"We're seeing some … reshoring," Christian Herrild, director of growth strategies for Teel Plastics LLC, said during the expo. "We're also seeing where some programs seem to be reaching a kind of end-of-life phase. They're quoting [the projects] differently or quoting replacement parts that are — or can be — made locally or domestically, and not just trying to get the same thing in a low-cost-of-production country."
During the pandemic, Herrild said, companies found "that low cost might be fine in a status-quo, no-issues kind of environment," but, "by the time you add in supply chain disruptions, shipping costs and the possibility of material availability going down, if there's engineering issues or quality issues … as soon as something goes wrong, there's added cost and time.
Companies were already starting to reshore manufacturing before the pandemic, he said.
"My feeling is the pandemic sort of collapsed what was probably a five-to-seven-year trend to a two-year trend," Herrild added. "That's not to say everything is going to come back. But the default position of manufacturing outside the U.S., for some of the larger players, seems to be going away."
"A lot of our bigger customers are localizing their facilities as well," John Budreau, director of new business at PTI Engineered Plastics Inc. said during the expo. "It makes sense to manufacture [domestically] and stop shipping things, increasing the global [carbon] footprint for what might be an attractive early price."
Its customers are also requiring design support "early on," Budreau said.
Staffing PTI with skilled management and quality engineering teams is intregal to "being able to maintain" the rigorous validation process required for medical injection molding, he added.
The company also incorporated "collaborative robots" and "inspection methods … to minimize the validation process," Budreau said.
Adding automation can help customers save money when they choose U.S. manufacturing, Tzanoukakis said.
Automation also offers more high-skill jobs rather than "just putting parts in a box," she added.
"You have to have a team that can work in both … quality systems and engineering. Especially from the beginning, when the design starts, so that it's a product that can be injection molded. It has to be designed for engineering."
"Now that you can collect all of this data off of [production] lines, more customers want to make quality or measurement statements," Herrild said. "That requires a different skillset from the engineering and operator's side than it would have been just picking up parts and putting them in a box, or just slapping labels on things."