Phu Tran: A lifetime of dedication to New Berlin Plastics

Phu Tran-celebrating 45 years at New Berlin Plastics

In this age of the Great Resignation, when people are quitting and changing jobs in record numbers, it’s hard to find people who have dedicated their working lives to one company. 

Phu Tran, who has worked in a variety of roles at New Berlin Plastics for 45 years, is one of those dedicated souls. He currently works as a Processing Engineer, creating the data-driven manufacturing processes that follow a tool throughout its time at New Berlin Plastics. Phu’s story is an inspiration to all of us at NBP. So, we’ve decided to honor his dedication by allowing him to share his story with you.

NBP: How did you come to work at New Berlin Plastics?

Phu: After the end of the Vietnam War, my family and I came to the U.S. as refugees. We were living in a camp near Pensacola, Florida. Families stayed there until someone sponsored them. I was a teenager at the time.

Fortunately, my family and I were sponsored by a family from a Lutheran church in New Berlin, Wisconsin. The father of that family was John Cook, the original owner of New Berlin Plastics. We arrived in New Berlin in March 1977. I still remember it well. We were very grateful that he sponsored us and gave us a fresh start in America.

Once we were settled in our new home, John offered me a job at NBP. I wasn’t old enough to operate a press, so I worked as a grinder, handling the regrinding of runners and scrap parts so they could be melted and used in new parts.

NBP: New Berlin Plastics was founded in 1975. You joined it in 1977 when it was only two years old. What was it like working for the company at that time?

Phu: It was pretty small. I think we had 10 presses and about 20 employees. I was immediately impressed by the way people at NBP treated each other like a family. I was treated very well and felt very welcome there.

NBP: How did your work at NBP change after that?

Phu: Over the years, I’ve done just about every job on the production floor. When I was old enough, I became a press operator. A few months later, I moved to the position of material handler, filling the hoppers on the presses with resin. I also worked as a set-up technician, preparing tools to run production orders on our presses.

Every step of the way the company invested in me, sending me to school to learn new skills. I love to learn, so I really enjoyed that. Recently, they even sent me to a Master Molder school in Traverse City, Michigan.

For the past 15 years, I have worked as a Processing Engineer.

NBP: What do you do in that role?

Phu: There are currently three of us at New Berlin Plastics, including me. When a mold for a new part arrives, we are the first ones to work with it and develop processes so that it can run efficiently on our presses. We then turn the project over to the set-up technicians who handle loading the molds into presses, and setting up the processes we develop for future production runs. 

Often, Project Engineers will bring an idea for mold design changes to us and ask us to give them feedback. We’ll tell them what we think, and we’ll often suggest changes to improve the mold. It’s a very collaborative environment.

NBP: What made you decide to stay at New Berlin Plastics for your entire adult working life?

Phu: Over the years, I’ve been approached by headhunters who have tried to convince me to consider other job opportunities. Some of them promised more money. But I feel comfortable and valued here. People treat me right. NBP has an excellent culture. That means a lot to me!

NBP: What is your most memorable experience at New Berlin Plastics?

Phu: It’s hard to single out one thing. There’s been so much over the years. I’ve seen many highs and lows during the last five decades.

What amazes me the most is how much technology has become a key part of the plastic injection molding process today. It’s a lot different than when I started working here 45 years ago.

NBP: In what ways?

Phu: Things like Scientific Injection Molding, where you’re using a lot of data and sophisticated formulas to ensure that the parts we produce are of consistently high quality. And technology like the RJG units we have connected to our customers’ tooling, which tells us what’s happening inside of it during the molding process. I love working with it! 

Forty-five years ago, it was a much more manual, trial-and-error process.

The other big change I’ve seen is in our customers. When I first started working here, they would accept every part we produced, without question. Today, they’re extremely picky about part quality – cosmetics, tolerances, and more. But we have processes and technology that enable us to achieve what our customers require.

NBP: In recent years, we’ve been adding more presses and we’re about to expand into a new building. What do you think about the path that New Berlin Plastics is currently on? 

Phu: During the last 10 years, I’ve seen some big-time growth. We’ve added a lot of presses, people, and capabilities. It’s great to be a part of a growing business with an excellent culture. 

I’d love to stick around to see what the next 10 years may bring, but I’ll probably retire in three years or so.

NBP: What would you say to a young person who may be considering a job opportunity at New Berlin Plastics?

Phu: If you’re willing to learn and like new challenges, NBP is a great place to work. I tell young people around the shop to learn everything they can about plastic injection molding. Go to school. I also try to serve as a mentor to them. I’m willing to teach them everything I’ve learned over the years.

New Berlin Plastics is willing to send you for training to learn new skills. In fact, we have two people currently taking classes on Scientific Injection Molding and three more will soon be heading to Traverse City for Master Molder training.

The real key to success here is a willingness to learn and grow. If you have that, the company will totally support you. I’m a perfect example of that.

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