by Dianna Brodine, managing editor
Two men found themselves with side-by-side booths at a plastics industry tradeshow. One was an association executive ready to gain more visibility for his coalition of plastics processors; the other was a magazine publisher with a history of working with associations. The encounter sparked further conversations and, less than a year later, Plastics Business was born, with its first published issue in the spring of 2006.
“Troy and I hit it if off right away, and the conversation continued through the show on the potential of a specific association magazine for MAPP,” said Jeff Peterson, president and owner of Peterson Publications, Inc. Starting Plastics Business was a risk for both organizations, as the industry already was somewhat saturated with plastics publications. However, focusing on the business aspect of plastics molding was the key – and the right fit based on the mission of the association. “Although we had a few years of experience in plastics decorating and assembly, the molding process was a new area for us to cover,” continued Peterson.”That meeting was the beginning of a terrific business partnership. Ten years later, Plastics Business is thriving, and some of those other publications are no longer being printed.”
In those 10 years, 38 magazine issues have gone to press. During the leanest years of the economic downturn in the plastics industry, one – Summer 2009 – was scrapped as equipment manufacturers, resins suppliers and others offering services to the industry pulled back their advertising budgets in a bid for economic survival. There has never been a subscription cost for Plastics Business, and the magazine – which began with a couple of thousand copies and a small mailing list culled from association members – now is sent to more than 12,000 readers across the US. Additional readership comes from around the world through the digital edition and mobile apps, with interest from 23 countries, including India, Germany and Australia.
The magazine has been distributed at four NPE tradeshows, nine MAPP Benchmarking Conferences and countless PLASTEC, ANTEC and TopCon events. One economic downturn – leading to hard decisions and many articles about strategic planning, lean manufacturing and maximization of capacity – has been followed by an upturn that finds smart companies in even stronger financial positions. Hundreds of pages have been devoted to sharing best practices, processes and strategies – with the intent of strengthening an entire industry, rather than succeeding only on an individual level.
It’s been a fun ride and, even as the magazine, the MAPP association and the plastics industry power forward into 2016, it’s appropriate to take a look back.
The first year
Stu Kaplan and Makuta Technics lights-out micromolding capabilities graced the first cover, ERP software was featured in a Buyers Report and plastics processing companies were urged to perform ongoing audits of processes and systems to ensure profitability in the Spring 2006 issue. Kaplan, one of the earliest supporters of the MAPP association, had served as a board member and board president. His enthusiasm for the new magazine was evident in the interview, as was his dedication to the micromolding market he helped create.
…he understands more than most that being on the ground floor of new technology development means setting the standard for those who follow. Kaplan explained, The trend toward micro-processing started here – we helped develop that market and because of this, we feel a responsibility to continue to push the technology envelope forward.”
NPE was just around the corner, held in June that year at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois, and eyes were on automation. All-electric injection molding machines and robotics received significant attention on the show floor and in the magazine, as did processors with a laser focus on bringing technology to the production floor. Tom Duffey, president and owner of Plastics Components, Inc. (PCI) in Germantown, Wisconsin, was quoted in his company’s Summer 2006 profile article:
“We knew we were going to have to compete in a global marketplace…We had to do something different right from the beginning,” stated Duffey. That “something different” was complete process automation. For 17 years, since Plastics Components molded its first part, the plant has been fully automated. “We’ve never had an operator in the direct molding process…ever,” emphasized Duffey.
The emphasis on automation hasn’t changed for PCI, as the company now operates a second facility fully lights out.
One advertiser has been with Plastics Business since 2006. In every issue, readers will find Conair on the back cover, sharing its extensive industry expertise in auxiliary equipment ranging from granulators and blenders to its newest thermolators and cooling towers. Also advertising in the first issue – and proving that everything old is new again – Metro Plastics promoted its rapid prototyping options for initial mold design. Later that year, Metro Plastics Owner and President Lindsey Hahn discussed the capabilities of the machines installed, at that time, for 17 years.
In 1989, Metro Plastics purchased its first Stereolithography (SLA) machine when the process was very new and consequently, quite inconsistent. “The part data was not reliable, and the machine did not always produce a good model, explained Hahn.”In those days, we didn’t talk much about the process. If we made a good SLA part, we gave it to our customer. If it didn’t turn out so well, we used the model for our own personal R&D and from it, were able to make suggestions to the customer.” Metro had the foresight to visualize the potential of the SLA process back when few, if any, other molders recognized its value. “As far as we know, Metro was the first custom molder in the US to install the system,” stated Hahn.
The cover companies
Plastics Business has featured 28 companies on its covers. Many have been injection molding facilities, but blow molding made its first of several appearances in a Fall 2009 feature on Blow Molded Specialties, and rotomolding (Indiana Rotomolding, Fall 2012) also has received top billing. The operations have been in the family for decades (HK Plastics Engineering, Summer 2012), women-owned (Thogus Products Company, Summer 2007) and practically new startups (Dymotek, Winter 2009). Some were on the cusp of major facility expansions and others were tightening operations in preparation for a shift in the market. All showed a passion for entrepreneurism, customer service and making something that leaves an impact. As Missy Rogers, co-owner of Noble Plastics, explained in the Winter 2014 issue:
“There is something really special about holding a product for the first time. It is like giving birth to a child, and to be able to share that with people and bring a solution into existence is a very rewarding way to spend your day.”
The molders interviewed have functioned within a wide range of industries. From agriculture (i2tech, Winter 2011) and automotive components (Team 1 Michigan, Winter 2008) to highly complex electronic products (Plastikos, Fall 2011) and medical parts (Trademark Plastics, Spring 2012), the processors have each shared their unique procedures and practices with the rest of the industry so that readers could learn about employee wellness plans, product tracking, facility planning and much more from peers who had implemented solutions and succeeded in overcoming challenges.
The industry issues
Through the years, overseas competition has received its fair share of attention. In 2007, concerns about the production shift to China were rampant and an article focused on the potential hazards of that shift, including intellectual property issues and a reduction in part quality. Even then, highly complex parts and those requiring time-consuming decorative processes were being re-shored, and many US processors began to emphasize their custom molding skill sets. Today, while China still commands attention, production in Mexico, Vietnam and India has increased. Small to midsized US processors, however, have found their niche and most are not competing on commodity products alone – or at all.
Advancing technology always has been one answer to the questions arising from overseas competition. In issues over the years, Frigel has shared ways to utilize process cooling equipment to reduce utility costs, IQMS has advocated data management through ERP systems and RJGs process validation for molds has ensured product consistency. Injection molding machines and auxiliary equipment became easier to operate and now have the ability to store multiple programs for easy recall. Resins have advanced almost by the minute, with recycled materials, bioresins and additives introducing new characteristics, while purging compound complexity also had to advance quickly as rapid changeovers became the norm, rather than the exception.
One recurring concern of those in any manufacturing industry is the recruitment, training and retention of qualified employees. The topic has been approached in a multitude of ways in Plastics Business, including a Summer 2006 article discussing the Global Standards for Plastics Certification (GSPC) training program; a Winter 2010 feature on the “next generation” of plastics leadership (four company leaders under the age of 40); a Summer 2010 piece on recruiting youth at the high school level; a Spring 2012 article on incentivizing employees and a Summer 2013 write-up on advancing the STEM agenda. Whether removing the stigma surrounding manufacturing, developing consistent training programs or creating clear paths for advancement and employee incentives, the volume of baby boomers retiring over the next five to 10 years ensures this topic will remain in the magazine’s headlines. As Darren Scholl, director of operations for KW Container, explained in the spring of 2013:
“I tell everybody – the only true asset you have is an employee. You can buy equipment – you can spend all the money you want to – but, you have to have people to run it. If you don’t have the employee side of it, you will not win the game.”
Plastics Business always has emphasized the importance of a clear and active marketing strategy for ongoing business success, but one has to wonder how many found value in a Summer 2008 article on using Google AdWords. Subsequent articles on keyword optimization, viral marketing, social media strategies and brand development have hopefully offered more practical advice.
Practical applications of strategies and procedures found at plastics processing companies around the US have found their way into the pages of every issue. Why reinvent the wheel when readers can take advice from companies that have already solved common problems? Mold maintenance, waste eradication, employee accountability, cyber fraud protection, faster changeovers and improved company culture – MAPP member companies have stepped up to share information that can make an impact in every plastics processing operation. The power of the MAPP network has been touted for years, but Plastics Business makes it possible for that power to stretch from coast to coast whether the reader belongs to the association or not. A rising tide lifts all boats, and the industry can only benefit when learning from one another.
To a successful 10 years and many more
The magazine has had its share of bloopers over the years, including a misspelled word on a cover (that one’s still a little embarrassing) and one issue with no words at all on the cover. As with anything, there are a few magazines pointed to with pride as “the best of the best” and a couple of issues where the unpredictability of publishing resulted in a sigh of relief when it finally went into the mail. Still, every issue was crafted with the reader in mind and an eye on what content could make the biggest impact on operational improvements.
As Plastics Business celebrates its 10th year, the plastics processing industry provides an endless source of fascinating material for the future. This country manufactures amazing things in industries as diverse as automotive, medical, appliance, toys, defense, consumer goods and so many more. Skilled employees and visionary leadership teams are found in every facility and, as long as those people are willing to open a window into their operations, the industry as a whole will grow stronger, more efficient and better prepared to meet new challenges.
Thank you for 10 years. We’re ready for more.