Plastics Pipeline

Guest Blogger: Dianna Brodine

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. March 21, 2017

Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, is thrilled that Dianna Brodine, operations director and managing editor for Peterson Publications, Inc., graciously agreed to be a Guest Blogger for the Plastics Pipeline blog. The following is her reflection on the Great Recession of 2008 and some lessons to remember.

Dianna Brodine.jpgAs the managing editor for The American Mold Builder, Plastics Business, and Plastics Decorating, I’m able to follow plastics industry trends from tooling creation to processing to final decoration and assembly. The publishing company for which I work also has projects in the printing and travel industries, so when the Great Recession hit in 2008, we watched our magazine advertising revenue fall  – one industry at a time.

Almost immediately, the auto industry crashed, putting stressors on the tooling and plastics processing industries. The plastics decorating and assembly industries were less affected in the early stages of the recession as those companies continued to work through inventory that had already been manufactured and delivered for secondary processes, but they felt the crunch as the downturn continued. Then, as the recession began to impact all sectors of the US, marketing and promotional efforts slowed, and the print industry suffered. By early 2009, the travel industry had seen a dramatic downturn as consumers tightened their belts in response.

At that same time, in March of 2009, the federal government stepped in to bail out the automotive industry. The mold building and plastics processing industries started the slow climb to full production and, shortly after, decorating and assembly companies saw improvements in their balance sheets. As manufacturing ramped up to near pre-recession levels, print production increased as companies once again began marketing their products to consumers, who were feeling comfortable enough to again resume vacation and work travel.

While it wasn’t a fun two or three years to live through, it was interesting to watch from a publishing perspective!

I’ve interviewed scores of manufacturing business owners in the years since the Great Recession and have asked nearly all of them about the lessons learned. Unnecessary expenses were cut from budgets, strenuous effort was put forth to implement lean operations strategies, work forces were “right sized” and many businesses ceased operations altogether.
However, I also heard stories that tell me not all of the lessons were related to production and cost reductions. And, seven years from the leanest times, some of those lessons are being forgotten as companies on all sides of the manufacturing equation get caught up in the excitement generated by high demand and improved bottom lines.

In my opinion, the companies that emerged stronger and healthier from the Great Recession – and remain in a solid position today – knew these things:

Relationships with customers and suppliers are just as important as contracts. When the downturn hit, the companies in the strongest positions were those with deep relationships with both customers and suppliers. They communicated early and often, and created a partnership to protect each other from the worst of the slowdown. Today, I hear about supply chain issues, unexpected equipment breakdowns and even disaster recovery efforts – and, the success of the company’s recovery all depends on the strength of its relationships. Does the company work in partnership with its suppliers to quickly find a solution? Do the company’s customers trust in the ability of their manufacturing partner to find a quick solution without compromising quality and minimizing the impact to delivery times?

No relationship is bulletproof, but customers and suppliers will work most closely with those they have the strongest relationships with – and strong relationships are built in the good times, not the hard times.

Employees should be developed as the company’s most valuable resource. The people who will carry any business through a downturn are the employees you have now. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of production line employees who came up with significant cost-saving ideas, maintenance staff who were able to keep machines up and running when new equipment wasn’t in the budget and HR personnel who stretched resources to keep as many employees as possible on the payroll. It’s the employees with a loyalty to the company – those who feel valued and a part of the operational success – who will rally when something goes wrong.

Now is the time to encourage that sense of loyalty. Step up training efforts, hold daily or weekly meetings to share company metrics and ask for feedback now about improvements that could be made. Employees are the ones who make sure the ship doesn’t sink, but the company is responsible for teaching them to row.

Companies that learn together are stronger together. It’s no secret that my favorite industry event – and I attend a lot of conferences and tradeshows! – is the MAPP Benchmarking & Best Practices Conference, held each October in Indianapolis. Last year, nearly 500 processors came together to hear leadership experts and their own peers talk about challenges, solutions and victories. For two days, competition is set aside (with the appropriate anti-trust reminders) as the industry gathers to share strategies that can help everyone succeed.

Opportunities like this exist everywhere – local Chambers of Commerce or business groups, regional manufacturing association chapters, industry tradeshows, and even online through blogs like this one and LinkedIN groups. The saying is, “A rising tide lifts all boats” – and many of the manufacturing professionals I talk to can point to at least one piece of advice shared by a fellow industry member that made a significant difference in their own business operations. Now is the time to find those resources – be willing to listen AND teach.

Topics: Manufacturers Association of Plastics Processors, Team 1 Plastics, Guest Blogger, Dianna Brodine, publishing

What’s an Advisory Board and Should We have One?

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. March 7, 2017

The majority of private companies do not have a formal a Board of Directors. Many companies, including Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, are choosing to have an Advisory Board to provide insight, advice, and guidance to management and owners.

“Businesses of all sizes can benefit from developing their own team of external advisors. A board of advisors is particularly useful in start-up and small companies, providing fresh ideas and unique perspectives to a growing organization,” according to eminutes.com in its article, “Advantages of a Board of Advisors vs. a Board of Directors.”

Advisory Board.jpgAs President and co-owner of the small company, Team 1 Plastics, Craig Carrel recalled how Team 1’s Advisory Board was begun. “It was started in August 1998 as a way for Team 1’s three owners to meet on a quarterly basis with a group of outside advisors to review the company’s financial reports and to plan for the future.” At the time, Team 1 Plastics was operating two plants – one in Michigan, run by Carrel and co-owner, Gary Grigowski, – and the other in North Carolina, run by [then] co-owner, Jim Capo. “We had started our North Carolina operations on a shoestring, and both plants were struggling with growing pains and profitability issues.” Carrel said that because of the company’s challenges during that time period, the focus of the Advisory Board was on “day-to-day operations and very current events at Team 1.”

Team 1’s Advisory Board has evolved over the years. The original members were Tom Feldpausch, President of Felpausch Grocery Stores, Terry DeWeerd, CFO of Decker Manufacturing, Dale Reichhart, Former President of Huron Plastics and Brad Virkus, Plante & Moran (Team 1’s accounting firm).

Carrel said that in 2010, the decision was made to “retire” the original board members and to “find people from different business disciplines to help us plan our future.”

“Advisors from different disciplines,” eminutes.com pointed out, “can complement the strengths and expertise of the organization’s in-house leaders and provide broader management knowledge.”

Team 1’s current Advisory Board members are Mike Hayes, President of HN Hayes & Company (background in manufacturing sales), Darrel Reece, Former President of Android Industries (background in plant/operations management), Kevin Belew, President of Battersea Partners (background in finance and real estate), Glenn Stevens, executive director MICHAuto (automotive and mobility industries expert), Brad Virkus, Plante & Moran (accounting) and Alan Rothenbuecher, partner in Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Arnoff, LLP (legal background with plastics focus). Carrel said that with this new make-up of the Advisory Board, “we have spent the majority of our board time on strategic planning and owner succession issues. They are helping us develop our ownership succession plan that will allow Team 1 Plastics to continue to be a strong and vibrant company after we retire.”

Mike Hayes was one of the individuals who joined Team 1 Plastics’ Advisory Board in 2010. He said that he joined “at a time when Team One was entering a strategic growth period.” Utilizing his expertise in manufacturing sales, Hayes’ goal was “to help identify a new sales staff and to see an overall improvement in market access and growth.” Hayes said the hiring of Dave Biondo, Team 1’s Sales Development Manager, was a direct result of his efforts on the Board.

Daniel Reece also joined Team 1’s Advisory Board in 2010. “I was asked to join Team 1’s Advisory Board because, like Craig and Gary, I was an active owner / manager with full profit responsibility for a privately held automotive supplier.” Reece said that his practical knowledge and experience as an owner of an automotive supplier has enabled him to share actual “been there / done that” learning experiences to which Carrel and Grigowski have been able to relate. His input has covered many topics, including “including employee relations, inventory management, scheduling methodology, and standardized work and operating methods.”

Before joining the Advisory Board four years ago, Kevin Belew had been friends with Carrel for many years. He said that “over the years, we’ve realized that we share a common view of the world, life, and business – but from very different perspectives. When Craig and Gary asked me to be on the Board, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was eager to help in whatever way I could.” Using his background in finance and real estate, Belew said that he tries to contribute to those areas when needed.  He added, “I’m also more of a top down thinker while some of the other Board members are bottom up thinkers. Of course, both are needed.”

The veteran of the group is Brad Virkus who has served since the inception of the Advisory Board in 1998. He said that his approach is to try “to know Craig and Gary and to have their best interests at heart. I try to understand their personalities, goals, strengths, and any weaknesses.” He said that he takes this insight and combines it with his knowledge of Team 1 Plastics to help the owners reach their personal and professional goals. “I hope that my interest in knowing them as friends and clients, and being their advocate, leads me to bring ideas and solutions that are in their best interests and the best interests of Team 1 and helps them reach their goals.”

As the newest member of the Board, having joined in February 2017, Alan Rothenbuecher has counseled many plastics companies “on the numerous legal challenges they face, ranging from monetizing intellectual property, retaining human capital, and addressing customer contract issues.” Rothenbuecher said that as an Advisory Board member, he hopes to pass on his “industry knowledge on how to successfully overcome legal issues.”

With his newcomer’s eyes, Rothenbuecher was able to provide a fresh analysis of how Team 1 Plastics’ Advisory Board works. He said that it is a “very interactive board where everyone feels free to speak and offer advice.” He liked that “how the board challenged the owners on pricing and expansion plans.”

Just like Team 1 Plastics’ Advisory Board has evolved over the years, Team 1 Plastics and its owners have also evolved. “What I have seen about Craig, Gary, and Team 1 is that they embrace change and have become experts at change over the years. In many ways, if the company did not have this unique attribute, they would have been forced to close their business, like so many of their competitors,” said Virkus. “In the last 20 years, the world has changed. We have had several financial downturns and unique challenges, including one of the most severe financial recessions in our lifetimes. Automation has been a tremendous driver of change, and the world’s manufacturing base has continued to evolve geographically. Team 1 has met every challenge that change has provided and used it as an opportunity to excel.”

During his years serving on the Advisory Board, Hayes said that he has seen positive changes at Team 1 Plastics. “The company has stabilized and enhanced several department areas. Team 1 now runs at a higher pace while having reduced operational cost. In addition, the management team and overall employee skill sets have improved, allowing Gary and Craig to step back a bit.”

Reece said that he has watched Carrel and Grigowski “become less reliant on outside influence and much more self-assured in their leadership roles.” He said that the 20/20 strategic business plan, developed in 2010, “drives their major decisions and has helped them shape the company for the future. They have hired and trained leaders, allowing the two [owners] to step back a bit from the day-to-day operations and focus more on long-term improvement strategies while grooming future leaders. I see much more confidence and leadership in the two as they learn to operate from a higher position.”

Belew echoed the others. “I think Management has become more focused on objectives and taking effective actions to meet those objectives. Team 1 was a very well run organization when I joined the Board; but over the last few years, I’ve watched an impressive maturation in Craig’s and Gary’s leadership and in the management team.

Having an Advisory Board means that “The CEO or executive team is not obligated to take the advice of their advisory board, and it is entirely up to them … to follow that advice,” according to ceriusexectutives.com in its article, “An Advisory Board vs. Board of Directors – What’s the difference?” They are “a hand selected, informal committee of people with no legal responsibilities to the company and whom have no voting rights.”

Carrel agreed, saying that the members of the Advisory Board are “purely third party advisors who give the owners feedback and challenge us on issues. But, at the end of the day, it is the owners who will make the final decision.” But, that doesn’t make them invaluable or unappreciated.

Carrel said that the Advisory Board has been a huge benefit to Team 1’s owners. “We have had fantastic board members who take time from their busy schedules, with minimal compensation, to help Team 1 Plastics. We look forward to our board meetings and always feel that it was a productive dialogue with an excellent exchange of ideas. We value everyone’s opinion and try and incorporate their feedback into our future plans. We may not follow their advice exactly, but it provides a great way for us to bounce off plans and ideas with our board members and use their input to make better decisions moving forward.”

The exchange of ideas is not only beneficial to Team 1, but the Advisory Board members see the value they have received from serving. Belew said, “I believe I’ve probably changed and benefitted more from my time on the Board than Team 1 has benefitted from my contribution. Craig and Gary have assembled an impressive group to form their Board, and I thoroughly enjoy my time with the Board and have learned a great deal from my experience here. I very much appreciate the opportunity.”

Even the first-time attendee at the February 2017 Board meeting, Rothenbuecher realized the benefits, “Knowledge of the fellow board members on their areas of influence and expertise was very insightful and provided me with information and thoughts on areas where I can improve my practice. It was not only a ‘give’ by the board, but also a ‘take.’”

And, the Advisory Board members said that they are pleased to be able to contribute to the success of Team 1 Plastics. Reece summed it up, “I am honored that many of my suggestions have been implemented.”

Topics: Team 1 Plastics, Craig Carrel, Gary Grigowski, Dave Biondo, Advisory Board

NAFTA - Its Past and Future Impacts

Posted by Lexie Jones on Tue. February 21, 2017

Just two months into the year, 2017 has brought many controversial topics to center stage. Whether it be Beyonce performing at the Grammy’s while pregnant with twins, California attempting to secede from the United States, or President Donald Trump’s campaign to renegotiate a more equitable trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. Newly inaugurated President Donald Trump has promised to renegotiate or eliminate NAFTA so that it may more fairly benefit the U.S. economy. The reason for the renegotiation is the belief that American jobs were transplanted to Mexico, and the United States is losing money in this trade deal. 

Much discourse rests upon the argument that “between 1994 and 2010, the U.S. trade deficits with Mexico totaled $97.2 billion, displacing 682,900 U.S jobs … Nearly 80% of the losses were in manufacturing. The hardest-hit states were California, New York, Michigan and Texas.” according to Kimberly Amadeo in her article, “6 Problems With NAFTA” for The Balance.

However, many factors influenced job loss during this period: advancements in automation technology, NAFTA, and the recession of 2008. Craig Carrel, President of Team 1 Plastics, said that “going back to the old days with a lot of manufacturing jobs isn’t possible. Certain jobs cannot be automated, so sending these jobs to the country with the lowest labor cost makes sense. Most of the jobs in our industry have been lost from information technology, robots, and automation. In the early 2000s, our company had less sales with two plants and 110 people than today with our one plant with 80 people and notably more sales.”

Don Loepp, editor of Plastics News, believes similarly that job loss from 2000 to 2010 was more influenced by the “impact of automation and changes in manufacturing than the effects of NAFTA.” In the broader scale of the manufacturing and plastics industry as a whole, “if NAFTA didn’t exist, it would have been more of a positive for the industry because there would have been more domestic manufacturing in the United States. But the industry has adapted to it in the end result.  The recession had a larger impact. Right now, the automotive market is good for the companies that survived the recession.” 

Mexico Footprint.jpgIn the context of Team 1 Plastics, Carrel feels “NAFTA has definitely been an overall positive for Team 1 business. Over the last five years, we have seen a steady increase in our business going to Mexico, at least 25% of our parts go directly. Some stay there, and some come back to the United States.” This is directly related to NAFTA and the ease it gives companies to ship back and forth among Mexico, Canada, and the United States.

With President Trump’s promises to renegotiate or break NAFTA, the important question is: how will it affect the U.S., the manufacturing industries, and Team 1 Plastics?

A renegotiation or elimination of NAFTA could have a combination of predictable and unforeseen impact. For the plastics industry as a whole, Loepp said that, “with Mexico specifically, the plastics industry has a trade surplus in machinery materials and finished products. If there was a slowdown in trade, it would affect these factors, and there would be a negative impact.”

In regards to Team 1 Plastics, Carrel thinks the impact of the changes to NAFTA “will be interesting to see because changes will take time to work its way through the system. Unless something radical is done, it’s going to take time for all parties to adjust, to understand it, and to make changes. At Team 1, we didn’t see the benefits of NAFTA from the beginning; but now, over the last five years, we can see and understand it. Slower moderate changes would make more sense, but we will just have to see where it takes us. 25% (of total number of products shipped) to Mexico is probably not a long-term sales strategy– we’re doing that because their supply base is not mature. Over time, it will mature. We are already seeing that due to the freight issue, it’s going to be more competitive for someone to be down in Mexico or Texas.  Our strategy is to take advantage of it and enjoy it while we can. But, we are not projecting that we are going to continue to send 25% of our parts to Mexico. Long term, we estimate about 10% or our parts staying in Mexico.”

Carrel concluded, “For automotive companies, a North American footprint is always best, having something in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.”

Topics: Team 1 Plastics, Plastics News, Craig Carrel, Don Loepp, NAFTA

Where Are You Headed?

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. January 31, 2017

Strategic Plan.jpgYou’ve heard the old adage, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” So, how are you doing? The beginning of a new year is a great time to evaluate.

Two questions for you – has your company taken the plunge and developed a strategic plan? And if so, are you implementing it?

Maybe you don’t have a strategic plan yet … maybe it’s because the amount of advice and options has you overwhelmed. There are tons of articles and books about strategic planning – what a strategic plan is, that your company needs a strategic plan, and the benefits of strategic planning – and you’ve probably read a few. But, where do you start? What options will work best for you?

“There are many different descriptions about what Strategic Planning is. Some in the planning world offer five or six different types of plans based on what a business is trying to accomplish. In other parts of the business world, the phrase Strategic Planning brings with it a thought of a costly consultant who creates [a] fancy binder of material with no follow up or advice on implementation; leaving a business owner to ask, ‘What did I just pay for?’” wrote Wesley Shie in his blog, Failure to plan is planning to fail, for the Indiana Small Business Development Center.

Let’s simplify this whole Strategic Planning idea. It doesn’t have to be complicated. According to Shie, “If your planning process is complicated, then you run the risk that nobody in the organization will understand it (or people will interpret it a different way). To help with the simplicity, analyze the words for your own reaction: Strategic, which is developing a strategy for the organization; and Planning, which is the steps needed to execute the strategy.”

He suggests answering these few basic questions:

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How are we going to get there?
  • Who will do what and by when?
  • How are we doing?

For Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, the strategic planning journey began in May 2010. Utilizing membership resources provided by the plastics manufacturers’ association MAPP (Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors), Team 1 underwent a business assessment by Harbour Results for help in answering the question, “Where are we now?”

Craig Carrel, President of Team 1 Plastics, said that at the end of the assessment, there were three key recommendations by Harbour Results:

  • Develop a long-term strategic plan – answer the question, “Where do we want to go?”
  • Review the capabilities of the organization and develop a capability architecture that meets the long-term strategic plan – answer the questions, “How are we going to get there?” and “Who will do what and by when?”
  • Stop planning and start implementing the plan – begin to answer the question, “How are we doing?”

Team 1 Plastics had to decide what to do next. How would the company start its journey to strategic planning? The company’s owners, Carrel and Gary Grigowski, chose to hire a consultant to help them begin developing a strategic plan. They looked for one which does not “create [a] fancy binder of material with no follow up or advice on implementation.” After soliciting bids from several consulting firms, the company chose Harbour Results. Carrel said, “We have worked closely with Laurie Harbour (President and CEO of Harbour Results) ever since.”

Harbour helped Team 1 Plastics figure out “Where do we want to go?” The company answered this question with these two goals: “Be a financially secure company that provides opportunities for all our team members for generations in the future” and have “at least 15% operating profit by 2020.”

The next question, “How are we going to get there?” began to be answered by Team 1 Plastics. The company determined that to achieve the 15% operating profit goal, it needed to increase annual sales to $20 million by, as Carrel put it, “developing new markets and customers and pursuing new business growth.” Team 1 decided that one step to “get there” was to create a full-time sales position. In August 2010, Team 1 Plastics hired Dave Biondo as Sales Development Manager. Since his hiring, Biondo has played a key role in helping Team 1 add four new customers and profitably grow Team 1 sales. 

To help the company get to being “… financially secure,“ Carrel said that Team 1 has improved its sales forecasting and capacity planning tools. “This has helped us forecast our sales demands for the next one to two years, ensuring that we can accurately plan for capacity requirements to meet these sales demands.” He added, “This has been an important improvement since we run 24/7 and need an accurate sales forecast that feeds our capacity planning.”

“Focus on training and development of all team members in current and future positions,” Carrel said, “is helping us achieve our profit and sales goals.” And leadership development is a key to planning for the future generation of leadership as the owners work on the transition from day-to-day operations to focusing on long-range planning, preparing the company for the eventual retirement of its owners.

Which leads to the final questions, “Who will do what and by when?” and “How are we doing?” These are questions that need to be continually asked by your company. According to the forbes.com article, Strategic Plan Template: What To Include In Yours by Dave Lavinsky, “You should develop your complete strategic plan each year, and then update it monthly as actual results come in and you gain more clarity and intelligence. While you will rarely achieve the precise goals established in your strategic plan, scores of research show that you’ll come much closer to them versus if you didn’t plan at all.”

Team 1 Plastics follows Lavinsky’s advice. Carrel said that even with all of the planning the company has done, it has encountered surprises, such as “systems and processes that were working fine at one level might begin to fall apart as you transition to a larger company,” and “needing to continually improve and upgrade our financial systems so that we can accurately project our capital needs, cash flow, and profit targets.” So Team 1 meets quarterly with Harbour to review and update its strategic planning objectives.

Following her recent meeting with Carrel and Grigowski, Harbour shared her perspective on Team 1 Plastics’ progress on its strategic planning journey. “Team 1 Plastics’ leadership has achieved a great deal of results through the strategic planning process. They have come together as a stronger team that can solve problems quickly and efficiently. They have learned how to work “ON” the business rather than just “IN” the business each day. This has allowed them to delegate more and more work and to develop their own successors. Additionally, with the detailed goals and objectives in front of them each year, they focus their efforts on achieving those -- without distraction from other elements – allowing the organization to accomplish many of the goals. They are stronger and more prepared than ever to handle the growth.”

Harbour also addressed how Team 1 Plastics adjusted to those “surprises” that it has encountered in the past six years. “Team 1 Plastics has managed many challenges over the years that were unexpected, such as the recession, the Tsunami in Japan which affected its customer base, and the Toyota recall.  Each of these things hit its customers hard and, subsequently, hit the Team 1 organization hard. They quickly reacted to these challenges and were able to stay strong and rebound from them with effectiveness. These lessons taught the management team; and they are stronger because of them. I believe they would react even better today to any surprise that came their way.

Carrel believes strongly that the strategic planning journey has allowed Team 1 Plastics to move closer to its two goals: “be a financially secure company that provides opportunities for all our team members for generations in the future” and have “at least 15% operating profit by 2020.” Carrel said that “the company has not yet achieved either goal but is confident it is moving in the right direction. And, if it continues to update plans and follow through with implementation, it will reach these goals. Then the task will be to develop new goals to challenge the company and a new strategic plan developed.”

Are Team 1 Plastics’ goals achievable? Harbour thinks so. “The 20/20 goals that Team 1 has set in place are absolutely achievable with the team in place. They have set some things in motion and are working very hard to drive efficiency, bring in new business, and achieve profitability. I’m confident that this team can reach the goals they have set out to achieve in 2020.”

Is Team 1 Plastics’ journey the only road to successful strategic planning? Probably not, but as “Shie concluded, “In any way it is accomplished, Strategic Planning is important and can play a role in moving your business forward … Failure to acknowledge the power of strategic planning can be the end to any growth within a business and if you don’t know where your business is going, it’s going nowhere.”

Topics: Harbour Results, Laurie Harbour, MAPP, Team 1 Plastics, Craig Carrel, Gary Grigowski, Strategic Planning

Teresa Schell Addresses Marketing in the Plastics Industry

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. November 22, 2016

Teresa Schell.jpgTeresa Schell, President and Owner of Vive, LLC, a marketing consulting company for manufacturers exclusively in the plastics industry has been in the plastics marketing field for more than 20 years. Recently, she graciously shared her knowledge and expertise on marketing in the plastics industry during an interview with Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry.

Schell began with a basic concept of marketing – your “brand.” “Many people misconstrue that a logo is the overall branding of a business or product. Although a logo is the most recognizable element used to communicate to a target audience, a brand is really the sum of all touch-points that come into contact with customers, prospects and employees.” She explained that all of a company’s marketing materials – logo, website, brochures, social media connections, and even how a company’s employees interface with its customers – are included in a company’s brand.”

Schell added, “Branding is also HOW we talk to customers, not just WHAT we’re talking about. Branding is not about the company saying ‘I’m a good injection molder’; it’s your customer or prospect saying ‘I’ve heard you’re a good injection molder.’”

“When I first began marketing for plastics, it was all about a website – and that was the singular focus. There was no attention given to messaging which highlights a company’s unique differentiator – what separates you from the competition. There was no effort to create a meaningful experience with an audience through the use of multiple media channels. Currently, I’ve seen a shift in urgency. The plastics industry has been a bit behind in realizing that they need a marketing platform to gain a foothold on how a company promotes its brand. It’s a fierce world in plastics. Those companies that are investing in feeding the media channels with a consistent voice are feeling the outcomes of brand equity.”

Schell then shared her perspective on changing a company’s brand. Although some people believe that a company should never change its brand, Schell believes that updating your brand is similar to having a personal makeover. “When you get a new haircut or new wardrobe, you feel fresh and confident about your new identity. From my vantage point, rebranding with an updated logo identity represents a responsible approach to remaining progressive in today’s fast paced world.”

She added that if a company doesn’t want to completely redo its brand, it could give it a “vibrant, captivating upgrade” by making two minor transformations:

1. Keep the logo, but change the look - perhaps with a design tweak of an existing element.
2. Update the color or add a tagline - perhaps the colors used in the palette are too traditional and do not represent the multiple color spectrums of today’s color wheel.

The end goal of a company’s brand is to create new opportunities, sales, and. ultimately, profits. Schell said to achieve this goal, a company’s marketing needs to be strategic – “a well thought-out plan for how to approach the marketplace with a message and consistent imagery which will promote a capability or unique difference in multiple media channels.” She said that she quivers when a company calls a new website its marketing plan for the year.

What makes a company unique from its competitors? “Many injection molders are expected to deliver on price, quality and delivery. What is the fourth characteristic that is important to your audience in making a supplier selection process?” Schell suggested that asking the customer base what’s important to them, may help a company focus on a characteristic trait that its business already has, but one that the company isn’t marketing effectively.

But, marketing takes time and financial resources – something that is scarce for many small- to medium-sized plastics businesses. Schell responded, “Having a marketing budget is all about increasing your bottom line.” Think about this: “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, did it really happen? If a company is producing best-in-class plastics parts and no one is there to hear or read about it, did it really result in sales? Awareness is key and can't be ignored. Even if you're the Goliath in your industry, you still need to be out in the media making a name for yourself. Coca-Cola would probably never need to advertise again; but their brand awareness continues to thrive and grow, and their sales follow. In the long run, marketing ends up paying for itself.”

“When your marketing budget is tight -- and let's be honest, in the plastics industry it usually is -- you need to maximize the awareness and presence of your brand. With limited resources, it's best to focus on clarifying a consistent company message and boilerplate. Once you've got your jargon in line, then focus on your website. Every communication channel that is built from there should generate traffic to your website. Make sure your virtual door is an accurate representation of your core competencies and unique differentiators. “

Some of the newest opportunities for marketing are in social media, but Schell said that social media often gets brushed aside in the plastics industry. But, she added that “those who utilize it properly definitely reap the benefits. Smaller companies can make themselves appear bigger than they are (if desirable) by establishing well-oiled social media profiles on platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.”

Schell suggested that a company can best maximize its impact on social media sites by sharing the culture of the company. “This can not only give customers a better sense of the company’s teamwork and dedication, but allows prospective employees to gain better insight into what makes the company such an awesome place to work.” Social media can help “smaller businesses level the playing field with larger corporations when it comes to the retention and recruitment of top talent.”

The biggest myth in marketing in the plastics industry, according to Schell, is that “if you're in plastics, you don't need to be modern or cutting-edge with your marketing. Consider that myth busted! The most prosperous companies are the ones out there doing things differently -- doing things their way.” She added that another big myth is that sales will come without marketing. The truth is, Schell said, “marketing, if done correctly, vastly helps increase sales.”
 
And to do marketing correctly, a company needs to avoid these common mistakes: lack of consistency and assuming that sales will come without marketing. “Ignoring marketing is never a good idea. It's like avoiding the dentist... someday it'll come back to haunt you. It's really a chicken-and-egg scenario; however, this time we know the answer – marketing most certainly comes before the sale. And, having a cohesive and familiar message, look, feel, and personality is vital to maintaining your brand's prestige.”

Schell concluded, “Marketing in plastics can sometimes feel like dragging your feet through quicksand. The trends of mainstream media seem to always lag slightly behind in plastics -- but allowing that delay can be detrimental. The plastics industry offers so many opportunities to be different and stand out from the crowd.”

Topics: Plastics Industry, Team 1 Plastics, Teresa Schell, Marketing

Training Equals Increased Productivity

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. November 15, 2016

According to Andy Routsis, President of Routsis Training, “By significantly improving the skill level of the workforce, companies have increased their productivity by at least 37% within the first year.”

Board of Defects.jpgWhich company doesn’t want greater productivity? The obvious answer is None! So, how do you increase the skill level of your workforce? Again, an obvious answer – Training!

But you might argue, employee training is expensive, and it can be difficult to measure the impact or value, and it takes up valuable time. But having “a fully implemented training system in place as part of your continuous production operations” for your plastics manufacturing plant,  according to www.ptonline.com, provides companies with benefits such as “less damage to injection molds and extrusion dies, reductions in unplanned machine downtime, improved part quality and consistency, a safer production floor, and a repeatable, reliable process.”

So, if you’re going to implement a training system, what are some key factors? In the article, “6 Keys to Developing a Skilled Plastics Workforce,” Routsis Training shares what it considers the six critical factors for your company’s in-house training program.

1. The information being presented must be relevant to the workplace.
2. Training must be captivating in order to keep the participants' attention.
3. Employees retain significantly more information in an interactive environment.
4. Curriculum must be tailored to meet the specific needs of your plant.
5. Participants must develop skills that can actually be used.
6. Tracking the results proves the effectiveness of the training.

Does training really work? Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, recently decided to find out. This past summer, as part of its focus on continuous improvement in all aspects of its business, the company hired its first-ever Trainer, Danielle Sheldon, who has been tasked with developing position-specific training programs for new hires. The first training program developed by Sheldon is for Production Assistants – an entry-level position that is filled primarily by Temporary Agency placements.

Initially hired into Team 1 Plastics as a Production Assistant, Sheldon had experienced first-hand the training that was previously done for this position. “One big issue that I saw personally when I was a Production Assistant was if I were to cover for a different shift, they would do things so much differently. And in a manufacturing facility, you cannot do that. So, having consistency and solid standards across all shifts was really important.”

Sheldon said that a new hire was immediately placed on the production floor without any preliminary training. A training document, called the Captain Orientation Form, was the guide for the different Team Captains to use for the “on-the-job” training of the new hire. However, the Captain Orientation Form was very vague. It was a check list of what subjects to cover, but it didn’t contain specific information. And, it didn’t include any training of how the Production Assistant’s position fit within the company’s structure. Sheldon said that when she was on the production floor, she didn’t receive a lot of information about what happens to the parts they were making. She said that she wondered, “After I put them on the skid, where do they go? What do the other departments do with them?”

And general orientation information for a new hire was minimal. The orientation consisted only of an Orientation Breakfast with Craig Carrel, President of Team 1 Plastics. In Sheldon’s case, “I didn’t have that until a month after I had started.”

The information being presented must be relevant to the workplace.

Team 1 Plastics’ new approach to training is to give the Production Assistants a good foundation before they start working on the production floor. Each Production Assistant begins at Team 1 with a two-day training program. The first day includes an Orientation of Team 1 Plastics, conducted by Robert Clothier, Human Resource Manager. The new hire learns about the company, its products, its history, and its customers; and topics like the dress code and how the time system works are discussed.

During the rest of day one of training, Sheldon takes the new hire through a five-hour position-specific training.  Much of the focus of this training is helping the new Team Member understand the importance of his/her position in relationship to the other departments and to the customer. What is the whole process to producing and delivering quality parts to the customer? What happens to the parts you are producing? How does your work affect the other departments? Why is it so important that we pay attention to the details on the labels? Why do we make sure we pay attention to the manufacturing standards?

Training must be captivating in order to keep the participants' attention.

The second day of training for new hires at Team 1 Plastics includes a two-hour shadowing of Sheldon on the production floor with “hands on” training. Sheldon said that when she was developing the training program, she surveyed the current Production Assistants and Captains and asked, “What is your favorite training style?” Most of the responses were “on-the-job” training -- which is why much of the training occurs through the shadowing experience.

Other tools that Sheldon has developed include PowerPoint presentations to help with structure of the training, paper resources, such as a guide on how to read a label, and a Defect Board.

Employees retain significantly more information in an interactive environment.

The Defect Board contains 14 different types of defects that are commonly seen in the plant. For each defect, there is a bag with a good part and a bad part. The board shows the name of the defect and the definition of it and/or what could cause the defect. Trainees see and handle both good parts and bad parts and then participate in a matching activity as part of their assessment and retention training.

Curriculum must be tailored to meet the specific needs of your plant.

As she was developing the content for the training program, Sheldon visited with Managers in different departments to find how out the work in Production affected their departments. She learned that labeling errors were greatly affecting other departments and causing extra work for them. Reducing labeling error became a key focus for the Production Assistant training program.

Participants must develop skills that can actually be used.

Sheldon tested the effectiveness of the training by having different groups of current Team Members go through the training. “When I had my first draft of the program completed, I used all of the current Production Assistants as my Pilot group.” In addition, she has presented the training to all Production Captains and Quality Auditors to get their input on the content and to help them understand the work expectations for the Production Assistants. As Sheldon said, “I have only been here at Team 1 since March, and there are some individuals who have been here for years and could give me some input. I could have all of these ideas in the world, but if I could get some input from people who have been here longer, that’s just going to make the training program better.”

Tracking the results proves the effectiveness of the training.

Even though the Production Assistant training program has only been implemented for a few months, already Team 1 Plastics is seeing positive results. Labeling errors are down 50.4% since implementation of the training was begun in August 2016.

Individuals have experienced success as well. Each person who has gone through the training has achieved the required 75% passing grade on the learning assessment, demonstrating that the training is effective and that the participants are retaining the information. In addition, one of the first Temporary Agency employees to go through the training program was recently hired by Team 1 Plastics as a permanent Team Member.

Team 1 Plastics plans to develop training program for other positions in the company. Sheldon said the Production Assistant training program can be used as a model for development of training programs for other positions. “This program is setting a good foundation for the future of Team 1 Plastics. I feel that the hard work that I am putting in right now will, in a couple of years down the road, completely set a different tone and environment at Team 1. I’m really glad to be a part of that and have this opportunity to set the stage for something that will be very successful for the company.”

Topics: Plastics Industry, Team 1 Plastics, continuous improvement, training, Danielle Sheldon

Separating Material Handling from the Warehouse

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. October 4, 2016

At first glance, it would seem to make sense to use the Warehouse for storage of both plastics material handling and for finished parts. After all, it all needs to be stored … why not use the Warehouse? But, is there a better way? As part of its continuous improvement, Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, began to evaluate this idea.

In May 2016, Team 1 Plastics completed a 3,500 square feet building expansion to its facility. The added floor space allowed Team 1 to relocate its Maintenance Department, which, in turn, allowed for additional space to expand its production capability, including adding several new molding machines. But, there was still available floor space in the production area. What if material handling was moved into this space? The company began to envision the benefits.

Material_Handling.jpgAccording to Tim Henry, Manufacturing Manager for Team 1 Plastics, with Material Handling in the Warehouse, the Material Handlers had dual roles. “They reported to the Warehouse Manager for tasks and duties to fulfill for the Warehouse team – such as building orders, stocking shelves, and loading and unloading freight – and then they’d support production with the material handling requirements. There were times when this setup became a challenge for them to know which needs to tackle first.”

Another benefit, Henry said, would be that the Warehouse would gain more space for finished goods and incoming materials, “hopefully, eliminating the need to store goods in aisles.” He added, “We’re also continuing to investigate ways to reduce the need of a fork truck in our manufacturing area. With the narrow aisles and heavy traffic, the company sees this as a direct method of improving safety in the manufacturing environment.”

The company made its decision, and in August, moved Material Handling from the Warehouse into the plant, adjacent to the production area. To accommodate the move, Henry said that the company “… added some vertical racking, providing much needed space to store high-use materials, packaging, and the resin dryer servicing station. The additional space has improved overall material handling operations by bringing the Material Handling closer to the area in which it is to be used.”

Henry continued, “We previously transported material handling equipment from our manufacturing area to the Warehouse, cleaned it out, refilled it with a different resin, and then transported it back to the production floor for use. Now we simply transport the material drying equipment across the aisle to the prep area and then back across the aisle to the production floor – a much shorter distance. Operationally, this is the most efficient part of the process.”

And the move has also solved the issue of the Material Handlers knowing which tasks had priority. “Now we have a dedicated Material Handler on each shift who is within earshot of the production floor.” The Material Handler reports directly to the Shift Supervisor. Henry said that the greatest benefit is having one dedicated person that is handling a critical part of the operation as compared to a committee. “Having that dedicated Material Handler allows for a quicker response to immediate material handling needs, such as material loading alarms, keeping the production floor supplied, and assisting with the material handling portion of machine change over.”

As with any change, there have been challenges. “There has been a significant learning curve with a new piece of equipment the company purchased called a Stacker. It is used in place of the High-Lo.” Instead of sitting on the equipment, the Operator walks behind it. “The Stacker is perceived as a bit slower than a traditional fork truck,” Henry said, “but what we’re giving up in speed, we’re making up in proximity.”

Always focused on continuous improvement, Henry said that Team 1 hopes to do more with its Production Monitoring System (ProMon) as it relates to material handling. “We’d like to implement a call button that will send an electronic message to the Material Handler relaying specific needs – for example, material needed at Press #43, or large boxes needed at Press #24, or ready for a tool change at Press #35.”

Henry concluded that the decision to separate Material Handling from the Warehouse was beneficial. “Over all, it has improved operation efficiencies in the area of material handling and production support. Team 1 Plastics is still looking to improve some of its material handling methods, but it is confident that the company is headed in the right direction.”

Topics: safety, Team 1 Plastics, efficiency, expansion, production monitoring software, Tim Henry, continuous improvement, Warehouse, Material Handling

Activity-Based Cost Accounting Reaps Benefits for Team 1 Plastics

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. September 6, 2016

bad_hand.jpgEighteen years ago, Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, began using the Activity-Based Cost (ABC) Accounting model for quoting new jobs. The company is now in the fifth generation of the model, having updated it last year to reflect current systems and processes, and it remains one of the competitive advantages for Team 1 Plastics, according to Craig Carrel, President.

“It takes a lot of work to develop an ABC quote model, but once you have it set up, it pays huge dividends. It makes your quoting process easier and very consistent. You do not have to make any guesses or estimates in anything. You quote the part as you believe it will run. The only variable you adjust is your profit level. When negotiating with your customers to win parts, you know clearly, like Kenny Rodgers, ‘When to Walk Away’ from a bid because a part will not be profitable for you. You let your competitors win those unprofitable parts.”

The ABC model is different from traditional Cost Accounting because it calculates Indirect costs (overhead) differently, said John Daly, management consultant and author of Pricing for Profitability. Both accounting methods calculate direct material and direct labor the same, but the difference is how overhead is calculated. “Traditional costing methods fail in many pricing situations because they arbitrarily allocate the indirect costs. Today, indirect costs such as rent, depreciation, utilities, and supervision are often a significant portion of the company’s cost structure … Activity-based costing  provides the tools to understand indirect costs.”

With the ABC model, Daly said that a company identifies “buckets of costs, like supervisory cost, quality inspection costs, even things you do in the office, such as invoicing the customer and trying to figure out what it costs per invoice.”

Team 1 Plastics began by examining the cost to launch a new product. This included quoting, engineering, layout, PPAP, selling costs, and other activities that occur before the company produces the first saleable unit of a product. They discovered that the launch costs in 1998 typically ranged from $5,000 to $15,000. One of the advantages of ABC model, Daly said, is that it “helps us differentiate between high-volume and low-volume. For a high volume product, launch costs per piece may be trivial. However, for a low volume product, launch costs may be the most significant element of cost.”

Knowing your company’s buckets of costs, said Daly, gives you a competitive advantage over your company. “Traditional [cost accounting] thinks in terms in three categories of cost: material, labor and overhead. If you were to take time to learn five categories of cost, such as launch costs and set up costs, you would have a competitive advantage over a company that used only the three categories. If you took time to learn seven categories, you would have a competitive advantage over a company that had five. If you understood 12, you have a competitive advantage over a company that knows seven. But the law of diminishing returns applies. Once you’ve looked at about twelve categories of costs for your company’s major activities, then you’ve probably looked at over 95% of your company’s cost structure. So a company that looked at 20 categories would not have a competitive advantage over a company that looked at 12.”

According to Carrel, Team 1 Plastics has identified 12 categories of costs. “Our first model went from three categories to five categories. We’ve evolved, working with John Daly, and we’re up to about 12 variables. The key is to really identify your main cost drivers.”

Carrel admitted that he was skeptical at first when Team 1 Plastics begin using the ABC model. “In particular, I was worried that many of the parts quoted would be close to our breakeven point, and we would have to then negotiate around a loss to win any new work. In reality, our pricing is either competitive with a profit margin or we are 20+% high. Since we have a deep understanding of our costs we do not believe we are that far off (20+%) and we again let our competitors win those unprofitable parts.  It also has allowed us to have a deep understanding of all of our costs and be able to discuss with customers what areas are driving the pricing, such as launch, set up, material handling, etc. When customers have questions about our quotes and why certain areas are higher, we can have a very detailed conversation of why this is the case.”

Carrel said that Team 1 often gets questions about why their quotes look very different from their competitors. “Even though we have been using ABC for over 15 years, our competition is not. The vast majority of them use the traditional costing model of machine/labor rates with an overhead and profit markup. This is simpler for our customers to understand and makes our quotes look very different than our competitors which leads to lots of conversations explaining the differences. This is especially true with newer customers until they get a better understanding of our ABC quoting process.”

Using the ABC model does take a major commitment said Carrel. “It has to be updated every three to five years, because you are constantly improving and changing your systems and processes and the ABC model has to reflect these changes. The key is to have a high level of confidence that your ABC model is accurately reflecting your costs and what it takes to produce each part so that you can provide the customer with the most accurate and competitive quote every time.“

For Team 1 Plastics, the commitment to the ABC model is worth the effort. “I truly believe it has helped our profitability by winning parts that are profitable while avoiding parts that have no chance to be profitable and will be loss leaders."

Comparing True Cost of Injection Molds – Foreign vs. Domestic

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. August 30, 2016

As a plastics injection molding company, why wouldn’t you buy your molds for the lowest possible cost? Instead of paying $100,000 for molding, why wouldn’t you just pay $40,000? At first glance, that would seem to be a “no brainer.” But remember the old adage, “You get what you pay for.”

Molds.jpgIt doesn’t take much online research to find cautions about the “true cost” of obtaining an overseas low-cost mold. Most of the articles center around molds built in China. “Product quality risks, supply chain risks, payments risks, and communication risks” is how The Rodon Group categorizes the “Hidden Risks of Offshore Sourcing” on its website.

A Canadian molder, Unique Tool and Gauge, which has chosen to work with Chinese mold makers, provides its perspective in the article, “What’s the True Cost of Buying A ‘Low-Cost’ Mold Overseas?” in Plastics Technology. Darcy King, President and CEO, shared challenges that they have with China. “To source a mold in China … involves managing and dealing with the potential compromises that are an everyday fact of life in the Chinese market. First, our experience suggests that mold design takes longer in China than it does here. When we source a mold in China, we always need to revise mold designs, sometimes several times until it’s correct. Second, while mold construction is significantly faster in the Chinese shops we work with, we just about always find that, upon inspection, we need at least some rework to be done … In both of these areas—design and build—we can trace the additional time needed due to manpower issues and practices.”

Acknowledging the challenges of buying in China, one of the Chinese mold makers, Aco Mold, offers “Buying Tips in China” on its website. “Many foreign injection mold buyers faced buying problems in China, different business culture and language make things complicated and sometime risky. This article will provide a basic guide for you to understand and identify the Chinese injection mold companies.”

Dave Seedorf, Engineering Manager for Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, shared his perspective about molds from China. He said that although Team 1 has never had tooling built in China, they have had a lot of Chinese tooling in the plant. “All of it has been transfer tooling obtained from our customers. We’ve had horrible experiences with it. It has cost us a lot of money by wasting a lot of effort, resources, and time.” In contrast, Seedorf acknowledged that he has talked with people in the plastics industry whose experience is totally different. “There’s a guy I know whose company builds all their tooling in China, and they absolutely love it.”

Seedorf added that low-cost overseas molds is not a new phenomenon. “There’s always a better, cheaper place. Back in the 1990’s, it was Japan. Then, it was China … then India … and now Mexico. It’s sort of like the whales – they travel around in the ocean to find out where the new, bigger, and better school of small fish are. For example, years ago, a mold built in Korea used to be to 30-40% cheaper in cost compared to domestic. I think now, it is very close to the same cost. In fact, sometimes Korea is more expensive than local U.S. toolmakers because Korea’s cost of living has gone up, their economy is stronger, and they are not as desperate for business.”

Seedorf said that the main factors which Team 1 Plastics uses to determine where to source a mold are costs, timing, and previous experience with a company. As Seedorf says, “The big elephant in the room is always cost – that’s going to be the driver from now to the end of time.” Timing is often driven by the customer. “If the customer wants first samples sooner than we can get them overseas, then the decision is domestic.” The final factor is previous experience with a company. “If we built a similar product in Korea, for example, and it was a good relationship and worked out well, then maybe that’s a good match for us. If a previous job did not go well sourced overseas, then we’re going to keep it in the U.S.” Speaking of relationships, Seedorf emphasized that he believes building relationships with your suppliers is vital. In fact, he sees it as a key to a business’ success.

Team 1 Plastics has learned that among different countries, you have different strengths. Seedorf said that what Korea continues to do well is timing. “They can turn around things quickly.” But there are still challenges. “When the mold leaves Korea, we want it to be 100%; so all the trials and the adjustments take place in Korea. When it arrives at our plant, it’s already been trued. However, when we put it on our machines, we haven’t yet established a process or set up automation, such as an end of arm tool, which creates delays for us. We lose some of the time saved in trying to get things automated and prepared for production here at Team 1.”

And, Team 1 Plastics has learned that among different countries, you have different quality. For example, Team 1 Plastics partners with Georges Pernoud, a French toolmaker, which has a very sophisticated operation that is highly engineered. Seedorf said, “They are very expensive, but they can really do some complex things. It depends on what you are looking for. When people say low-cost country (LCC), you’re probably talking about China where I think the tool quality and integrity is really hampered.”

Another factor to consider, Seedorf said, is the complexity and size of the part being produced. “If you are producing small, complex, precision, and tight-tolerance injection molded plastics parts, then LCC tooling is probably not ideal because of the criticality of the molds and parts. However, if the parts being produced are large – for example, door panels, bumpers, or dashboards, then the LCC tooling is more attractive due to the large size of the molds. The tolerances of these parts and molds themselves are usually more forgiving.”

Seedorf said that Team 1 Plastics is currently considering a company in India. “We recently had a meeting with a gentleman who has a source in India that he uses for Engineering tasks, like design work –not necessarily for mold building. I asked him about his knowledge and experience of the actual Indian tool builders. His thought was that they do a good job machining but not on the finishing touches – they lack the finesse.” Seedorf then described what he meant. “Mold building is not just simply cutting steel and putting it together, and you’ve got a great tool. There’s kind of a finesse to it – you’ve got to fit things, you’ve got to polish things, you’ve got to knock edges off, you’ve got to round corners – things like that. What really makes the difference between a machinist and a mold builder is the fitting, polishing, fine detail that has to take place.”

When exploring a new mold builder, Seedorf describes the steps as the “dating process before you get married.” He said that Team 1 Plastics has “visited with several new companies over the last six months. We’ve had a lot of companies visit us, and we talk with them and tell them how we operate, and they tell us how they operate. We send them a lot of RFQs (Request for Quotations), have a lot of conversations, maybe visit their shop, things like that, trying to get a good comfort level. That is really what you’re looking for – a good comfort level.  If somebody’s willing to stay close to us through this dating process, and ultimately, we use their numbers to quote to our customers and win the job, and we have no reason to not source them, then we give them a job and see how it works out. If they do a great job, then we’re moving forward together. “

Finally, if all the decision factors -- costs, timing, and previous experience with a company -- are equal or close to it, Seedorf said that his recommendation of where to source the mold would always be local.  “What a great opportunity to employ people in your local community and help them out. That to me is not a driver – that’s just a consequence. You make whatever business decision that you have to make, but what a great result if you can source it locally.”

Topics: Team 1 Plastics, precision plastic injection molded components, quality, value, Dave Seedorf, molds

Achieving Zero Defects and 100% Delivery

Posted by Brenda Eubank on Tue. August 2, 2016

Zero_Defects.jpgZero Defects and 100% delivery. Sounds great, right? Two goals to which every business should aspire. But are they achievable goals? And how do you get there?

In his article, “The Quest for Zero Defects,” in Quality Digest Magazine, Mike Richman wrote this about defects:

“Defects. They’re the bane of our existence ... After all, if manufacturing and service processes were immaculate in their natural states, there wouldn’t be much call for ISO standards, Black Belts, metrology equipment, Baldrige awards or statistical process control. That being said, the quest for zero defects can still be considered quality’s Holy Grail. In all industries, defects cost money, waste time and frustrate managers. In some (think pharmaceuticals or medical devices), production errors can cost lives. Everyone can agree that reducing defects is good for business, whatever your business may be.”

So, we’re all in agreement that defects are bad and should be eliminated. But, how does a business achieve zero defects? MindTools.com offered some tips in its article, “Zero Defects: Getting It Right First Time.”

  • Management must commit to zero defects
  • Zero defects require a proactive approach – if you wait for flaws to emerge you are too late
  • Create quality improvement teams
  • Monitor your progress
  • Measure your quality efforts

Team 1 Plastics, a plastic injection molding company for the automotive industry, has implemented these tips in its pursuit of zero defects. According to Craig Carrel, President, “Zero defects is just like it says – ZERO defects. It is perfection. Since zero is a very tough number to achieve in plastics injection molding at our size – running millions of parts each month – our focus is on continuous improvement to move forward towards zero defects. This means developing robust processes during the development process and launch of each part and finding root causes when we do encounter rejects.”

Carrel explained that Team 1’s proactive approach is to prevent defects at the planning stage, believing that this is the best way to eliminate defects. “Inspection cannot lead to zero defects,” Carrel said. “You need to develop processes and systems that do not make a bad part.” Team 1 Plastics has “… spent a tremendous amount of time and money in developing a robust launch process. This is a multi-function team that works together to identify problems early on and works to eliminate them before the parts go into production.”

The launch team isn’t the only one involved at Team 1 Plastics in achieving zero defects. “Everyone is responsible for quality, and our internal quality team has to play an active role in helping us solve problems with everyone at Team 1. Our quality team and metrology lab play a key role in monitoring our quality and giving us feedback on our progress. A corrective action team, made up of team members from the molding, quality, and engineering departments, identifies the major rejects and focuses our resources on finding root causes and eliminating reoccurrences.”

Carrel said that the corrective action team focuses on the “Dirty Dozen” – the top 12 rejects over the last one-to-three months. “These rejects have top priority. We have several examples of our team finding root cause for the rejects and completely eliminating them from the Dirty Dozen list.”

According to Richman, achieving Zero Defects is also about repeatability. He wrote, “Performing tasks right the first time only works if you can do them right the next time, too … A process cannot succeed enterprise wide if it can’t be repeated time and time again, exactly the same way on each and every occasion.”

Team 1 Plastics agrees. Carrel said that a key to zero defects is to “… develop repeatable processes. Also, conformance to standards is critical.” That is one reason why being certified to ISO/TS 16949:2009 standard is so important to Team 1. “TS 16949 helps us develop systems and processes that are repeatable. It also focuses on understanding customer requirements and making sure our systems and processes are meeting them,” Carrel said. In addition, “Automation has helped us move towards zero defects by making our processes more repeatable and consistent. It also allows us to utilize our human talent more on set-up, packaging, trouble shooting, and problem solving.”

Another tool that Team 1 Plastics utilizes to ensure that its processes are consistent is to invest in training of its team members. Focused on continuous improvement in this area, the company recently added a new position, Training Coordinator. Carrel said, “Danielle Sheldon, our new training coordinator, is currently developing an enhanced on-board training program for all our new team members as well as a very detailed training for all new production and assembly assistants. Once completed, she will work on detailed training for other key positions.”

Do these tips work? For Team 1 Plastics, the answer is “Yes!” Carrel said that since 2009, Team 1 has seen a "fivefold decrease in its rejects reports/million $ sales and reoccurrence reject reports/million $ sales even though it has seen a threefold increase in its sales over that same time period.”

Similar to zero defects, Carrel said that “100% delivery is perfection and is a very tough goal to hit consistently. And, similar to zero defects, Team 1 Plastics is constantly working towards 100% delivery. In a similar manner, utilizing continuous improvement activities and repeatable processes moves us forward towards the goal.”

Carrel said, “A key to 100% delivery is seamless communication with all parties; externally with customers and suppliers and internally with our teams and team members. Team 1 needs to understand customer orders today, and in the future, so we can plan and have the resources available when needed to execute and have them delivered on time. In addition, we must have the flexibility to respond quickly to changing customer orders. It is critical to meeting their needs and being a strategic supplier they can count on.”

Giles Johnston agrees with Carrel’s statement. In his e-book, “You’re Late!! 7 Common Mistakes that Destroy on Time Delivery Performance … That You Can Easily Avoid,” he listed the final mistake as “Poor Inter-Team Communication.” He wrote, “Even a small team cannot rely upon telepathy. The routines we have discussed along with the various points in the process … need to be managed. Communication binds all … together.”

Topics: Team 1 Plastics, Craig Carrel, quality, reliable, ISO/TS Certification, automation, continuous improvement, communication