Much has changed in the 40 years since Jim Christensen’s father founded what is now Wisconsin Plastics Inc. Competition has become a lot tougher and now comes from all around the world. The company itself has evolved from its original focus on custom steel fabrication to include injection molding, stamping and other services. But the changes all have one thing in common – all of them have gone into making Wisconsin Plastics a much stronger company than it was in 1972, and have given it the foundation for sustained success in the future.
Wisconsin Plastics serves OEMs in a variety of industries with services ranging from injection molding for plastics, electronic assemblies, metal stamping and finishing, custom fabricating, and powder coating. Christensen says the company’s customers include manufacturers of consumer products such as lawn and garden, furniture, and automotive OEMs on the injection molding side. On the metal fabrication side of the company’s operations, Valley Plating and Fabricating – a division of Wisconsin Plastics – concentrates on serving mostly paper and marine-based manufacturers in Wisconsin. In recent years, he says, the company has taken on opportunities in the mining sector, as well and has added an additional facility to accommodate the increase in demand.
No matter how the company’s products and services are applied, Wisconsin Plastics says it takes pride in being able to provide customers with the help they need to see their products from the conceptual stage to the finished items. As an organization of independent companies, Wisconsin Plastics brings multiple capabilities under one roof.
“Each of our divisions’ complementing services results in better communication, lower costs and shorter lead times,” the company explains. “Our diverse network of experts and collaborative working style offers [customers] a wider range of solutions.”
Wisconsin Plastics delivers manufacturing solutions in plastic and metal to its customers, but its services aren’t confined to those boundaries. Along with its injection molding and metal fabrication work, Wisconsin Plastics provides other services aimed at giving customers the complete package, such as product design, prototyping, engineering, electronics assembly, warehousing and shipping.
“We’re able to be a true one-stop shop for our customers,” Christensen says. “We’re able to complete the loop of the development cycle.”
Vice President of Operations Bruce Wendt says this can be especially helpful for the company’s customers on the injection molding side, as many of them do not have an in-house engineering department. Wendt says having the capabilities to perform design and engineering work helps Wisconsin Plastics identify and eliminate potential issues before the production begins. Ultimately, this results in a much smoother process for customers and a higher-quality finished part.
“To really do good manufacturing processes or excellent processes, you need to have all that upfront quality planning,” Wendt says.
Maintaining design and engineering capabilities under the company banner also helps Wisconsin Plastics deal with some of the biggest challenges the company faces today. Namely, offshore competition and raw material pricing are the two biggest concerns for the company at the moment, Christensen says.
Nearly half of the cost of Wisconsin Plastic’s work comes from raw material prices, Wendt says. Because there’s very little the company can do to impact those prices, being able to address costs in the design phase becomes extremely important. “What we’ve been able to do to help that is to design products to be as lean and efficient as possible for our processes,” Christensen says.
Wendt says Wisconsin Plastics’ in-house design and engineering capabilities also allow it to look at alternative materials. Rather than relying on third parties to research these materials and test them, Wisconsin Plastics can do these things itself and factor them into the cost of the work if it would provide a substantial savings for the customer.
Christensen says Wisconsin Plastics has multiple ways it helps support its customers throughout the process. For example, automated assembly is one way the company competes against cheaper offshore manufacturing by removing labor from the process at certain points. Wendt says these often are little things that add up to substantial savings, such as replacing metal fasteners with plastic snap-fit ones that can be connected by robots. Wendt says that the company continually explores ways to incorporate development and assembly methods to help keep costs down for the customer.
Operating under a philosophy of continuous improvement, Wisconsin Plastics has made strides recently to add greater mold monitoring capabilities to its processes. Wendt says greater monitoring capabilities lead to less variability on the production line, which in turn means higher tolerance levels and a reduction in overall waste.
Even with the company’s focus on automation and technology, Wendt says Wisconsin Plastics relies heavily on its people to keep everything running smoothly. He compares the company’s culture to that of Southwest Airlines, where every employee is focused on knowing every step in the process and works to keep things straight. “It boils right down to having quality, trained team members operating the machines,” he says. mt