Molder Spotlight: Dordan’s deep dive in thermoforming

PlasticsToday presents its second in a continuing series of exclusive plastic packaging manufacturer interviews. This time we turn the spotlight on Dordan Manufacturing Co. Inc. (Woodstock, IL), a family-owned and operated custom thermoformer of highly engineered products and packaging across a diverse base of customers and industries. Chandler Slavin, sustainability, marketing, & account manager, answers a range of questions about the company’s markets, opportunities, pain points and “wild card” factors.

Chandler Slavin of Dordan Mfg.What makes Dordan unique?

Slavin: Dordan stands apart because of our corporate culture and strategy, which are intimately interwoven. We are privately held by second-generation CEO & President, Daniel Slavin. We are run by the same management team that have run the company from its infancy in a storefront in Chicago to the sophisticated design and production house it is today. Thus we respect where our expertise lies and continue to invest in these core capabilities. Engineering-based thermoform design, high quality production, labor efficiency, inventory management, and customer service is where we excel, and where we invest to evolve.

What are your key product markets and geographical areas?

Slavin: As custom thermoformers, we cater to a diverse customer base across a wide range of industries. We service clients in the healthcare, cosmetics, housewares, hardwares, electronics, consumer products, and sporting goods industries; we also develop thermoformed solutions for companies in the automotive, transportation, automation and assembly, industrial, and fabrication industries. We service many countries in the North American, Western Europe, and international markets. The common thread that runs through all of our clients is the priority for well-designed and highly engineered thermoformed parts that are quality produced in quick turn times at competitive pricing.

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What’s driving Dordan's growth?

Slavin: Increased consumer confidence and spending has driven growth in the consumer goods sector; likewise, gains in the automotive industry have fueled our OEM automotive business. Dordan continues to grow its healthcare packaging portfolio, due to our aforementioned core capabilities of design and production excellence, and the continued development of new devices requiring thermoformed packaging. We’ve witnessed an increased demand in fragility packaging, or thermoformed packaging like dunnage trays, which serve to protect a product during shipment through intelligent structural design features.

We anticipate these markets continuing to grow, assuming the economic trajectory of the consumer goods, healthcare, manufacturing, construction, and automotive sectors don't substantially deviate from the projections of analysts. As custom thermoformers, our markets are diversified, reducing the risks associated with being a dedicated market supplier.

What’s your most recent new product?

Slavin: Dordan has been collaborating with a national beverage company on the design and development of a shipping/Retail Ready tray that allows the customer to remove the product from cold storage with little effort. This solution reduces the customer’s supply chain waste, optimizes supply chain efficiency, better protects the product through shipping and handling, and enhances consumer convenience. We have applied for a patent with this customer and look forward to rolling this thermoformed packaging solution out nation wide.

Dordan production operations

What concern(s) keep you up at night?

Slavin: Short-term capacity and time-to-market expectations, which go hand-in-hand. Dordan has the capacity to convert 75,000,000 lb of material a year; however, if we get a large influx of business needed in quick turn time and have a finite capacity to convert, how do you manage your production pipeline and your customers’ expectations? No one holds inventory anymore, and the window for turn time continues to become compressed; thus, placing orders with your suppliers and filling orders with your customers, while a simple business transaction conceptually, creates complexities with shared supply-chain backlogs.

To combat this inherent reality of manufacturing, we’ve invested in additional production capacity and automation platforms to allow us to turn orders quicker. Thus, while we can't control our supplier’s backlog, we can invest in add-on processes that expedite in-line thermoforming, like robotics.

For example, Dordan invested in an automation platform made possible through the installation of robotics at the end of the production line. Formed parts will be robotically stripped, checked for quality, stacked, and packed.

Married with our skillful use of labor efficiency and asset utilization, we’ve been able to accommodate the unpredictable peaks that challenge all manufacturers.

What's a wild card factor?

Slavin: Material shortage or price escalation that is beyond “normal.” Being in business for almost 55-years, we’ve seen a lot of pricing volatility and fluctuations in available supply. Should there be some type of shortage or price escalation beyond this historical average, however, our operations would be affected. Thus, our wild card factor would be a reduction in supply base due to global factors that we can’t control, like escalating political conflict in the Middle East that would disrupt the flow of oil.

Dordan thermoform example 2

How did Dordan’s interest in sustainable packaging come about?

Slavin: It began with my employment in 2009 when I was hired as a full-time sustainability coordinator. I cared about the packaging Dordan produced and wanted to be a responsible manufacture. It is difficult to talk about being a responsible plastics manufacturer, however, without talking about its end of life management.

As the New Plastics Economy argues, plastic has value, but when you convert it and its functional life cycle exhausted, its value does not warrant collection for recovery. When I started at Dordan, thermoformed containers were not recycled due to the economics of post-consumer collection, sortation, and reprocessing into marketable material. Thus I worked from 2009 to 2015 to add PET thermoformed packaging into the existing recycling infrastructure. These efforts, along with the efforts of many others, resulted in the inclusion of PET thermoformed containers in the North American recycling infrastructure in 2015.

However, today PET thermoforms are still landfilled due to the varying regional realities of municipal collection, reprocessing, and marketability. Dordan passionately looks forward to the recovery of all plastic packaging in North America and worldwide thanks to the collaborative efforts of the New Plastics Economy Initiative.

In addition to our efforts to recycle thermoformed packaging, we also invested in a variety of tools to allow our clients to develop more sustainable packaging: We subscribed to a life cycle modeling software that allowed us to quantify the environmental repercussions of packaging in the design phase; we developed our Design for Sustainability 4-step process; and, created our Bio Resin Show N Tell. It is important to note that all of these customer-facing sustainability tools have since been retired, as they were rarely utilized as intended. Nonetheless, Dordan appreciates the opportunity to have contributed to the education of the industry on sustainable packaging issues.

The result of my sustainable packaging efforts is an understanding of and expertise in sustainable packaging. This knowledge is valuable to customers investigating sustainable packaging and Dordan navigating the sustainable packaging landscape. My efforts working towards the inclusion of thermoformed containers in the recycling infrastructure contributed to the industry initiated dialogue and collective actions that ultimately facilitated their inclusion. This experience educated me on the complexities of waste management so I can be of value to the industry as we work towards the recovery of all plastics. I have been given the opportunity to share this knowledge with the packaging community as a contributing writer to Packaging Digest on sustainable packaging issues.

Dordan thermoform example 3 patternWhat’s the company’s stance on the New Plastics Economy initiative?

Slavin: Dordan supports the NPE initiative with great enthusiasm. The NPE is a global initiative led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with an impressive list of plastics stakeholders. It is a concept based on a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with analytical support from McKinsey & Company. Titled The New Plastics Economy—Rethinking the future of plastics, the report provides "the vision of a global economy in which plastic never becomes waste." In short, the Report illuminates a disconnect between the value of the plastic packaging we produce and use and its associated value after use. Because there is little post-consumer value associated with plastic packaging, there is little economic impetus to collect and recycle it. Thus plastic packaging remains outside the circular economy model, making its way into the natural environment and persisting in our waterways and oceans.

As a producer of plastic packaging, this inability to collect and repurpose the material due to the economic realities described above is our biggest challenge. Plastic pollution is everyone’s problem and the solution requires dramatic intervention and innovation to change the fundamentals of how we produce, consume, and dispose of plastic packaging. Dordan whole heartedly applauds the efforts of the NPE and eagerly awaits the progress.

How may the NPE affect your business?

Slavin: It is extremely difficult to quantify the effects of these types of efforts on a company’s bottom line. We invested in sustainable packaging tools and the recovery of thermoformed packaging because it was the right thing for us to do as a producer of plastic packaging.

There was no short-term return that we were able to quantify; yet, because of our culture and growth strategy, which emphasizes the viability of the company long-term, it made sense for us. I imagine the NPE will affect our business in a similar manner: It is the right thing to do, but the short-term return impossible to quantify and the long term gains yet to be determined. As previously emphasized, we believe the recovery of all plastic packaging is the number one challenge of the plastics industry, and failure to engage poses significant risks to all plastics stakeholders. At the same time, however, market trends point to the increase of plastics production and use; thus, the recovery of plastics has yet to supersede its functional value as a deterrent to the longevity of the industry.

What's next?Dordan thermoform example ridges

Slavin: Dordan is working to update its ISO 9001:2008 management system to the ISO 9001:2015 requirements. Dordan is actively investigating adding the personnel, processes and production capabilities necessary to enter a new market.

Final thoughts?

Slavin: This summer, a 4th generation Slavin, Julian Slavin, joined Dordan Manufacturing as production support, pushing the company’s family-operated legacy into the fourth generation. Currently, President & CEO Daniel Slavin employs his son, Aric Slavin, Sales Manager, his son-in-law, Daniel Haavig, Quality Manager, his daughter (me) as Sustainability and Marketing Manager and his nephew, Julian Slavin, at Dordan Manufacturing, which is celebrating its 55th-year anniversary this fall.

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Read more interviews in our Molder Spotlight series:

"Molder Spotlight: MVP in specialty PET "

Converter Spotlight: Parkside pushes flexible packaging envelope

Molder Spotlight: How Spectrum Plastics lives up to its name


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