It's a simple question: Is this a good time to be a plastics processor in North America?
Doug Callahan answered it well: "With volatility and change comes opportunity, and we've never had more opportunity than we have right now."
Callahan is the owner, president and CEO of Saline, Mich.-based MMI Engineered Solutions Inc., our 2021 Processor of the Year. He answered that question on stage as part of a panel discussion on March 23 at the Plastics News Executive Forum in Naples, Fla.
Attendance at this year's forum set a record, and the plastics processors in the audience said business is very good. Many are expanding or have plans to add space and equipment.
But they worry about recruiting and retaining workers to staff their plants. And seemingly everyone had a story to share about some resin or other raw material that they just can't find enough of right now.
Supply chain issues are straining every manufacturing business. But that's both a problem and an opportunity. The leaders of our Processor of the Year finalists universally said that this is a good time to be a North American plastics company.
"We see a tremendous amount of opportunity," said Tom Thompson, president and chief commercial officer of Teel Plastics LLC in Baraboo, Wis. Teel is a plastic extruder and injection molder of custom products for highly regulated end markets, including medical, water treatment and industrial piping.
Thompson and Gurvinder Singh, global product director at Proto Labs Inc., both said they see evidence of reshoring.
"I think our customers, [because of] what's happened in the last two years, are rethinking their supply chain strategies. It used to be focused just on cost. And now they're evaluating it based on value and risk," Singh said. "I think it's going to be exciting. We're going to see production a lot closer to consumption."
Protolabs' speed-to-market capabilities were vital during the pandemic, as it was able to quickly prototype and help commercialize COVID-related products.
Michael Ruggieri, CEO of Comar LLC, said innovative North American companies that can automate effectively are going to pick up business.
"A lot of people recognize over the last couple of years that complex supply chains can equal your product being off the shelf, and that's a lot more painful than spending a couple of extra pennies on things," Ruggieri said.
Comar made several significant acquisitions in 2020 and 2021, and it also built new molding plants in California and New Jersey, plus it moved into an expanded facility in West Bend, Wis.