Black swans – unanticipated events that can rock an industry – test the strength and resiliency of every company. During the last several years, a series of them have threatened the health and stability of many plastic injection molders: The global pandemic. Severe material shortages. The ongoing labor crisis. A sharp upturn in demand.
Turbulent times like these separate well-run companies from those that aren’t well managed. During good times, “a rising tide lifts all ships,” as the saying goes. Even poorly managed companies can be successful during an upturn. Strong revenues can mask inefficient processes, poorly considered business decisions, deferred maintenance, and a host of other unseen problems.
During a crisis, however, these shortcomings are laid bare. Here are several examples of how poor management can impact a plastic injection molder – and how New Berlin Plastics’ approach has kept it stable, growing, and able to meet its customers’ needs despite the most challenging marketplace in recent memory:
Deferred investment in equipment
Molders that didn’t plan for new presses and auxiliary equipment are now finding lead times for these items have grown to six months or longer. Those delays make it impossible to quickly add capacity, even as their customers are asking for increased part production to meet surging demand for their products.
Similarly, many critical wear parts for injection molding presses are on backorder. When a machine goes down, it may be sidelined for weeks or months, severely impacting the molder’s part production.
NBP’s approach: “We expanded our capacity well ahead of today’s supply chain disruptions by investing in additional presses and auxiliary equipment,” explains Business Development Manager Karl Held. That has enabled NBP to meet increased demand from customers who require more parts. It’s also gaining business from new customers, who are moving projects to NBP because their existing suppliers can’t keep up.
To continue to stay one step ahead of OEM demand, New Berlin Plastics recently signed a lease on a new building. “We hope to be molding parts in that building before the end of 2022,” he predicts.
New Berlin Plastics also puts all its presses through a yearly qualification process to ensure they’re providing the highest possible level of performance. “We replace those that aren’t able to maintain our high standards,” Held emphasizes.
New Berlin Plastics has also built a replacement inventory of key at-risk components to ensure if a press goes down, it can be repaired and back in production ASAP. Many of those key components are in short supply today.
Many injection molders aren’t run with the rigor of a focused, scalable business. When times get tough, their leadership may not know how to proactively solve problems, such as rising costs. “They may not even know they’re losing money, because they don’t adequately understand the fundamentals of their business,” reveals NBP President Jim Schneberger.
When demand spikes, like it is right now, they can’t scale the business quickly enough to keep pace with customer needs. “Remember, what we’re dealing with is a black swan event – something many business leaders have never seen before. They’re not sure what to do to fix the problems they’re facing,” Schneberger adds. If a customer pulls one or more parts from them, that tends to further exacerbate their financial problems.
NBP’s approach: “We are a business-driven molder, not a molder that happens to be a business,” Schneberger emphasizes. “We use tools and processes to manage our business that are typical of much larger firms. There are no silos here. Our management team looks at scalability from a holistic point of view. That makes us much more agile and flexible. When unexpected changes hit us, we’re able to analyze and address them quickly,” Schneberger points out.
An excellent example is the current economic recovery. For months, economists predicted a V-shaped recovery. In other words, it was expected to come roaring back quickly, not gradually as it usually does. North America was already facing supply chain challenges during the pandemic.
“It wasn’t hard to see that we needed to make some decisions early on to get out in front of the demand that we could see coming,” Held recalls. That drove investments in additional presses, plus an exploration of options for expanding production beyond the company’s existing building. “In retrospect, those decisions have enabled us to keep up with demand and even take on more work from new and existing customers,” he adds. Ultimately, it led to the decision in January 2022 to lease a second building.
We’re now in the midst of the Great Resignation when workers are leaving jobs in large numbers. The pandemic has given workers a unique opportunity to rethink the meaning of work and its role in their lives. They want to work where their opinions are respected, they’re treated fairly, are compensated well, and are doing work that matters.
“They want to know what’s going on and that you’re doing an effective job of managing change,” Schneberger points out. “If top performers don’t have that sense, they will leave,” he warns.
NBP’s approach: “Our workforce is everything,” Schneberger reflects. “We’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to create a culture where everyone is valued. We work very hard to engage their eyes and their brains, not just their hands.”
What does that mean? “We give people a lot of responsibility to make decisions, and we arm them with the data they need to do their jobs effectively and solve problems on their own, without a lot of red tape. Everyone is focused on our customers’ needs. They care about doing the work right,” Schneberger points out.
He adds that NBP briefs all its employees on the company’s status and goals regularly. “We help them understand the purpose behind our decisions and our desired end state. That has helped us to build a shared vision around our goals,” he explains.
How does New Berlin Plastics’ enlightened approach to managing its workforce benefit its customers?
“Our highly engaged workforce gives us the agility to react quickly to our customers’ growing needs. They’re the key to our success,” Schneberger says.
New Berlin Plastics is a conservatively managed, well-capitalized plastic injection molder that is positioned for strong growth in the years ahead. It has the capacity and expertise to take on its customers’ biggest plastic injection molding challenges.
Most importantly, it has the people, process, and technology needed to successfully take on whatever comes next.
Contact New Berlin Plastics today to discuss your injection molding needs.