Benjamin Manufacturing has succeeded as a family-run thermoforming business for almost 40 years. “BM” was founded in Paramount, Calif., in 1967 by Bill Benjamin, whose life-long passion has been to invent new building and household products. “I recognize needs, then create products to take care of them,” says Benjamin, who at 64 is still BM’s ideas man. He comes daily to his R&D office, usually just with a sketchbook and pencil. The majority of BM’s $6 million in sales is generated by the products he invented.
Benjamin began by making bathtubs and other sanitary ware in thermoset fiberglass composites, but quickly moved into thermoforming ABS. In the late 1960s, he designed and built machines to form toilets, bathtubs, whirlpool spas, and other plumbing fixtures and related products. For his pioneering work, Benjamin was named Thermoformer of the Year for 2003 by the Society of Plastics Engineers’ Thermoforming Div.
To each his own
In 1980, BM responded to a lack of thermoforming capacity on the East Coast by setting up a satellite plant in Lithia Springs, Ga. It is managed by Carol and Rob Bertocchi, Bill Benjamin’s sister and brother-in-law. BM employs 32 at both plants. Paramount has five thermoformers and a sixth on order, and Lithia Springs has two machines.
The company’s day-to-day operations are managed by Benjamin’s sons—Jeff, 44, and Rick, 42. “We grew up sweeping dad’s shop floor, and thermoforming is in our blood,” says Jeff Benjamin, BM’s general manager. “I prefer not to have grease on my hands, but I enjoy paper-pushing and financial planning.”
Rick, the production manager, enjoys hands-on action and thrives on running machines and forming parts. “This all works because each person’s role matches their personality and interests,” comments Jeff Benjamin.
Inventive mind at work
Jim Armor, a friend and associate, describes Bill Benjamin as “a practical engineer with a desire to make life easier for others.” In the 1960s, Armor and Benjamin sought a better alternative to fiberglass composite for bathtubs and other sanitary ware. Their answer was to coextrude sheet of ABS and acrylic. Back then, ABS/acrylic coextrusion was in its infancy. It suffered from poor sheet appearance, black specks, and little control of sheet and layer thicknesses. The partners overcame those limits. BM patented Ackralac ABS/acrylic sheet, and Bill Benjamin came up with bathtub and sanitary product lines based on the material. Armor calls ABS/acrylic sheet “a far-reaching invention,” that has widespread use today in spas and swimming-pool equipment, recreation al-vehicle panels, and auto parts.
Benjamin’s bestseller is a liner for protecting bath tubs from damage after in stallation during new home construction. Twenty years after introducing the liner, BM still forms 60,000 of them a year. Other successes are a plumber’s toolbox, metalized ABS/acrylic plumbing fixtures, and color-coded kitchen cutting boards.
More recent BM products are formed ABS/acrylic tabletops and wind-resistant umbrella bases for patio tables. Bill Benjamin’s favorite invention is Cut-Mate, a cart outfitted with combinations of cutting boards and trays that minimize mess and waste in commercial food preparation.
But inventiveness is not enough to keep a company healthy. BM is now seeking custom forming business. Rick Benjamin went to this year’s NPE show in Chicago to select a machine to support BM’s move into large technical parts. He chose a three-station, rotary pressure former with a platen size of 6 x 9 ft. This is the firm’s first pressure former and its largest yet. BM also recently converted three double-ender machines in California from electric heating to natural gas because of the state’s high power prices.