Plastic Parts Manufacturer Bucks International Sourcing Trend
These injection molds sit in a staging area in the machine shop of Custom Plastics. On top of each mold is one or more examples of the part it makes. Photo by Mark Langlois.
High-quality injection molding and extrusion are specialties of a Chicago-area company that continues to thrive in the nation's largest industrial park
By Mark Langlois
Custom Plastics, a plastic components supplier based near Chicago in Elk Grove Village, is pushing out injection molded and custom extrusion products on pace to surpass 20 million parts this year after 64 years of practice.
Custom Plastics workers use 16 extruders and 24 molding presses in three shifts to make parts for LEDs, grills, offices, retail stores, medical facilities, playrooms, hotels, garages, and for public utility purposes. Custom Plastics was founded in 1953, and it grew from one machine to 40. It now occupies 165,000 square feet of factory space in three connected buildings for its 180 employees.
"The company's longevity has to do with a few simple principles: outstanding service, credible engineering and manufacturing processes, and a top to bottom commitment to quality," wrote Peter Tisbo, president, CEO, and second-generation family owner of the 64-year-old firm, on the company website in 2014. Tisbo observed that Custom Plastics survived rising costs and the outsourcing trend that sent buyers to competitors in Mexico and China. "We are still here and thriving, while many are not. That said, we offer a partnership to you that will last indefinitely. We can assist in design and development, and can be more to you than just an extruder or an injection molder."
That partnership includes shipping the right part on time. Custom Plastics customers accepted 99.894 percent of parts shipped so far this year, and 99.7 percent of all parts were delivered on time, according to Tisbo, who spoke with Design-2-Part Magazine in a phone interview following a visit to the company's factory. He said Custom Plastics is ISO 9001-2008 certified, and the firm is seeking ISO-9001-2015 certification later this year.
What else can Custom Plastics offer a customer in addition to injection molding and extruding? Custom Plastics offers help with designing, prototyping, pad printing, hot stamping, punch press, sonic welding, heat staking, and sawing. Custom Plastics wants customers to know that it does those processes and more in house. The company offers gluing, drilling, notching, sanding, and packaging, including third party components, and also provides labeling, instructions, product sheets, assembling, distributing, and mailing, if necessary.
Custom Plastics (https://customplasticsinc.com) is certified in the UL Molders Program. In addition to the on-time and in conformance chart, workers also see the parts that didn't conform. Next to the part is a written explanation of why. Workers are exhorted to catch and repair or discard defective parts before shipping. By March 2017, most non-conforming parts appeared to have a little flash on them, which was a thin flap of melted plastic left on a seam. Workers typically cut the flash off with a knife as they inspect them coming off machines.
"We have to have great customer service and sales people, which we do. We have great finance people, but for me, without good engineering, you can't be that great company," Tisbo said. "You have to have people who know tooling, who know product design and development, who have great engineering skills, who can design and build the tools they run. Engineering is in the forefront of customer interaction. They have to be able to convince customers they want to work with Custom Plastics."
In addition to warehousing a wide range of colored nurdles, the tiny plastic particles melted in extrusion or injection molding machines to make parts, Custom Plastic also mixes the nurdles into custom colors to its customers' specifications.
The metal piece clamped by the orange C-clamps is the extrusion die for a ground wire molding, the light grey part coming out of the die over water at the start of the cooling tank. Photo by Mark Langlois.
Custom Plastics offers engineering support, rapid prototyping, and expedited tool creation. Once a part is designed, project management steps in to make sure each part is made to customer specifications, with the steps in this process including advanced product quality planning, project management, and control plan initiative.
Checking and re-checking each part and each process
"Once we finalize a drawing, we are able to produce a 3D prototype of the product within a few hours. The customer is then able to examine the prototype for fit and function, and any suggested changes can be made to the design by our team, followed by the production of a second prototype. This process is repeated until both the customer and our engineers are satisfied with the design," Custom Plastics said on its website.
In addition to its contract manufacturing for OEMs, Custom Plastics also owns and operates four divisions, each with its own products. These companies make up roughly 40 percent of Custom Plastics' revenue. They include HandiSOLUTIONS, a company that markets and sells storage and organization systems for garages, utility and laundry rooms, basements, and other spaces; and Custom Accents, a company that manufactures desk equipment that manages wires, supplies, power, storage, and media. Custom Plastics also operates Custom Utility, which manufactures equipment used by utility firms to manage wires above and below the ground, protect wildlife, mark guy wires, and protect utility poles. OnCenter Retail Solutions offers combination wall and product hanging products that include multiple color options for slatwalls, which support bins, hooks, and heavy duty hooks.
The Custom Plastics worker is checking molded parts for compliance before placing a label on each part and stacking it in a Gaylord for shipment. Photo by Mark Langlois.
"A part of you, one of your long-term goals you don't forget, is you want to have a product to sell," Tisbo said. As the U.S. economy grows or shrinks, having the four divisions, each with its own products and customers, helps Custom Plastics survive the lean days. "It's always been a saving grace of the company, proprietary sales."
When Tisbo said "always," he meant back to the 1960s, before he took over the company's reins.
The future holds brighter lights
A modern strength of Custom Plastics is the firm's early involvement in LED lighting and lens covers for LEDs.
"We were in the fortunate position to work with a few companies and begin the manufacture on the lenses, the light covers, when it started," Tisbo said. He said the LED industry is becoming more demanding with a heavy emphasis on lighting cosmetics. He expects the electronics side to evolve, and he said his customers are asking for less costly materials and cost savings. "We were kind of on the ground floor. We have a leg up. Where LEDs will be in three to five years will be revolutionary, and [they will be] even more popular in the industry."
How is Custom Plastics able to provide less costly parts?
"Anytime you can eliminate a non-plastic part and replace it with plastics, there are opportunities there. Will it work with the heat and conductivity? There might be other things we can look at to make improvements," Tisbo said. If an option is to change materials to lower costs, the new choice must perform like more expensive plastics. "The materials we use? High-end acrylics and polycarbonates. They're not your basic Joe Schmo materials. There may be opportunities to take it down–not low tech, but maybe middle of the road."
Custom Plastics workers place grill parts in a frame after molding to insure compliance with customer specifications. Photo by Mark Langlois.
A visitor to Custom Plastics might notice a sign on the plant floor that tells workers their deliveries so far in 2017 are more than 99.7 percent on time. The chart also said that 99.894 percent of parts were kept by the customers. Custom Plastics posts those numbers every quarter on the floor.
"We do this for a reason. People in the plant can see key metrics. You've got to be careful–you can't have 19 things up there. They have to understand what they're looking at. It's pretty basic stuff–on-time deliveries, the amount of parts that go out the door versus those that have been returned for a non-conforming situation. It's clear and simple," Tisbo said. "It's a sharing of information in the plant so that people know how important their work is and how they contribute to the success of the company."
Custom Plastics says that it wants to be more than an extruder or an injection molder. What does that mean?
"That's the value added," Tisbo said. "We want to do everything else. If you're going to send us the PO; we're going to give you a complete, fabricated product. That's been a big push for the last four or five years. We're starting to see successes because of it. At the end of the day, the job's going to the guy who can do more."
The Performance Data board tells workers at Custom Plastics each month their on-time delivery rate and the quality of their products. Photo by Mark Langlois.
In one case, a customer came to Custom Plastics with an idea for a part. The customer figured Custom Plastics would make the extruded part, ship it to the customer, and the customer would do everything else. Everything else includes ordering other components from other manufacturing firms, managing inventory, assembling the finished product, labeling it, packaging it for the retailer, shipping it, and warehousing the product for faster delivery and refilling orders.
"Why would you want to do all that?" Tisbo asked the customer.
"They had no warehouse, no space," Tisbo said. "I told them, 'I have the space, I have the warehouse, and I have the fabrication workers.' That's how it started right from the get-go."
For the last four years, Custom Plastics did it all. It extruded the plastics, took delivery of other components, assembled the product, labeled the product, packaged the product, assembled the display units, and shipped the finished product to retailers. Custom plastics maintains the product inventory and ships refill units as requested. The company is also designing additions to its three-product line-up.
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