What shape will the successful North American plastics processing operation take as we move through the next decade?

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Tim Hogan, president of Alpha Plastics Solutions (front left), has assembled a fast-on-its-feet team of operators that run injection, extrusion, and thermoforming lines at a 25,000-sq-ft plant in Wisconsin.

What shape will the successful North American plastics processing operation take as we move through the next decade? There are hundreds of different answers to that question, but one in particular is heard most often: These companies will either possess a level of technical expertise that their competitors cannot touch, or they will be flexible and versatile enough to be able to respond to their customers needs no matter what.

Put Alpha Plastics Solutions Inc. in Muskegon, Wis., into the latter category. A relative upstart, formed in 2007 by four partners with roots in various areas of plastics processing, Alpha has quickly positioned itself as a broad supplier of products made by any one of four different processes, with a fifth perhaps on the way.

Alpha started out in injection molding with seven used Cincinnati Milacron presses from 20 to 850 tons. It has since added three more Milacron presses and expanded into extrusion of profiles and sheet with 1.5-in. and 3.5-in. machines from Davis-Standard and American Kuhne. It has home-made equipment to thermoform sheet into products ranging from wire coverings for trucks to “all the stuff around the bells and whistles” of an arcade game, remarks Alpha president Tim Hogan, whose background can be traced to housewares giant Newell Rubbermaid, faucet maker Kohler, and Fiskers, a European company that manufactures orange-handled scissors among a full range of tools for home, office, and garden.

Alpha’s injection molded products include hooks for garage/closet organization, flag holders, paint gliders, and a kernel catcher—a bowl designed to separate the unpopped kernels from popcorn. Alpha also makes a wide range of profiles and tubing for OEM and proprietary consumer markets. Alpha runs a variety of resins, notably post-industrial PP, nylon, PE, and acrylic.

“With the economy in turmoil, we have found that having expertise in various processing disciplines has provided us with the customer base necessary to stay in business and even expand and grow while others have gone under,” Hogan explains. “We’re more than an injection molder, extruder or thermoformer. We’re a supplier of parts, and by bringing various technical solutions to the party we can allow our customers to narrow their vendor base.”

The results suggest that Alpha’s strategy is on target. The firm now employs 23 people, up from 13 when it opened its 25,000-sq-ft plant. It has customers nationwide. Last year, it reached $6 million in sales, twice what it recorded in 2008. By 2013, Hogan is projecting sales to reach $40 million, assuming the company’s acquisition plans come to fruition. And consistent with its strategy to provide one-stop solutions to customers, Hogan said Alpha is looking at adding blow molding. “We have one client we serve with many different products, which is currently examining whether to transfer a blow molding machine it currently operates in China back to the U.S.,” he says. “If it decides to bring the machine back, we’re interested in acquiring it.”

Alpha is also built for flexibility. Job runs can go anywhere from from 50 to 5000 parts. Not being limited to a single processing discipline helps Alpha react quickly. “We measure each business unit—injection, extrusion, thermoforming, etc.—so we can see if customers are driving us in one direction or another, and this allows us to respond accordingly.” Hogan says.