Training for Medical Excellence at Trademark Plastics

by Dianna Brodine, Plastics Business

With one look at the Trademark Plastics facility, located in Riverside, CA, it is immediately obvious that this isn’t a typical injection molding business. With one conversation with CEO Erin Carty and her husband, COO David (Chenoweth) Carty, it is apparent that while tradition runs deep throughout the organization, it is innovation and energy that rule the day.

A Legacy is Built

In 1989, Jerry Carty built upon his history as a moldmaker and industry educator by merging a small team of highly skilled individuals and a quote from Abraham Lincoln to form Trademark Plastics, Incorporated. Inspired by Lincoln, who wrote, “The best way to predict the future is to create it,” Jerry Carty wanted to build something that was “all his”, according to daughter Erin.

While the original facility was located in Rancho Cucamonga, Trademark Plastics moved to Riverside in 2002. The opportunity to move into a first-class facility that was nearly double the size of its previous location was a plus, but the primary incentive was the city’s municipal utilities. At its Rancho Cucamonga facility, electricity costs had soared to more than $50,000 per month, with utility costs controlled by the state. The City of Riverside, in addition to much lower utility rates, also had created an enterprise zone that offered wage reimbursements and local tax credits. Jerry Carty recognized the opportunity to not only save costs, but also to grow the future of his company. He chose to relocate Trademark Plastics into a corporate park occupied by two other manufacturing plants, thus ensuring that the company could add employees and take on new work without concern about cost or space constraints.

Jerry Carty passed away December 2005, but his portrait still graces the Trademark Plastics lobby and his legacy lives on. Building upon the foundation created by Jerry, Trademark Plastics is now a premier medical molding facility, encompassing 100,000 square feet and led Erin. She has been with Trademark Plastics for all but its first month of operation. “I was supposed to be there to answer the phones for two days,” she explained, “and that was 23 years ago.” Now a certified Women’s Business Enterprise, Trademark Plastics has seen Erin do everything from purchasing and production control to running a machine and trimming parts. “I’ve pretty much done it all, and if I didn’t know how to do it, I walked in and asked questions.”

Erin and David have made significant investments in both equipment and human resources. With a mission to “consistently supply our customers with products of the highest possible quality, advanced technology and on-time delivery at the most reasonable price,” Erin and David have devoted their own passion and drive to give Trademark Plastics an edge in a competitive industry.

Technology Provides an Edge

In January 2011, Trademark Plastics hosted a plant tour event for a group of 40 MAPP members from locations as far spread as Texas, Rhode Island and Michigan. When promoting the event, MAPP Executive Director Troy Nix said, “Trademark has strategically focused on building a best-in-class workforce that utilizes technology to separate themselves! As one of the top plastics companies in the US, Trademark utilizes state-of-the-art processes in all facets of its business and is dedicated to developing highly talented professionals through a pursuit of excellence in workforce education and training.”

“MAPP members were surprised by how well our facility showed,” David said. “We have one of the nicest, cleanest shops in the US, and we’re proud to showcase that.” In fact, according to David, the hardest part of closing any new business sale is getting the prospect to the facility. “Once they see Trademark, they’re locked.”

Molding more than 300 different medical products that extend from disposable components to heart valves, Trademark Plastics runs 45 injection molding machines ranging in size from 7-ton to 500-ton. The facility has three separate manufacturing rooms within its 100,000-sq.-ft. building, and the facility also houses equipment for sonic welding, pad printing, part design, prototyping, tool design, tool repair and assembly.

With the company’s reputation for innovation on the line, technology plays a critical role in maintaining momentum. “We recently purchased three new Husky molding machines with auxiliary equipment, which included several new robots,” Erin stated. “In fact, we’ve added 11 molding machines in the last three years.” The facility also has been upgraded. An existing general molding room was transformed into a class 100,000 cleanroom, bringing the total cleanrooms to three (one class 10,000 and two class 100,000s). In addition, new packaging containment areas have been added to each clean room and a new assembly room was created.

The focus, explained Erin, is on reducing the touches: “With medical molding, it’s important to limit any opportunity for contamination.” Whether overmolding, sonic welding, pick-and-place or part separation, adding automation while reducing labor has led to efficiencies, although Trademark hasn’t been able to place numbers on the value as of yet. Erin explained, “We’ve added another 20 percent in new business over the last 18 months. That hasn’t given us time to figure out exactly what efficiencies – in both production time and labor savings – the addition of robotics has provided.” And more work is in the pipeline. “With medical molding, there’s work that we have contracts for that is not yet in production,” David said.

The increase in business is due primarily to customers that Trademark Plastics has served since Jerry Carty first started the company. “We’ve had some customers for over 20 years – ever since the doors opened,” stated David. “And the majority of our customers have been with us for more than six years. We have positioned ourselves to increase our business when our current clients increase their businesses.”

“We believe that highly successful companies do not earn their profitability through higher utilization, but rather through higher complexity and quality,” Erin explained. “Our customers come to us to help them grow, because we keep investing in new technologies and remain current with the plastics industry culture.” David went on to say, “Many companies want to create partnerships, from part design all the way to production. If we can provide that, then the partnership benefits everyone.”

Training Key to Transition and Quality

When the MAPP organization was preparing to tour Trademark Plastics, emphasis was placed on the molder’s workforce development programs and its corporate commitment to education. Erin Carty credits much of Trademark’s training philosophy to David. “David brought his own experience of managing a large group of employees, along with his expertise in training, to Trademark,” said Erin. After serving in the US Navy, David entered the manufacturing industry with a background in operations management and safety. His discipline and work history made an immediate impact at Trademark. “We pride ourselves on the culture of our company,” he explained, “but the kind of growth we have experienced brings challenges. One of those challenges is to ensure our employees continue to grow, which is necessary for our company to succeed.”

When Trademark Plastics first opened, the company had 12 employees, and now there are 180 employees, 109 of whom are permanent. Much of that growth has occurred over the last three years. A temporary agency is used to staff the facility as industry needs fluctuate. With 85 percent of its production in medical components, consistency is critical. “We have to make sure we have the right people in place, and our turnover ratio has to stay low,” David explained.

To aid in maintaining the company’s stringent standards, David implemented an extensive training matrix that begins with the first day of orientation. Working with Paulson Training Programs, a training system was developed that has new Trademark employees – including temporary staff – spending two days in both the classroom and on the molding floor before they touch a machine. “It’s really helped us maintain our quality,” he said. The training matrixes show a path that can have basic technicians move all the way through to master molder status. “From operator to technicians to OSHA, we utilize photos and procedures from our own molding process in the training program so our people can see what they will be doing on the floor.”

In addition, Trademark has partnered with other organizations to provide for specialized needs. The company’s upper executives participated in a 12-week lean manufacturing course through the City of Riverside, and technicians have been through classes offered by RJG so they can move into roles as process engineers or, as is the case with two employees, certified as master molders. Trademark’s quality manager was recently certified as a lead auditor for ISO 13485 Medical Device Manufacturing. “Our best asset is our team,” said David. “Everybody is utilized to the peak of their abilities.”

The company’s quality standards also go above and beyond, to the benefit of all of its customers. When one medical customer’s products required an extensive validation process, that same process was incorporated for every other Trademark customer. “Maintaining high standards benefits both the customer and us, so we can provide the best service,” Erin explained. “It has taken a tremendous amount of vision, dedication and energy to build a reputation as an innovator in such a diverse industry as plastic injection molding. We pride ourselves on training our employees to be the best, and then passing that quality on to our customers.”

Soaring Together

While technology and training play a large role in Trademark’s position as a highly competitive corporation in the US plastics industry, the company – and Erin Carty – will not forget its founder and the philosophy he lived by in his own company after years of working for others. “We have a big picture of my Dad in the lobby,” said Erin, “and it’s a reminder about what’s important. People worked at Trademark because they respected my Dad, and every year, we acknowledge the anniversaries of people who have been here five, 10 or even 15 years.” Seven core employees have been with the company since the day it opened, and another 65 staff members have been with Trademark for at least five years. “People used to tell my Dad all the time that he would never make it anywhere in business if he ran his business with his heart. But he said, ‘When I opened Trademark Plastics, it was my job to take care of these people and their families, and that’s what I’m going to do.'””

Equally as dedicated to Trademark Plastics’ customers, Erin explained that they maintain close partnerships with their customers and industry vendors not only to remain competitive, but also because of the pride inherent in producing products that are used every day in the medical profession. “Our slogan is ‘Together We Soar,'” she said, “and we truly believe that. We are proud of what we are, but we are just as proud of what we are helping our customers to achieve.”