Plant Tour: Sharing strengths to stay on the ball

By: 
August 01, 2009


Solid values, new technology, and a partnership with a thriving consumer product company add up to a successful business for these Colorado custom molders.
 
Starting with one machine and an idea in a college independent study project, it’s somewhat hard to believe that 29 years later Intertech Plastics is thriving as the largest locally owned molder in Colorado. But the right combination of creativity, perseverance, and dedication to the company’s employees and the surrounding community has kept the company successful, even in a tough economy. “Our quote line is probably as healthy as it has ever been, even in down times,” says Noel Ginsburg, president of Intertech Plastics. “Our earnings are better this year because of lower raw material costs and an improved mix of customers.”



Starting in one corner of the building, Intertech Plastics has expanded to its current 120,000-ft2 footprint.



Tour guides Andy Lee (left) and Keith Hamilton show the company’s performance metrics, on which bonuses are awarded to employees.





A variety of patterns and logos are created in-house to keep the DGL Products’ lip balm balls in sync with current trends.



Though molds aren’t manufactured in-house, a tool shop provides maintenance and repair when needed.



Since Intertech offers a wide range of machines for a wide range of product sizes, molds come in all shapes and sizes.



The sizes and tonnages of Intertech’s machines that cover a variety of potential applications are all listed on the company’s website.



Intertech’s largest press, a 1500-ton Husky, awaits the installation of its new barrel. 



The new 600-ton Husky Hylectric slashed cycle times on Intertech’s thin-wall packages. 



Even with increased labor costs, performing lip ball assembly in Colorado instead of China adds value, shortening overall production time by two to three months.

As a student at the University of Denver, Ginsburg developed a thin-wall food container for a product management class, and when his father’s condiment business was sold while Noel was in college, an unwanted injection molding machine found its way to the corner of the facility in which Ginsburg has been expanding his business ever since. Originally named Container Industries Inc., Ginsburg started the company in 1980 after a mentor and another partner went forward with his business plan. 

A good partnership was formed in the early years with Gerry Baby Products, which named Intertech Plastics Vendor of the Year in 1987. Although Gerry was sold and moved out of the state, the experience gained with these products now makes Intertech Plastics instrumental in design development for one of its key customers, baby care producer Koala Corp.

Symbiotic success

Adding to Intertech’s success is the increasing popularity of the products it molds for a sister company. Dennis Green, inventor of items like the odor-eating sneaker ball, had molded a variety of consumer products at Intertech for more than six years, and after patenting a ball-shaped lip balm container that can be easily identified in a purse or bag, Green’s company was acquired by Ginsburg two years ago, with the new name DGL Products Inc.

The SPF-20 lip balms, which are sold under the Ballmania, Twist & Pout, and Serenlipity brand names, have been featured in a variety of consumer magazines. Custom logos can be added, and a new contract will feature Major League Baseball and university logos on the balls. Business overall at DGL increased 57% from 2007-2008, and based on the 2009 numbers, sales will exceed $5 million. “We’ve taken a very small company and infused it into a bigger business,” says Ginsburg. “We’re now growing triple digits every year with this product.”

The relationship is mutually beneficial to both companies, with the marketing and design experience of DGL helping Intertech’s sales, and the existing manufacturing infrastructure of the molding business allowing DGL to create new product lines and displays quickly. “We’re able to do things as a consumer product company that we normally wouldn’t be able to do,” says Ginsburg. “For example, we have a much more complex accounting system than normal startups.”

Even though it costs a few cents more per item for assembly labor, bringing the production of the lip balm balls from China back to Colorado took 60-90 days out of the process, which is valuable time when it comes to the new trends in colors and designs that change every season for some of the lip products. Intertech’s facility has the capacity to expand DGL product manufacturing to meet a $20 million annual sales level, a figure that Ginsburg expects to be attained within five years.

But the molding business has covered much more than consumer products over the years, and has served industries including medical, industrial equipment, telecommunications, packaging, and even a little in the automotive aftermarket. Andy Lee, technical sales, and sales manager Keith Hamilton give us the tour, from railcars of incoming material to decoration, assembly, and packaging.

Larger than local

“More companies are looking to manufacture in Denver and ship products west, forgoing the higher manufacturing costs often found in California,” says Hamilton, who has seen a lot of growth in the company during the 10 years he’s worked at the facility. More than 20 employees have worked for the company for a decade or more, including Mike Madrigal, one of the first Intertech employees hired by Ginsburg 29 years ago, who is optimizing the company’s newest molding machine during our visit.

Railcar volumes of PP and PE come in through vacuum loaders, but a fair amount of engineering resin is also used, such as the SAN for high-end coin collector cases. PolyOne is a major materials supplier, and AEC material handling equipment is working with many of the presses.

Intertech has 25 injection machines, from a 25-ton Arburg to a 1500-ton Husky, with Toyos, Toshibas, Cincinnati Milacrons, and Van Dorns in between. Complementing this fleet are 11 high-speed robots and an array of auxiliary equipment. The company also has what it says is the largest blowmolding machine in Colorado—a Cincinnati Eclipse T2000. The new 600-ton Husky Hylectric, which came off Husky’s production line less than six months ago, has increased high-speed packaging capabilities, trimming cycle time for Intertech’s proprietary Traypack containers in a four-cavity mold from 14 seconds down to just 6.5 seconds.

Sustainability matters here, too. Equipment Intertech recently purchased uses half the energy, and proprietary packaging designs in some of Intertech’s products use 20% less material. Intertech also has experience in molding biomaterials, with one machine running a unique biodegradable application that IMM isn’t at liberty to share. “One aspect of going green is identifying and eliminating waste streams,” says Hamilton, who adds that one engineer took on a sustainability role to identify areas for improvement.

About 80% of its tools are built overseas, and the company works closely with three Chinese mold manufacturers and numerous local companies. Three engineers on staff manage tool builds, design parts, and provide engineering support. An onsite tool shop supports engineering, performing tool maintenance, insert changes, and ECRs. Even though tools aren’t made internally, the company excels in helping customers with quick-turn projects, from engineering changes to complete build. Part design review is done in SolidWorks, and part cost estimation can be calculated from the original part design, with complete tooling documentation available to customers. The company does a lot of insert molding and runs high-cavitation molds, and can also perform overmolding.

Last year, of the 35 tools brought to Intertech Plastics, 30 came from overseas. At the time of our visit, the company had just landed a 22-tool job from a medical client, with five of the molds coming in by the end of the month.

And customer service? Even when a customer ceases to be a good fit, as was the case with a job that needed to transition to a lower-volume molder, Intertech employees flew to the new molder’s location to ensure that it was able to run good parts.

Access to information

Aside from using New Product Introduction software, a proprietary procedure using a five-step process to ensure a smooth transition from product development to production, Intertech Plastics just went live in March with its new ERP system from IQMS. DGL Products is in the process of switching over to IQMS as well. The integrated system monitors order tracking, inventory, machine performance, and quality. “In the past, we had no less than five custom databases to run the business,” says Hamilton. “IQMS consolidates them into one system.”

Customers can log on to the IQMS database to track inventory, and if there is a quality issue coming from a customer, Intertech automatically gets an e-mail about it, 24/7. Access to real-time data gives Intertech people the ability to respond quickly to customer needs. “We communicate with our employees with the best technology we can get,” says Hamilton.

Intertech also communicates a number of its business metrics to its employees and shares financials with the entire company since a bonus program is determined on sliding scales for how the plant rates on these metrics. “We keep employees informed, and try to keep them safe, secure, and involved in the business,” says Ginsburg. Part of keeping employees informed involves knowing about the health of the industry as a whole, so every year Intertech employees spend two days offsite with Jeff Mengel, the managing partner of consulting firm Plant & Moran’s plastics industry team, to learn about trends affecting plastics manufacturing.

Temporary workers are hired on when needed, completing tasks such as putting the balm inserts into the ball packages and packing a variety of products for shipping. Intertech focuses on offering services from part concept all the way to delivery, such as using time study and movement analysis to determine whether assembly can be done effectively at the machine or whether it requires a separate line. It also reviews areas for possible improvement after production itself begins.

Responsible corporate citizens

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Intertech Plastics isn’t what happens within the manufacturing walls, but the numerous ways the company is involved in the community. The tutoring, career initiatives, scholarships, and United Way achievements the company has been involved with are too numerous to cover with this tour, but the awards received seem secondary to the sense of pride the employees have for helping out. “Free enterprise has a responsibility to the community. If you build a successful business, you are able to give back,” says Ginsburg.

From one machine to 25, and plenty of room to grow, Intertech Plastics has built a successful business by combining solid values with technology. “You have only your creativity to rely on to survive,” says Ginsburg, and it’s pretty clear to see that with the creative products, ideas, and ways to involve the business with its surrounding community, Intertech Plastics will continue to thrive.

Vital Stats
Intertech Plastics, Denver, CO
Facility size: 120,000 ft2
Annual sales: $15 million
Markets served: Consumer products, medical, industrial equipment, telecommunications, packaging
Capital investment: >$1 million within past two years
Materials processed: PP, PE, PETG, ABS, PC, SAN, PLA
No. of employees: 90-100, depending on temporary workers
Shifts: Three 8-hour shifts, seven days/week
Molding machines: 25, 25-1500 tons; Husky, Arburg, Cincinnati Milacron, Toshiba, Toyo, Van Dorn
Molding technology: High-cavity, insert molding, overmolding, large-part blowmolding
Secondary operations: Assembly, pad printing, sonic welding, hot stamping
Internal moldmaking: No
Quality: ISO 9001-2000; plantwide 5S training, ASQ certified quality manager

Web extra: Colorado molders fill a vital role as responsible corporate citizens

While the successes of Intertech Plastics and its sister company DGL Consumer Products are impressive, especially in a struggling economy, the efforts of the employees and president/founder Noel Ginsburg in community programs show an equally great success story. As some molders worry about finding educated employees when the baby boomers retire, Intertech Plastics employees are helping to educate local students in a variety of subjects. And in addition to volunteering time in a variety of programs, the fundraising efforts of Ginsburg and the employees help to finance even broader-reaching programs.

Not only does Intertech Plastics focus on educating its employees by teaching math, science, and English through the company’s Basic Tutoring program (with basic skills tutoring also available to children of employees), but it also makes time to educate students in the surrounding community. For an hour every Monday, five employees mentor at-risk high school students at nearby Montbello High School. Ginsburg has been involved with the School to Career Initiative project since its inception, aiming to engage high school students in career interests and match them to local hands-on opportunities. Ginsburg partnered with Colorado Governor Roy Romer to serve on the National Governors’ Assn. Round Table on School to Work and served as vice chair of Colorado’s School to Career Steering Committee.

Intertech Plastics is also involved in Lights On After School in Denver, a program aimed at reducing the dropout rate and increasing academic performance, which is a partnership between Mile High United Way, the City and County of Denver, and Denver Public Schools. Grants help after-school programs expose elementary and middle school students to a variety of activities involving arts and sciences, and studies show that participation has a positive impact on student achievement and school attendance.

The company has received numerous community-based awards over the years, including the Martin Luther King Social Responsibility Business Award and the Helen Phelps Award for Distinguished Service at Denver Public Schools in 1995, the University of Denver Daniel L. Ritchie Award for Ethics in Business in 1998, and the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award in 2000.

Ginsburg has also been personally involved with Mile High United Way—serving as fundraising campaign chair in 1997—raising $26.8 million to support human service agencies throughout the Denver Metro area. The great majority of Intertech Plastics employees also have been involved with United Way fundraising. In 2007, Mile High United Way awarded Intertech Plastics the Spirit of Hope Award for the best Employee Campaign for a Small Business. The award honors organizations that have gone above and beyond in promoting community service throughout their companies, with 97% of Intertech active in United Way fundraising efforts.

While many programs focus on shorter-term education success, Ginsburg was a founding board member of the Colorado I Have A Dream Foundation, a long-term dropout prevention program for youths from disadvantaged communities. The participants, called Dreamers, go through a 10-year program of mentoring, academic assistance, and life-skills development, and upon graduation from high school they receive a $4000 scholarship to a chosen post-secondary institution. Fifteen years ago, Ginsburg and his wife Leslie sponsored 42 students in The Ginsburg Class of 1999-2004. The dropout rate for the Lincoln Park neighborhood in which the sponsored class lived was historically greater than 90%, but with the program’s help, the Dreamer class graduated more than 90%. One graduate went to Loyola and is now working in biofuels, while another Dreamer works at Intertech Plastics.

Because of Ginsburg’s heavy involvement in the community, he attends a lot of award dinners, frequently extending invitations to customers. And as if all the participation in existing charities wasn’t enough, five years ago Ginsburg started a charity golf tournament.

“Free enterprise has a responsibility to the community,” he says. “If you build a successful business, you are able to give back.”

Andy Lee | [email protected]

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