Flambeau is a world-leading specialist in injection and blow molded thermoplastic components. Through its contract molding and proprietary product divisions, the company offers a wide range of product and tooling solutions to businesses, professionals, hobbyists, and enthusiasts all over the world.
Founded by W R Sauey and his brother, Ed, in 1947, Flambeau purchased its first injection mold machine the following year and began manufacturing the now infamous Halik Frog fishing lure. The lure was used to fish the River Flambeau in Northern Wisconsin, which was named by a French-Canadian cartographer describing the sun reflecting off the water. The brothers then borrowed the name for their business, hence Flambeau Plastics, as it was once known, was born.
From this point, the business rode the growth wave of plastics by both making its own product ranges for the retail market and using its open machine capacity to process molds for customers in the industrial and automotive sectors. However, as its first product, the Halik Frog still occupies a well-respected position even today, serving as a tangible reminder of the company’s humble beginnings.
“The group’s philosophy was to maintain an equal focus on the retail, industrial, and automotive industries, so that the business was beholden to no single sector and somewhat protected from the extreme ups and downs of any one market,” begins John Wingfield, Flambeau’s Managing Director for Europe.
“Our growth was driven by a variety of acquisitions that complemented our underlying organic growth. This was further accelerated by technological diversification in the 1960s, which saw us adopt the process of extrusion blow molding. This fulfilled the demand to manufacture plastic components for automotive air conditioning ducts to replace the metal assemblies previously in use.
“We then began exporting products to Europe, but W R Sauey sought to gain a stronger foothold in the European market. Hence, he purchased a blow molding business, Blowspeed Ltd, based in Ramsgate, UK, in 1999, and an injection molding company, L&P Ltd, in 2000, which was then integrated into the Ramsgate site. The combined business was rationalized by shifting focus away from automotive and towards industrial customers.
“In 2010, we acquired two retail brands from Stadium Group, forming Flambeau EuroPlast as it is today,” John narrates. “Today, we have injection machines ranging from 100 tons to 1700 tons clamp pressure, and blow molding machines varying from five liters to 200 liters in volume. We strive to add maximum value by delivering a managed service from product concept through to approved production pieces, whether it be for our own products or for our customers’ plastic requirements.”
Despite the global pandemic, Flambeau has continued to experience unrivalled growth over the last few years and has set out on a journey of investment. “We’ve invested in centralized material distribution systems at our Ramsgate facility including dried material, meaning that the material granules go untouched by hand from silo to individual machines,” John elaborates.
“To further improve our efficiencies, we’ve also invested significantly in automation and robotics. We’ve accelerated our machine replacement program, for instance, to maximize our energy efficiency, which is particularly important when costs are volatile. We’re currently looking at continued investment to upgrade our older press fleets, as well as closer integration with our customers’ systems, for example, by using point-of-sale data from stores to manage our customers’ distribution centers.
“Many of our customers are working towards their own sustainability goals, and thus demanding more environmentally friendly options,” John adds. “So, where possible, we’re moving to use reprocessed polymers. However, we’re continuously evaluating alternatives, whether it’s using more sustainable materials or polymers that can be reprocessed, and we work directly with specific customers to ensure we meet requirements. Further afield, there’s material technology set to become available to the industry in future, which would help us move away from oil-based polymers and instead adopt plant-based ones.”
Flambeau is also working to develop its direct-to-consumer, web-based supply chain for its own products. “We’ve built up several of our own brands over the years, using common modes across multiple routes-to-market,” John explains. “We have brands like ArtBin, for example, which offers repurposed arts and crafts storage. We’re trying to use our existing product brands and concepts to strengthen our European direct-to-consumer presence.
“To do so, we’re experimenting with infrastructure, including our internal systems like picking, packing, shipping, and returns. One of our challenges is that plastic products tend to be quite large in size, but relatively low value, so using a 3PL service erodes our margins to a point where we must reconsider. Hence, we’re in the process of developing our own website and shipping infrastructure to enable us to receive and fulfil orders internally.”
Best value solutions
Prioritizing quality and service, Flambeau aims to be invisible to its customers, working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the process runs smoothly from inception to delivery. Its network of professionals provides expert customer assistance in design and specifications of injection molded and blow molded thermoplastic components, products, tooling of fixtures, and contract manufacturing of complete assemblies. “We consistently deliver value to our customers, leveraging our established ERP system with real-time machine monitoring to ensure optimal forecast, service, and quality levels,” John details.
“We work best when we input during the design process for plastic components or assemblies, which helps to ensure the design requirements are understood. It also means that we can select the best material and mold to achieve the optimum balance between functionality, aesthetics, and cost. The molded product can be visualized through a 3D rendered image and 3D print. This way, our customers see a representative example and know exactly what to expect before we cut the metal on a mold tool, as once it’s cut, design changes become vastly more expensive to manage.”
As our conversation turns to the future, it’s clear to see that Flambeau’s priorities remain superior quality and service. “We’re technical experts when it comes to plastics processing, whether from existing molds or new parts,” John states. “We have plenty of capacity to grow, and there’s potential for us to open a site closer to our customers in the future, whether as a result of acquisition or a facility move closer to our customers.
“Our goal is to maintain a robust business infrastructure that enables us to deliver high-quality plastic solutions to our customers on time and in full,” he concludes. “We’ve got the technical competence and the latest technology to give our customers confidence that they’re getting the best value solution, not only in terms of material selection, but also aesthetics of the product.”