Saline, Mich. — 2021 wasn't an easy year to be an automotive molder. OEMs and suppliers could barely keep up with surging demand for new vehicles.
Meanwhile, computer chip shortages and supply chain issues made it hard to predict business day to day. Labor became scarce and more expensive, and resin prices shot up overnight after an unexpected ice storm hit the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Through it all, Saline-based MMI Engineered Solutions Inc. managed to have the best year in the company's history. And for its effort, the injection molder, blow molder and toolmaker is Plastics News' 2021 Processor of the Year.
"2021 was the most volatile, chaotic, stressful year that we've ever been through in my 30 years in the industry. It was also the most successful year," owner, President and CEO Doug Callahan said in a recent interview at the company headquarters.
"We grew our business by 50 percent last year, in a year when there's more volatility, suppliers closing down, material shortages, raw material going up. So that's great. We got back to our best year ever. And our bottom line was better than it's ever been. So [its] those things, as a business owner, that defines great success.
"More important than that is safety. We kept our employees safe through the whole year; we had all our plants running," Callahan said.
MMI was a finalist for the Processor of the Year trophy in 2019 and 2020. Few companies manage to maintain that consistent level of excellence. And the years couldn't have been more different. 2019 was a normal year, with the auto industry at a stable but high level. OEMs were preoccupied with new technologies, for autonomous driving and electric powertrains.
In early 2020, everything changed. North American automakers temporarily shut down their factories when COVID-19 hit. MMI, like many auto suppliers, stayed open by pivoting to making personal protective equipment and ventilator components.
Callahan, who had managed an automotive molder through the Great Recession, recognized it was an opportunity to make improvements and improve efficiency. He also wanted to retain his workforce, especially on the engineering talent.
"We set ourselves up for success during 2020," he said. "Because we all knew what we had in 2020: The pandemic sets in, all the OEMs closed down, and it set the tone."