Canadian Plastics

Stratus Plastics: Success in real-time

To hear Bill Wu explain it, there's no great mystery to the success of Stratus Plastics International Inc., a 20-employee strong mold prototyping company that has just expanded into a new 24,000 squar...

May 1, 2007   By Mark Stephen, associate editor



To hear Bill Wu explain it, there’s no great mystery to the success of Stratus Plastics International Inc., a 20-employee strong mold prototyping company that has just expanded into a new 24,000 square foot facility in Oldcastle, Ont. “We just work hard,” Wu said. “We work seven days a week. If we could work eight days a week, we would.”

Dig a little deeper, however, and one finds that Wu — who founded Stratus Plastics in 2005 and who serves as the company’s president — attributes the growth not just to the aforementioned ethic of hard work, but also to an eagerness to embrace new technology.

WORKING THE WEBSITE

The company has recently installed a Negri Bossi Amico wireless remote teleservice system, for example, that produces live online viewing of production runs for its customers. The video feed originates from a dedicated IP camera fitted atop each of the Negri Bossi injection molding machines that Stratus Plastics use exclusively. Customers can watch their mold tryouts in a secure area of Stratus Plastics’s website without having to leave their offices, and can even arrange conference calls so that several people can watch from different locations.

“We’ll schedule a customer for a production test run at a certain time on a certain day,” Stratus Plastics’s John Kasanovic explained. “We then give them a specific password and username that allows them to log onto the video camera section of our website.”

In addition to viewing the tryout or production run in real-time, Kasanovic continued, customers have access to variety of relevant production data displayed on their computer screens. “They can also use directional controls made available on the screen to pan to the left or the right, up or down, or zoom in to focus on a problem area.”

According to Wu, real-time viewing is a valuable tool in helping domestic plastics processors remain competitive. “Every penny counts these days,” Wu said. “We have to assist our customers in cutting their expenses, and we can do that by allowing them to watch mold tryouts and production runs online in real-time from anywhere in the world. It’s high tech, it’s something different and so far all of our customers love it.”

ENTER THE INTERNET

Wu and his colleagues at Stratus Plastics are also aware of the value of the Internet in attracting potential new business, and have positioned themselves so that, when certain keywords or terms are entered, the company’s name will be among the first to pop up during Google or Yahoo engine searches. “We regularly check the Google and Yahoo engines to make sure that we are maintaining a primary position,” Kasanovic said. “And if we can’t be the first company that a prospective customer sees, we try to make sure that we’re at least on the first page, which is what most people focus on.”

A final ingredient to Stratus Plastics’s success, according to Wu, is a reliance on the latest in injection molding machine technology for mold tryouts and production runs. The company has just taken possession of a new 2,000 ton Negri Bossi machine, and plans to add two additional Negri Bossi models — a 3,000 ton and a 4,000 ton — within the next two years.

“Prices are cheaper overseas and things can be done very quickly there, which means that North American companies have to be more flexible to attract new business,” Wu said. “Fortunately, the technology to do so is there; you just have to find ways to make it work.”

Bill Wu (right) and an employee on the shop floor at Stratus Plastics International Inc. ‘s new facility in Oldcastle, Ont.CPL

CPIA restructures to focus resources

To modify an old advertising slogan, this isn’t your father’s Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA) anymore.

The year 2007 is proving transitional for the venerable organization, as it restructures to remain financially viable. “There was a profit in only one of the past ten years, and that was a small profit,” Serge Lavoie, CPIA president and CEO, told Canadian Plastics. “It was clear that the [service] delivery model was not working.”

As a partial remedy, early this year the CPIA switched to a “user pay” system of providing services to its members, whereby annual membership dues — which are based on a member company’s sales volume — have been divided into “participation units.” Under this new system, members must allocate one of their units to core services, which can amount to between 20 to 33 per cent of total dues. The rest of a member’s dues go to the regions and councils of their choice. The CPIA has four regions — Western Canada, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada — and seven councils: Composites Council of Canada, Construction Council, Machinery Council, Mould Makers Council of Canada, Canadian Natural Composites Council, Plastic Film Manufacturers Council of Canada, and the Vinyl Council of Canada. “From now on, the budgets of our regions and councils will be based on what our members give them,” Lavoie explained.

The exception to this is the “Big Four” resin company members — Dow, Imperial Oil, NOVA Chemicals and Petromont — that are allocating 100 per cent of their dues to core services, defined as promotion and protection of the plastics brand through advocacy, issues management, government relations and domestic and international trade shows.

The CPIA will further examine, and possibly “tweak”, its new service delivery model at an upcoming board meeting in July, Lavoe said. But it’s clear that, as of July, the CPIA’s regional staff positions will disappear, although those staff may end up performing other functions within the association. For example, Duncan Cross, who manages CPIA’s Atlantic regional office in Halifax, is already taking care of the Composites Council.

The exception is Quebec, where the provincial government provides substantial funding. “We’ve guaranteed that there will always be a Quebec office,” Lavoie said. CPIA members in Quebec allocate one of their “participation units” to core services, one to the Quebec region and the rest to other services, he explained.

The CPIA’s membership levels and staff size are also in flux. Membership peaked at 450 in 2001-2002 and has been falling ever since. At present, the CPIA numbers 400 members, 300 of whom are Class One voting members. Full time staff now numbers 20, down one third from three years ago. Nine senior level staff positions have been eliminated in that time frame, with the most recent departure being Atul Sharma, formerly director of the Ontario region and the association’s economist, who joined the Toronto office of public relations firm Hill & Knowlton in February.

Here, too, the shape of a new, leaner CPIA can be seen. “We’ve been moving from high level generalist staff to contracted specialists,” Lavoie said. At present, the association employs twelve contract employees, and plans to draw on other resources where it can. Sharma, for example, will still work for the CPIA on a contract basis for business concerning the Ontario government, Lavoie said; and the association is also seeking the services of a freelance economist to prepare quarterly economic reports.


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