Grand Rapids, Mich. — Westminster Tool Inc. founder Ray Coombs came back from a $1 million budget shortfall and emotional collapse in 2013 to turn his company into an employee-centric role model where continuous learning goes hand in hand with continuous improvement.
The average age of the 35 employees at the Plainfield, Conn.-based business has decreased from 50 to 33 and numerous programs are in place to address the labor shortage by investing in people.
The achievements are just some of the reasons Coombs was named 2021 Mold Builder of the Year by the Indianapolis-based American Mold Builders Association, a national nonprofit trade group with more than 200 member companies and 50 partner suppliers.
Coombs was recognized during AMBA's June 22-24 conference in Grand Rapids, Mich., where about 145 attendees gathered for the plastics industry's first in-person event since the pandemic.
Wepco Plastics Inc. in Middlefield, Conn., also was named the Tooling Trailblazer of the Year for workforce development initiatives, including some that introduce grade-school students to manufacturing and related engineering careers.
Both companies received $5,000 to be presented to the educational institution of their choice from sponsor Wauconda, Ill.-based Progressive Components.
The mood of the conference was upbeat after an unprecedented 15 months of lockdowns, illness, deaths, travel restrictions, and wild dips and peaks of demand for plastic products and the machines and tools used to manufacture them.
Rick Finnie, president of M.R. Mold & Engineering Corp., alluded to the challenges faced by the industry when he announced Coombs as the successor to the award he received in 2019.
"This year's winner has kind of a tough act to follow because I held the award for two years in a row. I don't think anybody has ever done that before," Finnie said. "Quite frankly I hope no one does again, at least not for the reasons it happened this time."
Despite all the uncertainty of the pandemic, Westminster Tool carried on with its plan to develop new talent. In 2020, the company invested 10 percent of its revenue in updating, replacing and expanding equipment across the shop, which not only increased capacity but freed up more machines to allow for training and cross-training.
"To say he is passionate about mold building is an understatement. In fact, his commitment to growing the industry is second to none," Finnie said.