In the nine months since we revamped Plastics Technology, we have written articles on about a dozen plastics processors, each of which, in one way or another, has managed to stay afloat—or even prosper—during what’s been the toughest economic period in recent history.

In the nine months since we revamped Plastics Technology, we have written articles on about a dozen plastics processors, each of which, in one way or another, has managed to stay afloat—or even prosper—during what’s been the toughest economic period in recent history. We think the North American processing market can learn a thing to two from what the companies we have featured have done:

  • Differentiate: In November 2008, we wrote about Plastican, a Leominster, Mass., molder whose innovations in design and materials selection turned their line of pails into tangible solutions for their customers.
  • Take risks: In that same November issue, we wrote about MGS Mfg. Group of Germantown, Wis., which became a leader in the still-small segment of multi-material, multi-shot molding.
  • Be adventurous: In December, we reported on the tendency of sheet extruder and thermoformer Fabri-Kal of Kalamazoo, Mich., to “jump on things early.” In this case, they jumped on PLA biopolymer processing.
  • Think “sustainability”: This month we report on Echo Molding in Union, N.J., and how its shift to solar power helped cut costs, generate revenue, and secure new business. In January, we wrote about how two California-based processors went “green”: Peninsula Packaging, Exeter, Calif., pioneered the use of solar power to run its sheet and thermoforming business; and Global P.E.T., Perris, Calif., became the first package maker to get the FDA OK for a 100% recycled container for food contact.
  • Automate: Husky founder Robert Schad said it decades ago: “Automate or die.” Not many listened. But The Rodon Group in Hatfield, Pa., took heed. As we reported in February, this molder has robots on every one of its 110 presses and requires only seven operators per shift. The company captured a project for molding HIPS fruit skewers from a custom molder in mainland China. Rodon runs the products faster, better, and cheaper here in mainland America, using six manufacturing cells with 64-cavity molds (built in-house) in presses equipped with servo-powered robots. In extrusion, in June we covered how Appleton Performance Plastics upgraded to automatic gauge control at its Milton, Wis., plant, a modest investment that lead to big benefits.
  • Be fearless: For years it was a given that large-part blow molding and liquid color were a mismatch. Hayward Pool Products, Clemmons, N.C., heard the same thing, but gave it a whirl anyway, as we reported in February. The molder proved the pundits wrong.
  • Welcome challenges: In March, we reported how blow molder Classic Containers, Ontario, Calif., stepped up to the plate and developed tooling and processing know-how necessary to run a new type of nylon-based additive for HDPE. The end results are products never before thought possible.
  • Diversify/Expand: In April, we reported on how Plastics Molding Technology Inc., El Paso, Tex., added medical molding to a product line that had previously focused on automotive. In May, we reported on how thermoformer Mayfield Plastics, Sutton, Mass., expanded its presence into medical. And this month we cover how NewAge Industries, Southampton, Pa., expanded from industrial tubing and hose to single-use, high-purity tubing systems for pharmaceutical and biotech applications.
  • Focus: If you can’t do it all, do what you do better than anyone else. In April, we covered compounder Modern Concepts, Compton, Calif., whose forte is smaller, customized orders that the bigger compounders won’t bother with.
  • Innovate: Last month we reported on Dymotek, Ellington, Conn., a molder who has built its business on taking existing products or manufacturing processes and refining and rethinking them for better cost and reliability and quality.

There is no magic bullet to keep your head above water or even thrive these days. But these are 10 things other people on your business have tried with success. Maybe one of these approaches is right for you, too.