Milwaukee — Thomas Haglin said he knew nothing about thermoforming when he and his wife Ellen left secure jobs to buy a small Minnesota thermoforming company in 1993, which they later named Lindar Corp.
They rolled the dice, but also had a backup plan.
"We were young and we had no children at the time and we thought. 'Well we're employable if it doesn't work out,'" Haglin said in a speech accepting the 2019 Thermoformer of the Year award at a Sept. 10 dinner during the Society of the Plastics Industry's Thermoforming Conference.
Haglin didn't even know much about plastics.
"I thought plastics was just 'plastics.' I didn't know there was an array of all kinds of different materials," he recalled, chuckling.
Today, Lindar of Baxter, Minn., employs 175 in a 165,000-square-foot factory that does both heavy-gauge and thin-gauge thermoforming on 17 forming machines: nine roll-fed and eight sheet fed formers. It also runs six CNC routers, four robotic routers, one label line and one extrusion line. Sales are about $35 million.
In 2012, Lindar bought Lakeland Mold Co. in Brainerd, Minn., a maker of tooling for thermoforming and rotational molding, and a few years later, moved it to a new factory in Baxter. The company was renamed Avantech Inc.
But Haglin recalled the early days, when Lindar operated out of a 10,000-square-foot building and used a few homemade thermoforming machines, and molds made of wood or cement fiberboard, to make items for painting and air conditioner covers.
"We thought we were living life high with this new business, until about eight months later. And then we got a call from a company in Ohio that wanted to sell us paintliners, which is exactly what we were producing. And my first response was no, thank you, this is what we make. So we had no interest in that. Until this company told me what they could sell the liners for, and it was about 40 or 50 percent under our costs," he said, as the awards banquet audience laughed.
They ended up buying that product line and some equipment, a move that got Lindar into automation, Haglin said.
Food packaging is another big market, although Haglin admitted that when company designers told him about an idea for a single-serve cupcake package, he thought it was a stupid idea, thinking, "Who can eat just one cupcake?" It became Lindar's No. 1 product.
The company also is known for making lenticular lenses for 3D-like packaging effects.
As a newcomer to thermoforming, Haglin said participating in SPE conferences helped Lindar greatly. He added that suppliers have played a key role in making company a success.
"We have been so fortunate. so blessed, to be a part of this amazing industry," he said. "Our staff loves the idea that they can make products that they can see out in the marketplace, throughout the country, whether it's in grocery stores, food packaging, or tractor hoods whatever it might be. So, it's just really a fascinating industry. We've been blessed with a number of Fortune 500 customers that have forced us as a small company to rise to the occasion, and step up our game."