Taking total control, achieving total success
Published: March 3rd, 2011
Founded by an entrepreneur so displeased with the quality of the fittings he was being supplied that he launched a business to make them himself, Value Plastics approaches its 45th year in business still believing that the best place to find great products and services is within its own walls.
“We outsource very little for the type of company we are,” explains John Gibson, Value’s VP operations (pictured). “I guess you could say we’re control freaks, but we get a lot out of that.” Started in 1968 in Kent Sampson’s garage, Value Plastics was incorporated in 1975, and in 1995 moved into a newly constructed 40,000-ft2 building in Fort Collins, about 60 miles north of Denver.
Today the company employs 75, with a fully operational toolroom and 30 injection molding machines. Those machines churn out 3400 different styles and material combinations of fluid control components, including luer, tubing, thread-to-tubing, and blood-pressure fittings and connectors, with inner diameters ranging from 1⁄16-1 inch. The ISO 9001-2008-registered company molds millions of components/month in a Class 14644 cleanroom, with average part size of about 1.4g.
In addition to building and maintaining its own tooling, Value Plastics has its own IT, marketing, and assembly departments; even website construction, which often falls to outside vendors in other companies, is kept in-house. Still, the company’s overall structure remains relatively simple, according to Gibson.
“We’re a very data-driven organization, and we’re also very flat,” he says. “There are no supervisors and foremen running all over the place. Everyone is very empowered, and we ask a lot of the people that work here. We’re very proud of the fact that we’re able to keep these jobs in the U.S., quite frankly.”
Gibson says that the employees who do make the team endure a very rigorous hiring process, and typically stay around for a long time, evidenced by Value’s low turnover. Anyone who is hired goes through a minimum of one week of training where they’re exposed to all the operations, regardless of their final position. “We try to get at least an initial blush of what everyone’s job is and what their responsibilities are—try to expose them to everything in the business,” Gibson says.
Part of the training includes learning Value’s unique business model, one that’s been highly lucrative for the company but would be difficult to duplicate. “We don’t sell machine time,” Gibson says plainly. “Our connectors are proprietary designs, and we catalog virtually all of them.” Gibson says Value does mold some custom fittings, but that’s largely the exception. “One of the keys to our success is we own all the molds,” Gibson says. “We own [and built] all the designs.”
The model works because of Value’s in-house tools and multiple-cavity inserts, and because the connectors it supplies, while highly engineered, are overlooked by many customers.
“Our customers say, ‘My core competency is building this brand-new medical device,’ and the fluid or the gas handling is almost an afterthought,” Gibson explains. “We provide our design support center as engineering services to help them design the product that fits their application the best.”
The facility occupies a two-story red brick building on the east side of Fort Collins. Natural lighting fills the manufacturing space on the first floor from numerous windows, part of an energy-efficient architectural design. The second floor has engineering, sales, and IT offices, with a climate-controlled server farm. Cordoned off behind a secure door, the servers capture and store mountains of data daily, tracking a variety of parameters on every shot of every machine from the company’s ERP system and the Fanuc Roboshot presses’ 24i mold-monitoring software. The top floor houses shipping, where the company uses handheld scanners to ensure the right parts go to the right order.
“For people making molded fittings, getting into the medical marketplace, you don’t just release a product and enjoy huge sales the next month,” Gibson says. “Often, there’s a qualification process that you have to go through, which is good for us, once we get spec’d in. Unless you give them a reason to question you, it’s not cost-effective for them to switch suppliers.”