25 million in 2019, with projected 2020 sales of $28 million. Intertech runs two plants a half-mile apart — one specializing in medical molding and the other custom molding for industrial and consumer products.
But it hasn't been easy. Sales were $29.4 million in 2015, but Intertech lost money. The largest customer, accounting for about half of sales, was not contributing enough to the bottom line and the molder had little bargaining power to pass on price hikes. They parted ways, and Intertech's sales took a hit. But gross margins increased quickly, and the company has rebuilt sales.
That challenge had promoted a transition that began in 2013. Kepler led the move to make Intertech more diversified and beef up expertise and technology to do tight-tolerance molding. That same year, Intertech bought Image Molding Inc., another Denver molder, to add medical molding.
Today, according to company officials, Intertech is in its strongest financial position ever, with little debt and a capital spending plan. In fact, in 2017 and 2018, the company invested $4 million to buy four all-electric Toyos and 22 new Wittmann robots, plus auxiliary equipment. Last year, Intertech bought seven more all-electric Toyos, spending another $2.4 million. And the investment in automation has reduced the percent of direct labor as a percent of sales.
Employee Relations is by far Intertech's strongest category, according to the judges. The apprentices certainly help — bringing in bright young people eager to make their mark. And all employees benefit from Intertech's core values that include valuing each person and his or her family, promoting education and development and encouraging all employees to volunteer for causes they think are important.
According to Kepler, those values are the key to the company's ongoing success. "In fact, we look for a culture fit when interviewing new hires. It takes priority over skill set," he said.
Jen Lockman, human resources manager, said turnover has been relatively low the last few years, and one-third of Intertech's employees have been with the company for more than nine years.
Intertech uses the 4DX process to help set goals, through WIGS, or "wildly important goals."
For several years, a big one has been to boost an already-strong employee engagement level. Today the company has an 87 percent score for employee engagement, measured through surveys. Lockman said management shares survey results and annual goals with the entire team.
Lockman said in 2018, Intertech more than doubled its training budget to $74,000 and boosted it to $96,000 in 2019. The company is adding IQMS' Shop Floor Data module to its custom molding operation, after using it in the medical plant. Shop Floor Data includes paperless training. Each employee logs into the production machine, then answers a set of questions about the specific work center and product.
That is another step in Intertech's goal of zero defects. The company rebranded in 2019 under the theme "part perfect." In other words, perfect quality performance.
Intertech's operations are full of vision systems and automation. Since 2016, defective parts per million has declined nearly 70 percent in the medical plant — mainly, Kepler said, through a Keyence vision system.
Customers told the judges they appreciate the effort to build long-term partnerships.
"We talk to them all the time from an engineering standpoint and discuss things that are happening," said an official at one customer. "We're in constant communications with them."
Another customer praised Intertech for responding quickly to any issues. "We have other molders but we tend to send the new stuff to Intertech because they're equipped to do it," the customer said.
Technological innovation is a strong point, buoyed by the investments in equipment and good use of all those apprentices. The goal is to standardize equipment and automation in both the medical and custom molding plants.
One example is what Intertech calls the in-mold labeling of the world's smallest-diameter product: a round, cigar-package-style tube that holds a marijuana joint, which taps into Colorado's booming legal cannabis sector. The company uses a Brink IML side-entry robot on a new 150-ton Toyo, backed up with a Keyence vision system.
The IML cannabis packaging also helped Intertech in the environmental performance criteria for the award. Working with resin companies, Intertech is testing compostable and biogradable resins for that sector. The label will also be biodegradable.
But Intertech is also making non-marijuana-related investments to help the "green" revolution… pardon the pun. A smart chilling system with variable-speed power is saving $45,000 a year, with higher throughput. The return on investment is just 1.1 years.
New LED lighting and motion sensors cut about $60,000 a year for the electric bill. ROI: 14 months. And Intertech is moving to all-electric molding machines in both plants.
Intertech was nominated by Scott Walton, chief operating officer of Harbour Results Inc.