For the second year, our roster of 25 Notable Processors spans the globe and the processing world. Whether leading through technology, social engagement, business acumen, or all of the above, these people epitomize the talent and diversity of this industry.
Thomas Muntermann, managing director of injection molder Koziol >> Ideas for Friends (Erbach, Germany), has been active in the volunteer fire brigade since he was 12.
Today, as commander (pictured here with his son Max) of the 35 men and women of the village volunteer fire brigade in Wiebelsbach, Germany, he sees such social responsibility alongside his career as a foregone conclusion. His hobby is a needed service in a small community, he says.
The firefighter is called to duty from the shopfloor by a pager and Muntermann says, with some sadness, that fewer and fewer companies in the region are willing to allow their employers to participate in volunteer fire departments since the emergency calls can take them away from the everyday work. That is different at his company (September 2005 MPW; December 2005 MPW) where eight other employees also participate in local volunteer fire brigades.
The team, ranging from 17 to 60 years old, sees an average of 20 calls a year for rescue work and extinguishing fires. "The most difficult for us are when we have to extract people or crushed bodies from car accidents. Despite our training, that can really rattle a rescuer," Muntermann says. Five to 10 members of his brigade, which includes 10 women, will be on hand in Frankfurt this summer to support professional firefighters if needed during the World Cup.
Zoran and Petar Djordjevic
This father-and-son team at Serbian biaxial film processor Spektar (Gornji Milanovac) has expanded its offering of high-tech, seven-layer barrier tubes for packaging cheese and sausages, most recently with high puncture-resistant barrier shrink bags for products with sharp edges such as the meats containing bones. Export is now taking two-thirds of the total output of films in 45, 60, 75, or 100 µm, each tailored to the food product to be packaged, says son Petar. The processor is seeing growth in demand coming from Russia, Switzerland, surrounding former Yugoslav countries, and Turkey, something other processors in war-torn Serbia can only dream about.
The 120-man company celebrated its 20th anniversary last November. Interestingly in the last 20 years only two workers have left the company, Djordjevic says. Using a German-made double-bubble extrusion line, which the company has modified to serve its own processing needs, Spektar produces about 500 tonnes/yr of casings for packaging cheese and cooked meat products. Other extrusion equipment at the company produces similar amounts of shrink films.
The company''s playing field next to the plant where staff often relax between shifts with a quick game of soccer may have to be sacrificed in the near future for further expansion of the processing operations as demand continues, says Petar Djordjevic.
Waleed Hussein Bajrai
Aiming for the best quality was the only way Waleed Hussein Bajrai (photo, on right), general manager of Saudi Arabian medical film and tubing processor Tib Plastic Industries (Jeddah), saw of beating imports. The measure paid off and now the processor, part of the Bajrai Group, is able to sell its high-purity compounded PVC for medical and food-contact applications in export markets and compete against European processors that have traditionally supplied the Middle Eastern market.
Although starting in compounding, Tib has seen a market demand for processed medical-grade PVC products which have helped boost the company''s overall turnover. Bajrai was on the prowl in February at the Plast 2006 show in Milan, looking for new processing equipment to further expand and improve the business.
Cleanroom production at the plant, which started only five years ago, is set to begin producing welded IV-solution bags for medical suppliers, and, by mid-year, Bajrai wants to start compounding medical-grade thermoplastic elastomers and thermoplastic vulcanizates.
From a slow start where potential domestic customers were not convinced a Saudi processor could fulfill the demanding international pharmacopoeia standards they expected, Tib has come a long way. Bajrai says Tib has been able to document its quality so convincingly that demand has skyrocketed, including exports that now take 80% of total output. Demand comes from Asia, North Africa, Turkey, and Europe, as well as surrounding Middle Eastern countries.
Although domestic competition remains rare in Saudi Arabia, Bajrai says his company won''t rest on its laurels and is continuing its expansion course.
Big-name food packagers like Ferrero, Danone, Kraft, Nestlé, and Oscar Mayer are looking for processors that can do the out-of-the-ordinary. "That''s not always easy, but if you can convince them you have a solution that not only provides something more than the commonplace, you''ve got your foot in the door and they''re willing to listen," says Daniel Tudela, technical director of Envases del Vallés (EDV), a Spanish films processor which has targeted modified atmosphere and flexible barrier packaging.
The family-owned processor can point with pride to winning one of last year''s four Gold Awards presented by DuPont Packaging. The award went to a development by EDV Packaging Solutions of a five-layer (PP/tie/EVOH/tie/PP) thermoformed container for Nestlé Baby Foods in France. EDV, says Tudela, is at the forefront of providing packaging for baby food producers who are changing, albeit gradually, from glass to plastics because such containers provide non-breakable safety and appeal to young families.
Tudela says baby food manufacturers have traditionally stuck with glass because of the good barrier, but companies like Heinz and Nestlé are now highly concerned about possible breakage during filling, which can stop production lines, as well as the fear of lawsuits resulting from glass splinters.
Shelf life of the prize-winning container is up to 12 months and it can withstand high retort temperatures. Its good transparency allows contents differentiation on the shelf. To meet the demands of its customers EDV has invested heavily in new equipment, including a recently ordered German thermoforming film line.
Perhaps coextruded vinyl picket fences are not exactly the kind of processed application you would expect the maker of antistatic packaging of integrated circuit chips for the electronics industry to expand into but that is just what Jef Hoggan (photo, right), founder, president, and CEO of Plastics Resources Inc. (PRI, Logan, UT), sees as a future market.
The coextruded fence profiles, post, rails, and tongue-and-groove slats/pickets are being produced at PRI''s subsidiary, Mountain West Vinyl Products (MWVP), in two wall thicknesses to accommodate customer requirements.
MWVP started fence production in the summer of 2005 with a complete line from Davis-Standard (Pawcatuck, CT), and Hoggan says, "This is our first turnkey rigid PVC fence profile line and it is performing very well. Even though we got a late start last year, MWVP made our projections for 2005."
He says that the company has been able to address the learning curve associated with such a sophisticated system. "As we become increasingly familiar with the equipment and the differences in running powder material with these products, we''ll improve our rates and efficiencies even more," Hoggan says.
PRI''s goal, he says, is to grow this segment of the business at a smart pace that will enable the company to maintain its business code of "Quality with a Short Lead Time for a Good Price."
The 22-year-old company has expanded into medical, construction, and military applications, and has more than 600 customers in North America, Europe, and Asia.
Turkmenistan, formerly part of the U.S.S.R. in central Asia, is one of the top 10 cotton producers, and has extensive oil and gas reserves, but lacks adequate infrastructure. As part of the government''s efforts to industrialize, an $86 million plastics pipe processing factory has blossomed in Ashgabat, the country''s capital. The government gave the turn-key project to Erku International Ltd. (Ankara, Turkey).
Heading up the operation of the Turba Pipe Factory is Görkan Arasli, managing director. Operations started in September last year with production of glass-fiber-reinforced pipe (GPR) and extrusion of thermoplastics (polyolefins and PVC) pipe started a month later. Arasli says that when full production gets underway, nameplate output will be 8.5 million meters/yr of pipe and fittings.
The plant consists of three production halls (thermoplastics pipe and steel-wire-reinforced thermoplastics pipe, fittings, and GRP pipe) on an area of 167,000 m2 (1.8 million ft2). The thermoplastics pipe production hall includes eight extrusion lines, seven supplied by Austrian equipment builder Cincinnati Extrusion (Vienna); the pipe fittings hall has 13 new Krauss-Maffei (Munich, Germany) injection molding machines with clamping forces from 65-1600 tonnes. GRP pipes are produced in diameters from 300-2600 mm.
Arasli says the completely new equipment has been automated to the highest degree in order to be able to run the plant with less qualified workers. Even with all this automation Erku International is staffing the facility with 30 Turkish technicians and engineers, as well as 35 foreign technical staff to train the 300 local workers. When fully up and running the plant should employ a staff of 600 working in three shifts, he says.
Macedonian molder Tehnomatik could serve as a model for how most processors get their start: a small shop driven by an entrepreneur who, recognizing opportunity, leaps headfirst into a new challenge. In this firm''s case the entrepreneur is Sokolovic Budimir, an engineer with experience in hydraulic equipment who made much of his money fixing processing machinery for local molders. "I''m a hydraulics specialist-which is how I got my start in the plastics industry. I was servicing the injection molding machines anyway, so I decided to buy a few and start my own business," he recalls.
To date, the operation is still small-five full-time and five part-time employees-but Budimir has high hopes. "I started my business with DM1500 (about $750). This year I acquired the 400 m2 of land adjacent to my facility, so I can expand.It is sort of the American Dream, but in Macedonia." Tehnomatik has three machines now and is about to add two used German-made presses, which he intends to rebuild. As the photo of him at a trade show indicates, he is not shy of using his homeland''s low wages as a drawing card. Costs are assembly by hand e3/hr, injection molding from ?5/hr, and insert molding on vertical machine at about e10/hr. He says SMEs are finally starting to get their legs under them in Macedonia. Most of the large, state-run companies disappeared with the breakup of Yugoslavia, he says. Now many Greek companies, including plastics processors, are finding their way to Macedonia, he says, and he hopes to pick up business in the shift.
Most of Tehnomatik''s molding business is to now for the automotive market, says Budimir, including parts such as safety-belt covers for Russian carmaker Lada.
Macedonia has many people experienced in plastics processing, he says, but unemployment is more than 30%, poor for the domestic market, but making it easy to find good employees. Budimir is not one to complain: "The situation isn''t so good, but you have to make your own success."
Like so many good success stories, his started in a garage, where Wilfried Ensinger worked to extrude parts. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the firm he founded in Germany, and neither he nor his company shows any sign of slowing yet. Though he has passed on his business to second-generation management, the senior Ensinger was on hand early this year to officially open a new facility in Wales. Late last year he had an audience with Germany''s president to be awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Ensinger GmbH molds and extrudes semifinished thermoplastics products for a customer base that includes almost every industry you could imagine and some you may not know exist. The firm''s signature is to enter a market and make it its own, both in terms of business success and also on a more personal level. The reward from Germany''s president was not for creating jobs or achieving financial success, but for Ensinger''s continuing emphasis on being more than just a highly successful businessman. The Wilfried Ensinger Foundation, which he founded in 1997, and to which he offers substantial financial support, has a long list of projects supporting scientific, cultural, and community organizations. The list includes the Rottenburg Cathedral Choir School and the Rottenburg Orchestra, plus work supporting orphanages in Ukraine, schools in Nigeria, and shantytown dwellers in Brazil. He also gives back to the industry, sponsoring an annual prize for scientific research in plastics technology.
The Ensinger business empire now includes 40 production and sales sites around the globe and some 1650 employees. The firm''s founder is not taking a restful retirement-since 2005 he has been president of the Böblingen (Germany) Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Ulrich Krämer came to the plastics industry in 1994 with nary an idea how to spell polyurethane, he admits. But the collapse of the Berlin Wall changed many things, including his career plans.
Krämer''s background was in electrical engineering and computers, and he was pursuing a successful career when, a few years after West and East Germany re-unified, he decided his next move would be into plastics. Polyurethane was his chosen field, and he set about learning all there was to know. "I saw it was an industry of small to medium-sized enterprises, and very labor intensive. I saw my chance to enter, but with automation."
Twelve years after founding DECS GmbH in Sömmerda, Germany, part of the former East Germany well off the beaten path, Krämer finds himself sole proprietor of a 25-employee company with annual sales of about ?2.1 million, and no real desire to get any larger. He has become such a PUR expert that his facility also is a lab-away-from-home for his sole PUR processing equipment supplier, Hennecke GmbH. Until just two years ago he was the sole employee to program the CNC cutting/trimming equipment, PUR processing machinery controls, and the robot used in one work cell. Even now, he says he still proofs processing of every new part before letting serial production begin.
DECS often is the chosen partner for other processors to conduct development and low-volume initial processing to work out problems as projects begin. He describes his firm''s workload thus: "We fill two shifts and leave the third shift open for any work that comes along and that we decide to take."
You can''t `Google'' DECS-it has no website-nor can you ask for a brochure; Krämer says he counts on word-of-mouth referrals to keep his business busy. Customers value and count on his discretion, he says, and he limits photos to a few areas of the firm. Some four or five customers account for about half of his sales; the remainder is split among many smaller customers. "It''s no harder to do this, and it''s much safer," he says.
Combining cutting-edge technology and a nose for good site selection, plus the willingness to bet on the occasional long shot, can be a great foundation for business success, and injection molder Wilden AG (Regensburg, Germany) has proven it time and again in the past years. Founder and CEO Hans Wilden has but one great fear-a lack of customers-and he will go to extreme ends to make them happy.
In the past three years that has included opening new facilities in China, Dubai, and Poland, and consolidating the firm''s R&D and parts development work at its Regensburg headquarters. The latter move was undertaken to help propel a more rapid transfer of technology and ideas across market segments. Wilden''s firm serves the automotive, medical, and consumer goods markets.
Entry into Dubai, via a joint venture, is seen as a long-term strategic move to enter a region in which very few Western processors have any exposure.
Last autumn the firm acquired one of the more technologically advanced molders in Germany, Interbros GmbH in Freiburg, and will use that firm as a platform to bring yet another new technology to the market-complete inmold assembly of toothbrushes, to include the bristles, up to now inserted after molding the toothbrush handles.
Wilden, a trained moldmaker, has always pushed his firm to be among the first to evaluate and make use of new technology, and there is almost no variation on injection molding technology that the firm does not master- WIT, GIT, MuCell, insert, overmolding, and more. The firm sees enormous potential in the medical market and plans to almost double its cleanroom capacity by 2010.
Should an employee of Kamco Plastics forget the ethical guidelines that shape every relationship the company has with its employees, suppliers, and clients, they need look no further than their wallets.
There they can find the business card spelling out all of Kamco''s business principles that they were issued upon their hiring. A $50 million injection molder, with 88% of its business coming from the appliance industry and heavyweights like Whirlpool, Electrolux, and Amana among its customers, Kamco maintains the family atmosphere and values it instilled by its founder, Norb Kaiser, according to VP Jack Shedd. "[The card] focuses on respect and dignity," Shedd says. "The card says we value the individual team member, we value diversity, and we value the customer."
Kamco doesn''t value the customer at the expense of these values, with Shedd admitting that recent discussions with a very good customer ended amicably, but without new business for Kamco, when the company decided what the customer was asking for would jeopardize its commitment to Six Sigma, which has helped it achieve zero-parts-per-million (PPM) scrap rates.
Building out from its original Schaumburg, IL facility, whose proximity to appliance maker Admiral''s Galesburg, IL plant prompted the link to white goods, Kamco now has plants in Florence, KY and Reynoso, Mexico, with another Mexican operation likely in the near future. As it expands outward, the chance that the family atmosphere might wane as the distance from Schaumburg grows inspired the cards, and a commitment to team-building good deeds in each plant''s community, including regular food drives and time, materials, and workers offered up annually to Habitat for Humanity home builds. "You couldn''t just understand [the culture] being 1000 miles away or in another country," Shedd says. "We''re not a not-for-profit, but we also want to give back to the community."
From his time in the medical device industry, including stints in product development at Boston Scientific and Cardiotech, John Hudson learned what new technology can mean for a company: new business. "One thing that you get a great appreciation for in the medical industry is innovation and new products are the way to excel," Hudson says. "If you come up with the next, best medical product, then you''ve got a way to the marketplace."
Two years ago, Hudson brought that drive for innovation to custom PVC profile extruder Keller Products (Manchester, NH), becoming Keller''s chief operating officer, and as he says, aiming to show Keller''s customers that "there is more in life than PVC."
For six months, Keller and Hudson reviewed the latest technologies in materials and processes for extrusion, before settling on 10 to 12 the company could achieve aptitude in and pitch to clients.
Ranging from wood-composite profiles for furniture-edge banding and interior boat trim to post-consumer and industrial scrap profiles to using GE''s Noryl GTX for powder-coating applications, Keller brought a new portfolio to market in 2004 with immediate results.
"If you take the sales in 2004 and look at the sales in 2005," Hudson says, "we''ve grown almost 25%. It really, truly did work."
Keller, which has 60 employees and eight extrusion lines, including a 1.5-inch Davis-Standard for research and development and a twin-screw line for alloying, continues to adopt the latest technologies, including work in antimicrobial resins using nanofillers.
Next Specialty Resins Inc.
Many of Next Specialty Resins Inc.''s (NSR; Addison, MI) products begin life where another component''s has ended. Pulling plastics from the waste stream and sparing them from the landfill, NSR, which began business in 1996, takes resin full circle, sorting, cleaning, and grinding post-consumer and -industrial scrap, and then re-pelletizing it, and in some cases, injection molding those pellets into wholly new components.
The company''s 250,000-ft2 plant in Michigan sits on 38 acres and, in addition to extrusion (twin-screw lines with underwater or rod-cut pelletizing), shredding/grinding (15- to 150-hp grinders available), blending (5000- to 20,000-lb throughputs), and drying (desiccant up to truckload lots), NSR also has injection molding and moldmaking capabilities, with presses from 30 to 700 tons that can make parts at a savings of 25%, thanks to reclaimed resin.
As an example of the savings it can offer by pulling scrap from the waste stream and integrating it into finished components, NSR offers a 0.75-lb housing, made from a $.89/lb virgin resin, and sold at a piece-part cost of $1.01. By getting recycled material approved at a cost of $.65/lb, NSR could offer a final piece-part cost of $.83 for savings of 18%.
Headed by President Rajiv Naik, NSR is a minority certified company with 150 employees worldwide. The company has processed ABS, acetal, nylon 6, nylon 66, PBT, PC, PC/ABS, PET, PP, TPO, and cellulosic materials, with recycling services in multiple locations.
Spurred by a National Packaging Covenant that was strengthened in 2005, Australia is aggressively attacking its municipal waste, which on a per capita basis (690 kg), was second only to the United States in OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. The new target is a national recycling rate of 65% for packaging, with no increases in landfilled packaging waste by the end of 2010. The goals are ambitious, but highly successful curbside collection programs have achieved recycling rates of 70% for materials like PET and HDPE containers, according to a 2001 report by the Australian Environment Protection and Heritage Council.
The less successful collection of one item, PP pot containers used to transport plants sold at nurseries and greenhouses, inspired one man and his family to take on recovery of the readily disposed item.
In 1997, Bob Williamson discovered that 100 million plastic plant pots were landfilled annually in Western Australia, equivalent to 8000 tonnes, because they lacked a reclaim process and end market for regrind. Williamson began work on a plant in 2000 that could recover and reprocess the pots, eventually developing a chemical solution, dubbed Polypropaclean, that could clean the heavily contaminated and oxidized containers. They''re now reground into materials used for future pots, closing the loop, and sparing the landfill.
PP Recyclers Pty Ltd. eventually created a network of 16 nurseries where consumers could drop off used pots, and its work garnered national attention, with a 2003 Waste Management Recycling grant, and awards, including being named a finalist to the Prime Minister''s Environmentalist of the Year in 2005. More recently, Williamson was honored by the Society of Plastic Engineer''s Global Plastics Environmental Conference, winning the Plastics Recycling award.
Recognized multiple times as one of the best places to work in Pennsylvania and recently honored with the Winslow Award bestowed on businesses that have made a significant contribution to the economic growth of its hometown, molder and moldmaker Tech Tool & Mold Inc. (TTMP; Meadville, PA) takes its role as a civic leader seriously.
That concern was evidenced by an early February town hall meeting, which was organized in part by TTMP and focused on rising energy prices and what they mean for a manufacturer like TTMP and the community it resides in.
According to TTMP''s director or marketing, Mark Hanaway, the town hall''s organizers were discussing future energy crisis meetings in the run up to elections.
Founded in 1973 by Bill Hanaway, Mark''s father, as a tool and die shop, TTMP added injection molding in 1980, and after purchasing two new all-electric Nissei presses in January 2004, the company now has 22 machines from 40 to 230 tons. Adding to its energy needs, TTMP nearly doubled in size in January 2003, purchasing an adjacent 24,000-ft2 building to add to its existing 37,000-ft2 facility.
Female entrepreneurs tend to be few and far between in the plastics processing sector globally, but typically, this tendency is exacerbated in Asian countries. Such is the case in India, where A.G. Industries'' (Gurgaon) managing director Geeta Anand is a lone beacon in what is a male-dominated industry. She was recently identified as one of the top 50 Indian female entrepreneurs, but she was the sole representative from the plastics sector.
Anand started up A.G. in 1993 to serve motorcycle joint venture Hero Honda, and the firm has grown along with its key customer, which currently ships an incredible 13,500 motorcycles per day. Anand forecasts continued growth in the motorcycle sector of 20% per year for the next 10 years and plans to maintain similar growth at A.G. "Even if India is turning out 40 million motorcycles a year by 2015, that''s still only 5% market penetration," she notes.
Although India by no means has a shortfall of labor, A.G. intends to push ahead with robotization of its 46 injection machines and its paint lines as soon as possible to improve quality to global levels. It''s also eyeing the growing four-wheeler market in India and plans to enter this segment with a new plant housing 10 injection machines. Longer term, A.G. also sees all-electrics playing a role, although import tariffs will have to come down to make this possible. Another key objective is to bring moldmaking in house. Currently, tooling is sourced from South Korea and Japan and A.G. sees a joint venture as the best means of bringing this task inhouse.
In line with its push for global standards, A.G. also has a solid environmental policy in place focused in reduction, reuse, and recycling, as well as communication of environmental and OSH policies. "This helps world-class companies identify with us, and these are the companies who we want to deal with," says Anand.
In 1999, Singapore molder Meiban Group had turnover of S$20 million ($12.3 million). Today, with extensive capabilities for moldmaking and electronic manufacturing services (EMS) since brought inhouse through organic growth, its turnover is on the order of S$500 million ($308 million). Even taking into account the fact that the firm "buys in" more components for its EMS operations, it is still stellar growth by any measure. The company''s performance was enough to attract the attention of business magazine Forbes Asia, which in October 2005 ranked Meiban as one of the top 200 smaller companies in the region with sales of less than $1 billion.
Company executive chairman George Goh worked for the Singapore operation of Japan''s Daimei Plastics until 1987, when he caught the entrepreneurial bug and set up Meiban. The first products were front panels for Matsushita radios.
To grow, Meiban actively looks for promising niches to move into and once an operation gets to a certain size, it tries to find a suitable partner with industry experience to invest in the unit and develop it further. The partner typically takes a 30% stake, with Meiban retaining 70%. The partner is the one that has to then drive growth. "I hire entrepreneurs, not employees," says Goh. Overall, there are 20 such stakeholders.
Each production units operates as a profit center, and all partners have hands-on experience on the production floor, which is where they can typically be found.
Diversifying from its electronics roots, four years ago the company moved into medical molding; two years ago into design and molding of lenses; and 18 months ago it ventured into automotive part molding.
Meiban''s also working on its own products, such as a GPS device that it plans to test market in the Singapore market. An air purifier is also on the market.
Bigger is better when it comes to cost-competitive LLDPE stretch film and Scientex Packaging Films (Shah Alan, Malaysia) is backing this belief with investments that will take capacity from the current 60,000 tonnes/yr to 100,000 tonnes/yr by the end of 2006. The Scientex Group set up the business in 1991 as a manufacturer of woven PP bags and industrial bulk containers (IBCs), and it started stretch-film production in 1997, and, more recently, production of stretch hood film. Rounding out its business portfolio are PP strapping bands, silage film, colored films, and mini rolls. Strapping bands and stretch film account for 65% of turnover.
P.J. Lim, Scientex Packaging''s managing director, says the company has distinct strategies for stretch film and bags/IBCs. "We have transferred production of labor-intensive bags and IBCs to Vietnam, and although one might think these are low-margin products, to us they actually return a higher margin than stretch film because the raw material component is lower."
For stretch film, meanwhile, "Under a competitive environment, players who want to survive need to become stronger. To be competitive in a global market you need economies of scale," says Lim. Scientex currently exports to 60 countries with the emphasis on cost leadership; 70% of the company''s products are exported.
Summing up Scientex''s business philosophy, Lim says, "We want to make our products like water-affordable, available to everyone, and indispensable."
Singapore''s First Engineering perhaps chose an apt corporate name. The processor has a mission to be first- or second-ranked in each and every niche it serves. And within these nich