All plastic manufacturers are not equal. At a time when manufacturing as a whole is on the verge of a boom, the consumer has more and more options. And it’s not just about cost. Manufacturers are becoming more diversified. They are putting a renewed emphasis on customer service as a way to compete. Most importantly, they are eager to please a new generation of customers with changing needs.
Below are a few key factors to consider when selecting a plastics manufacturer.
Plastics manufacturing is not one-size-fits-all, and for that reason, they offer different services with different end results.
For example, some manufacturers focus on tried and true plastic injection molding. It’s a technique that involves injecting plastic directly into a mold to create new plastic parts and components. A similar option takes plastic injection molding to a next step during which gas is blown into the center of the object so that a new hollowed-out product can be created.
And then there is 3D printing, which has been taking the plastics manufacturing industry by storm in recent years. This technique involves placing layer on top of layer until a single-piece, self-supporting product can be completed. A 3D printer is programmed to create consistent products and can make virtually anything, as long as it is one piece and can stand on its own during production.
As manufacturers vary by technique, they vary in size, as well.
In recent years, manufacturers have trended toward local, smaller facilities that focus more on customized production. A larger customer might have a need for greater output in less time, meaning that company would seek out a manufacturer with much higher capacity. Smaller customers, or ones that do not require large batches of product on-demand, might find it more beneficial to do business with a smaller manufacturer that can more easily tailor a production run, as bulk production is less of an issue.
Similarly, customers have options when it comes to facility location. Years ago, it made more sense for manufacturers to coalesce around major transportation hubs, as bulk shipments were the most economical option. Today, however, it is becoming more common to see manufacturing “clusters” in regions where manufacturing previously had limited presence.
Part of the reason for this shifting trend is mentioned above — customers like a more personal touch, and they like to have greater control over the process. As a result, customers have increased options to go local. However, for other customers, it still makes sense to go with bulk manufacturers that can ship far and wide.
The number of people on staff at a manufacturing facility is important, and so is the level of expertise. With technology changing manufacturing as quickly as it is, it certainly benefits the customer to go with a manufacturer that can boast a staff full of skilled and adaptable workers. Find out the level of training of the manufacturing staff, and don’t be shy about asking specific questions — such as average length of employment at the facility.
Another thing to consider is how much of the work can be done in-house. Does the facility employ an in-house engineer who is available to guide the production run from start to finish? And what about prototypes? Does the facility have an informed staff capable of helping you actually improve your product?
The good plastics manufacturers of old are still around, and for good reason. They’ve earned a reputation for serving a very specific customer base. Many manufacturers will boast their bigger name customers. It pays for customers to take the additional steps of researching the manufacturer to find out what is and is not working.
Learn the reasons behind the reputation. Is it quality of product? Level of customer service? Depending on the nature of a business, factors like that can be very important when selecting a plastics manufacturer.
Steve Erickson is the Vice President of Sales and Engineering at First American Plastic, headquartered in South Beloit, IL. First American Plastic Molding Enterprise is the leading injection molding manufacturer servicing to a variety of industries since 1993.