by Liz Stevens, contributing writer
Innovation. It’s in the DNA for a plastics injection molder in the Pacific Northwest and prominently featured in the company’s description: “We started in plastics with the purpose of engineering innovations into reality.” This company doesn’t just operate with this guiding principle, it reaches out to inform and support new innovators in its community.
SEA-LECT Plastics Corporation is located on the Pacific Coast in Everett, Washington, between the Snohomish River and Puget Sound, and 25 miles north of Seattle. Founded in 1987 as the Plastics Division of SEA-DOG Corporation and incorporated in 1995, SEA-LECT provides design, development, tooling and injection molding for private companies, government entities and others in the Pacific Northwest.
The company is a qualified Tier 1 military vendor and currently partners with the US Navy. SEA-LECT also manufactures products for outdoor recreation, including kayaking and fishing items, and even beautiful, rugged ukuleles for outdoor enthusiast musicians. Embracing sustainability, SEA-LECT offers expertise in the latest plastics technology, including biodegradable, compostable and oxo-degradable plastics.
SEA-LECT reaches out
In 2015, Matt Poischbeg, SEA-LECT’s vice president/general manager, heard about the area’s NW Innovation Resource Center. “I was immediately intrigued by the idea of having a local incubator for makers and inventors,” said Poischbeg, “and I set up a meeting with NWIRC’s Executive Director Diane Kamionka right away.”
NWIRC is a nonprofit, headquartered an hour north of Everett in Bellingham, that helps inventors and entrepreneurs in northwest Washington develop ideas, create business plans, find mentors and connect with local resources. The organization works in concert with businesses and government entities in the five counties that it serves.
NWIRC opened its first multifunction innovation lab, The Lab@everett, in Everett to support innovators at all stages – from ideation to business formation. Offering working space, offices, a workshop and rapid prototyping, the lab is in close proximity to SEA-LECT Plastics.
Poischbeg generously offered to connect SEA-LECT to NWIRC as a mentor, adviser and manufacturing resource. SEA-LECT now volunteers its expertise to problem-solve design challenges, identify flaws, source material and customize solutions to get new start-ups ready for the investor stage.
NWIRC’s Just-in-Time Mentorship™ is designed to match experts with entrepreneurs and inventors to fulfill a specific needed skill set at a crucial time during business development. As part of the program, Poischbeg mentors an average of 15 individuals per year, bringing in other SEA-LECT team members when necessary.
“It starts with educating the individuals about the intricacies of designing and manufacturing plastic parts,” said Poischbeg of the mentoring process. “How it works. The types of molds. The types of plastics.”
From there, he explained, the mentoring continues: “It usually goes into the design phase where the mentees’ ideas will be drawn up in CAD.” Then comes instruction on rapid prototypes, followed by production molds and part production. As Poischbeg summed it up, “It can be a very time-consuming process, which makes NWIRC a great resource for up-and-coming plastics producers.”
The SEA-LECT team participates in advisory workshops at The Lab@everett that draw 20 to 40 participants per event. Poischbeg described the diverse audience as, “All walks of life. Young, middle aged, old. Inventors mostly, and some entrepreneurs.”
Poischbeg was the guest speaker recently at the final workshop meeting of an NWIRC “idea to prototype” course. Addressing inventors who were ready to explore the initial manufacturing stage of production, he offered helpful insights.
“I talked to the group about the pros and cons of injection molding, offshore vs. local manufacturing and intellectual property protection,” he said.
SEA-LECT opens its doors to NWIRC members two to four times per year for factory tours to give designers and inventors an up-close introduction to plastics technology. Between 10 and 20 aspiring designers and inventors – eager pupils of the plastics injection molding lifecycle curriculum – generally attend each tour.
“Most people have never seen advanced manufacturing, especially injection molding,” Poischbeg explained. “They have no concept at all what a mold looks like, and why it takes a long time and a lot of money to build one.”
On a typical tour, visitors see key areas in the manufacturing plant, starting with the tool and die shop. The tour moves on to the part design/mold design department, molding operations, and quality assurance/quality control and scheduling, before finishing with a hands-on exercise in which each visitor puts together an insulated tumbler.
These tours are real eye-openers for fresh inventors, Poischbeg said, exposing them to production practicalities and an industry hiding in plain sight. “They don’t know that there are thousands of plastic resins and that we can custom-color resin like a paint store,” he said. “They are surprised by how much skill is required to do all of the jobs, and by the size and cost of injection molding machines.” A big takeaway for the visitors? “That we are right in their backyard.”
When asked about SEA-LECT’s experience in mentoring and advising designers, Poischbeg is pleased to report a profound impact. “I want to say that 99% of the NWIRC clientele benefits from our feedback and professional design input,” he said.
Poischbeg’s advice extends beyond just the design and prototyping of new products. “Most inventors are totally focused on manufacturing, but not on sales. It is important, however, to consider the sales and marketing side.”
In urging designers to do thorough marketing research and sales homework before bringing a new product to the marketplace – to avoid wasting precious energy, time and money on failed designs – Poischbeg is tactful. “We try to be nice, but sincere, about the fact that nobody needs a plastics mold as an expensive boat anchor.”
Inventor Joel Townsan had an idea for a new power tool: a screwdriver that was transformable to work in tight spaces. Townsan did his research and found a ready market, then took his invention idea – the Tantrum screwdriver – to NWIRC for help turning the idea into reality with a solid business plan, strategy and supports. NWIRC connected Townsan with SEALECT for advice during the research and development stage of his project.
As Poischbeg recounted, “When he came to us, he was not ready to pull the [manufacturing] trigger. I gave him advice as well as tooling and part cost estimates.”
With SEA-LECT’s leg up in research and development, and the resources provided through NWIRC’s BuiltIt program, Townsan’s idea took flight. The Tantrum screwdriver now is available through Lowe’s home improvement stores.
SEA-LECT’s partnership with the NWIRC incubator in its community has been a rewarding collaboration and a winwin, Poischbeg said. In addition to giving advice and practical education to innovators, he explained that the company also has achieved its objectives for participating, which are “to offer resources and support which will help us to take our customers’ ideas from concept to reality, to get referrals for potential prototyping and manufacturing business, and to facilitate a two-way connection between business and government.”