Canadian Plastics

Business surges at Polymer Technologies

After riding out some tough times, Polymer Technologies Inc. is riding high. Five years ago the Canadian-based Tier...

March 10, 2003   Canadian Plastics

After riding out some tough times, Polymer Technologies Inc. is riding high. Five years ago the Canadian-based Tier 2 automotive supplier had one large customer who accounted for over 50 percent of the company’s sales.Today, it has eight major clients, including Magna International, TRW and Valeo, whose orders for the company’s high-end, electromechanical switches, relays and other components have resulted in an unprecedented sales surge. In the last 12 months Polymer’s annual sales have grown to $50 million, from $30 million. In that twelve-month period Polymer has put 120 new tools into production and hired 200 additional employees.
“We’re finally seeing the pay-off from our strategic initiative to diversify our customer base,” said Michael Ritchie, business development manager, during the recent Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit, where the company was exhibiting as part of the Canadian pavilion.
The company displayed clusters of small, intricate plastic parts inlaid with electrical circuits, connectors and graphics. The parts are made by specialized plastic injection molding processes such as insert molding and two-shot molding. For insert-molded parts, Polymer stamps the metal and molds the final plastic part. The company also handles other auxiliary production operations such as printing and contact welding. The plant has its own tool room, but also outsources tooling to a number of moldmakers in the U.S. and Canada.
Ritchie reported that the company has purchased approximately 10 new injection molding machines in the last year, including a number of vertical rotary presses. In total the company now has 60 injection presses, which are roughly split between horizontal- and vertical-style machines.
“Our customers like that we’re vertically integrated,” said Ritchie. “It gives us an efficiency and cost advantage.”
Polymer has invested heavily in custom automation in order to further enhance efficiency and stay a step ahead of the competition. One of the company’s automated lights-out production lines produces steering column components, including an air bag sensor, from metal stamping to final testing, without any direct labor.
The influx of new business is not a happy accident but the result of a strategic business plan put into place in 1996 when CEO and owner John Bell bought the company. At the time, Polymer was a manufacturer of commodity cosmetic packaging with flat-sales of about $9 million annually.
“It was pretty obvious that we weren’t going to be competitive in the long run with countries like Mexico and China making these types of products,” Bell said. Bell saw the need to move the company’s business in the direction of more advanced engineered components, a decision that was easier to implement, he believes, because of the privately-held firm’s independence.
Such quick growth has required an all-hands-on-deck approach at Polymer’s 65,000 sq. ft. facility in Cambridge, ON. The company’s 470 employees are working over three shifts, seven days a week to meet all customer orders. At the same time, Bell is laying the ground work for the company’s next phase of expansion.
“Within the next year we’ll have a second presence, either in the U.S. or Canada,” he reports. Bell said the company is considering several scenarios, including building a new plant near its current facility, or acquiring existing capacity in a buy-out.


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