Harold (Hal) Gilham has been named Thermoformer of the Year by the Society of Plastics Engineers' thermoforming division.
Gilham is CEO and owner of Productive Plastics Inc. in Mount Laurel, N.J. He's a former member of the SPE thermoforming division board and is now an emeritus member of SPE, which he joined in 1991.
During Gilham's time on the board, he served as chairman of the materials committee, the processing committee and the machinery committee and parts competition chair at several SPE thermoforming conferences. He also serves on the division's awards and nominating committees.
Gilham is retired but remains engaged in the industry where he spent most of his career of more than 40 years. His son, Evan Gilham, is now chief operating officer of Productive Plastics.
"Hal Gilham's career is an inspiration to us all," Steve Zampirelli, division chair, said in a recent news release. "From the next generation of plastics professionals to those who carry the entrepreneurial torch … Hal's accomplishments motivate us all to think big."
The award will be presented during SPE's thermoforming awards dinner, held as part of the 28th SPE Thermoforming Conference, Sept. 20-22 in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Officials said in the release that, as a young adult, Gilham began his informal education by working at Productive Woods, his father's wood pattern shop. He then graduated from Lynchburg College with a degree in political science and for a short time worked in corporate sales in the greater New York City area.
However, motivated by the freedom and opportunity he saw in his father's small business, Gilham joined the company and quickly made an impact by bringing in modern accounting, job costing and business operations analysis, officials said.
More business came in, including thermoforming tooling. After working with a team reworking a fiberglass mold, Gilham saw an opportunity and decided to expand the business into plastics processing. He purchased his first machine and Productive Woods became Productive Plastics.
By offering information on materials, design and the thermoforming process, Gilham expanded the business into more active markets. The electrical device market in the New York metro area and the introduction of pressure forming as an alternative to injection molding created even greater opportunity, officials said.
In the 1990s, Productive Plastics continued to expand into other markets. Under Gilham's leadership, the firm increased its pressure forming capabilities and began serving the medical device industry, using more engineered materials that required specifications above ABS or high density polyethylene.
Toward the end of 2010, Productive Plastics conducted several projects where plastics purchases were equal to those in metal in cost, which officials said was highly unusual for a small thermoformer. In the same time period, the firm reduced its machinery from 12 thermoforming machines and 15 CNC machines to six thermoformers and six CNC machines while more than doubling output.
In early 2020, Productive Plastics began making shields for personal protective equipment to limit the spread of COVID-19. The firm also installed a new roller die for shield production and added 15 employees at that time.
Productive Plastics was No. 91 on the most recent Plastics News ranking of North American thermoformers, with estimated sales of $13 million.
The SPE thermoforming division is a technical division of Danbury, Conn.-based SPE. The division's mission is to facilitate the advancement of thermoforming technologies through education, application, promotion and research. Since its formation, the division has funded more than $275,000 in equipment grants and tens of thousands of dollars in undergraduate scholarships.