The best suppliers are the ones you can consider partners—those you can count on today, and long into the future. When choosing a supplier, stability and vision are important values that can make the difference between success and failure.
New Berlin Plastics controls its destiny through a clear vision of investing in people, process, and technology – the three pillars of our business. Company leaders Joseph Mechery (VP of Sales), Karl Held (Business Development Manager), and Eric Pipkin (Manufacturing Manager) recently chatted about how these investments are making the company more stable and reliable than ever before – even while weathering the most turbulent economic and market conditions in recent memory.
What is the future vision for New Berlin Plastics?
Mechery: We’re focused on sustainable growth by selectively and intelligently expanding the company. We will continue to expand our capacity and capabilities, but we want to do so while limiting potential disruption for ourselves and our customers.
To accommodate additional workflow and prepare for further growth, we are working toward adding 45,000 sq. ft. of production space to our New Berlin production facility. Our goal is to have this expansion complete by the end of 2022.
How do people, process, and technology form the pillars of your business?
Held: We take a holistic approach to ensure that we continually improve our processes, leverage technologies in smart and effective ways, retain talented employees, and recruit quality people.
We’ve also recently formed a new Strategic Initiative Group, which is made up of leaders from across the organization. We meet weekly to identify obstacles and implement strategies to address them in all areas of our business.
What’s your approach to retaining quality employees?
Mechery: We’re always striving to make employees feel more connected to what they’re doing – so they feel like they’re part of the organization, not just a cog in a machine. To do that, we hold quarterly all-shift town hall meetings where anyone can ask questions.
In addition, we recently installed a multimedia center on the production floor. This provides employees with information and insights into the daily operations on the production floor. Plus, we strive to provide our employees a reason to come to work every day by ensuring the environment is safe, ergonomic, and appealing.
How is your vision reflected in your approach to hiring people?
Held: We recently took stronger control of our hiring process by bringing more of that activity in-house. We now have a second member on our HR team who works to identify quality candidates and fill open positions, as well as provide general HR support. Plus, we just created a position for a training coordinator to improve the onboarding process for our new hires and provide additional support after they are onboarded.
We must give people the tools they need to be successful through training, support, and knowledge. They should feel comfortable working here from the moment they walk in the door. In the last year, we’ve filled roles we didn’t have before in training, shipping/receiving, automation, and manufacturing engineering.
What are some of your recent process improvements?
Pipkin: We are a process-driven organization, which means we have processes for every operational function like quoting, engineering, building tools, getting samples, and shipping. Having these documented processes is the foundation of our stability and predictability.
These processes are also regularly reviewed to determine if there are improvements to be made. The activities surrounding process improvement throughout the company are ongoing.
What are some of your recent improvements in technology?
Pipkin: We’ve been investing in more inspection equipment to get parts through the qualification process faster. Our automation lab is growing, which was partially driven by labor shortages and pandemic constraints. We’ve converted some repetitive, labor-intensive jobs to automation to be more efficient and cost competitive. We also added a new 3D printer to expand our capabilities related to making our own end-of-arm tooling to accelerate project timelines through in-house capabilities.
We’ve also automated aspects of validating the dimensional integrity of our parts. By adding additional data-driven layers of quality assurance at the point of production, we improve our production efficiencies while removing risk for both us and our customers.
How have you maintained your commitment to reinvest in the future during the turbulence of the last 12-18 months?
Held: It’s a deeply embedded part of our culture to reinvest in the company year after year. It’s what we’ve always done, regardless of economic conditions and other challenges.
We avoid taking on unnecessary debt and constantly look for ways to reduce costs. A great example is our launch process and the proprietary software associated with it, called LaunchLogic. It has enabled us to manage more projects, while staying on time, without increasing our project engineering headcount.
This conservative, purposeful approach keeps us financially stable. Throughout 2020, while other molders were in financial distress and operating more conservatively, we were well positioned to continue reinvesting in our operations.
New Berlin Plastics is very selective in choosing OEMs to work with. What does your ideal customer look like?
Mechery: We choose customers who understand the value of the services we provide. We approach them for long-term relationships, not one-off projects. The value we provide exceeds the per-piece price point and leads to a lower total cost of ownership in the long run. They are paying for stability, reliability, and excellent service.
We know that a cheaper part price may initially satisfy the purchasing department. But when you end up returning batches of defective parts to the molder, or aren’t receiving the level of service you expect from your supplier, you’re actually losing time and money. That is not providing value. By building trust, we want to grow together and have a mutually beneficial relationship with our customers.
How does being privately held give you an advantage over molders owned by private equity firms?
Held: We have a culture of looking at the long term instead of supporting initiatives that may make a short-term profit. A publicly-traded company is more focused on a quarterly outlook to keep their investors happy. It’s a very short-term focus. We’re able to look ahead 10 years or more to achieve our vision. That gives us greater stability and predictability in our operations.
Mechery: We think of our customers as investors. Twice a year, we produce a customer investor report that communicates the proactive ways we’re supporting our growth, which assures them that they’ve made a good choice in partnering with us.