When executive producer Gordon Freeman, of the ION Network’s ‘World’s Greatest’ TV show called Robinson Industries, he was looking for a company to fill their segment on material handling. What they found was one of the oldest thermoforming and structural foam molding companies in Michigan.
According to Ronda Robinson, marketing manager for the family-owned company, Robinson Industries Inc. was the first to produce plastic pallets. “My grandparents started the company, and today we have the fourth generation working here,” she explained.
Ronda Robinson’s grandfather, Fred Robinson, was a pioneer in the plastics industry, working for Dow Chemical Co. in the 1940s in the company’s Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam laboratory. He started his own business in the family’s home, packaging the small EPS beads to sell to consumers to sprinkle on their Christmas trees to look like snow.
In 1947, Fred Robinson founded Robinson Industries Inc. (www.robinsonind.com) to produce pallets, trays and containers. In the 1950s, Robinson Industries began thermoforming returnable, reusable pallets and specialty dunnage for a variety of retailers and manufacturers.
For many years, the company molded pallets and containers for the automotive industry, but over the past few years the company has expanded its operations to serve the retail, sporting goods, food and beverage, solar, agriculture and office furniture markets. In addition to the pallets, trays and containers, Robinson Industries develops consumer products, using both vacuum forming and structural foam molding.
Today, the company’s business is growing rapidly to meet the demands of retailers and manufacturers for the “green” reusable, returnable pallets, trays and containers. “We see more and more companies trying to reduce their waste and scrap to zero so that nothing goes to the landfill,” said Ronda Robinson. “There’s definitely a big push toward reusable and returnable shipping methods, especially among retailers. One big retailer just bought thousands from us in a sleeve configuration and will display their products in their stores in the container. For retail display, companies can use their colors and they’re much more attractive than cardboard. That’s one area I’m seeing big potential for using plastic pallets.”
Pallet and container manufacturing requires some big presses for its structural foam molding. The company has three presses up to 2500 tons that can mold shots up to 150 lb of material, and with platen sizes up to 60” x 152”. Robinson molds primarily HDPE and PP materials for its products, and has about 200 employees.
On the thermoforming/vacuum molding side, the company has 17 machines and can produce parts as large as 22 feet in length and 10 feet in width. Melissa Jellum is the plant manager of the company’s thermoforming operations. She is a graduate of the Michigan State University’s Packaging Engineering program.
If it sounds like a lot of women hold management positions at Robinson, they do. In fact, Robinson is a woman-owned enterprise, with Inez Kaleto, daughter of the founder, as CEO and chairman of the board of this family-owned company.
Robinson Industries is also committed to being “green” and is working on its Environmental Certification through ISO. Recently it started a program in partnership with General Motors to take in a by-product of the automotive OEM’s manufacturing process, which it then mixes with the resin Robinson uses to extrude its own sheet material. The company also takes in old pallets and trays, regrinds them and reuses the regrind to make new pallets and trays.
To further improve its environmental efforts, the company began using seat belts to strap pallet loads instead of plastic or metal strapping/banding or shrink wrap. “The seat belts are reusable and the warehouse doesn’t become messy with a lot of banding or shrink wrap laying around waiting to be taken for recycling,”
On its website, Robinson offers an “EPA Calculator” that can show companies how much money they can save by using the returnable plastic pallets.
In addition to manufacturing, Robinson Industries designs all its products in house depending on the requirements of the customer, including developing specialty dunnage for customers, and even some consumer products such as ice-fishing sleds for a major sporting goods retailer.
Ronda Robinson explains that plastic pallets and other returnable, reusable dunnage has many advantages, which is creating increased demand. “Plastic pallets and containers are idea for exporting because you don’t have to treat it for pests like you do wooden pallets and containers,” she says. “Plus the plastic pallets and containers are lighter in weight so shipping costs are reduced. We also design our thermoformed containers and trays for stacking and nesting so that more containers can be put into a truck for the return trip.”
The plastic pallets and container also make for better housekeeping in warehouses. And for food and beverage products, they can be sanitized in a “dunnage washer” before reuse. Plastic pallets and containers last a long time as well, and can be reused for years, Robinson points out. “We have one customer, a major household appliance manufacturer, that used our pallets for 17 years, and just reordered some new ones from us,” Robinson notes.
The "World’s Greatest" TV show featuring Robinson Industries aired at 6:30 am EST on February 6, 11 am EST on February 13, and 7:30 am on February 20. “Robinson Industries is one of those companies that we like to feature on 'World’s Greatest.' They are a fourth-generation, family-owned, women-owned, Michigan company started by the very innovative Fred Robinson, who was a pioneer in the plastics industry,” Freeman commented in a release.
“His early techniques of thermoforming, while made better over time, are still used today, along with the Robinson Industries’ injection molding processes. We think their story will be meaningful to our viewers.”
The four-minute video clip can be seen on Robinson Industries’ website on the home page at www.robinsonind.com.