I’ll admit it: I’m not very good in the garage. I can pull my car in and out without much trouble, usually (thank goodness for collapsible side mirrors), but in terms of having a workshop with power tools and puttering around looking for things to fix…nah, that’s not for me. I even get lost in The Home Depot.
By now maybe you’re thinking I’m still withdrawing from holiday grog, but I’m talking about garages because they’ve played an important role in the creation and evolution of the industry that we are in—sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively.
Who among us over the years hasn’t heard a story about such-and-such company and this or that product having its origin in someone’s garage, basement, or warehouse. I love these stories, because they capture an industry in its early form, where entrepreneurs with more ingenuity than money created a product, or a company, that caught everyone’s eye and helped put plastics on the map.
Maybe we’re past the garage phase of the plastics industry’s timeline. After all, we’re a fairly mature business now, and new technologies and products that have been introduced over the last 10 to 15 years or so are certainly more evolutionary than revolutionary.
Still, I’m convinced that there is a “next big thing” coming, and it’s going to change our business rather significantly. Don’t ask me what it is going to be, because I don’t have any idea. But it will probably be small, lightweight, electronic, multi-functional, and able to meet the “sustainability” test. It will probably be for healthcare or energy production…or maybe for entertainment. And it’s going to be made out of plastics, in whole or in part, and it’s going to solve a problem or meet a need that we probably don’t even realize we have.
I hope that this product, whatever it is, will be designed, engineered, and manufactured by you. But I think you’re going to have to go back to the garage to make that happen. Of course I don’t mean that literally. But you’re doing to have to untie yourself from an industrywide malaise that I believe has stymied innovation and creativity, in order to recapture that “garage” mindset and spirit that was the foundation of this industry.
The other day I was interviewing some processing engineers about an article we are working on for future issue. This particular company had basically changed its entire operation—from ordering raw materials to processing and inventorying products—in an effort to make its business more streamlined and to better serve its customers. The reason it succeeded was because top management told engineering not to worry about the cost of failure, but to try and try until they achieved the results they desired.
We need more of that spirit. I’m not writing this from an ivory tower. I know money is tight, equipment purchases are tough to finance, and many processors are struggling to just keep their doors open. I know every order is precious, so I don’t expect you to pull operators from a job so they can tinker. But whether you’re a molder, extruder, moldmaker, or whatever, take just your mind back to the garage. Just don’t ask for my help.