Growing Through the Pandemic
Westec Plastics is just one example of an injection molder that actually expanded in 2020 despite the business and logistical challenges of the pandemic.
As rolling shutdowns coursed through the U.S. last year, directly impacting molders or indirectly affecting them by disrupting their suppliers upstream or their customers downstream, I worried how the industry would come through on the other side. No doubt there have been some challenges, with some markets more impacted than others, but what’s amazing to me as the faintest of lights flicker at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, is how many molders actually invested in and expanded their operations in 2020.
At the start of this year, I spoke with Tammy Barras, president of Westec Plastics Corp. about her company’s investment in a new automation platform (read more here). The addition of three Rapid Robotics’ Rapid Machine Operators was just one self-improvement project that the Livermore, Calif. based custom injection molder took on last year.
Westec Plastics readies space for all-new Arburg injection molding machines.
“Westec has had a very impressive year of growth, even with the pandemic slow down,” Barras told me, noting that the company actually achieved all its 2020 goals which were made in 2019 when it and the planet were blissfully unaware of the world-roiling pandemic to come. Among the moves the company made:
- Complete a 9200-ft2 expansion
- Add an ISO Class 7 clean room, plus two more portable Class 8 rooms
- Remodel its warehouse to accommodate a new automated assembly work cell
- Purchase five new Arburg injection molding (including three 2-shot presses) all with Arburg robots
The company now has 23 injection molding machines with two of the five new Arburg’s used to replace older machines. Westec has a full tool room so it can build/repair/modify molds in house, and it offers a robust menu of secondary operations, including pad printing, ultrasonic welding and assembly, among others. Some of the new space added in 2020 will be used for additional secondary operations programs it’s working on adding. “Pretty much whatever can be done to a plastic part,” Barras said, “we can do it.”
The company achieved ISO 13485 certification in 2017, and since that time has expanded its medical business to the point where today 60% of its revenue is generated in that field. That increased exposure to the medical sector was a big part of its 2020 success.
“We were blessed in 2020 that we had previously been working with numerous medical companies,” Barras said. In fact, several of those customers were able to shift diagnostic products for other diseases towards Covid testing or related treatment. “That’s been a huge challenge for us to ramp what would have been a three- to five-year program in six months but it’s working so far, knock on wood,” Barras said.
A big part of injection molders not just surviving but thriving in 2020 was the role so many of them served as an essential business. Not only did that status mean that in a legal sense they could remain open, but in a literal sense, their output was “essential” to the nation as it weathered the Covid storm.
“Our team has worked non-stop as an essential business,” Barras says. “We are very proud of our improvements and can’t wait to accomplish our goals for 2021.”
Westec Plastics added five new Arburg injection molding machines in 2020.
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