This year's Processor of the Year finalists are a testament to the opportunities that still exist in plastics.
The winner, Teel Plastics LLC, got its start in 1951 as Insemikit Co., a specialty manufacturer of products used by the veterinary and livestock artificial insemination industry. The name Teel Plastics didn't come until 1958.
By the late 1990s, Teel was a big plastic tubing supplier with a growing business in pultruded thermoset profiles. It's hard to imagine that company becoming today's Teel Plastics. The Baraboo, Wis.-based company didn't even start injection molding until 2017.
But Teel management over the years always had a knack for finding opportunities and capitalizing on its material expertise and ability to serve highly regulated markets.
I've visited the company twice in connection with Processor of the Year judging, and I still have a hard time concisely explaining everything that Teel does.
Drinking water systems are a big part of the business. Recent offshoots of that business are extruding conduit for high-speed internet and pipe for natural gas transmission. These days, Teel is literally always in the process of installing a new extrusion line.
Teel has some long-established businesses, too, including making specialized lab sampling bags and a pest-control system made using the company's compounding expertise. Those products are sold around the world.
It also has some businesses that are brand-new, including clean room extrusion for some amazing medical products.
Speaking of medical, a few years ago I would have counted nasal swabs as one of Teel's most obscure products. But then 2020 happened, and now everyone in the world is familiar with those long COVID testing swabs. Teel's made billions of them, both extruded and injection molded.
One thing I've learned from coordinating the Processor of the Year award is that few custom plastics manufacturers become successful without changing. Customers, materials and technology are always changing.
Change brings opportunity. That's always there. Successful processors need the right combination of skilled, smart people and financial acumen to capitalize. All of the award finalists this year are very different, but they have those traits — skill, smarts and financial stability — in common.
Medbio LLC, a medical molder and contract manufacturer based in Grand Rapids, Mich., didn't even get started in business until 2004. It made a big move into medical molding right at the start of the Great Recession. Today customers can't say enough positive things about working with Medbio.
Then there's Redline Plastics LLC, which didn't start processing plastic until 2016. The Manitowoc, Wis.-based company has become one of the fastest-growing rotational molders in North America.
Radius Packaging dates back to 1972. You wouldn't think that an established regional bottle blow molder would change that much in 50 years. But visit the company's modern factory in Delavan, Wis., and you'll quickly see how it's growing and adding technology to serve the rapidly changing packaging market.
All four Processor of the Year finalists have great stories to tell. 2022 was a good year to be a plastics processor in North America.
Don Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.