Nicolet Plastics Becomes Industry Leader
Quietly, an area industry has grown into one of the region’s top plastics producer, and there are no signs of slowing down.
Nicolet Plastics, a custom plastics injection molder and total solutions provider, was established by Current President and CEO Bob Macintosh and three partners in 1985 and incorporated in 1986. Macintosh had a customer service background, including a stint in the telecommunications business.
The company was originally located in a small garage about a mile from its current location, with a leased Newbury press. Today, Nicolet, an ISO 9001:2008-certified company, serves its ever-growing customer base from a 41,000 square-foot production facility, and focuses on complex industrial and medical components and assemblies.
“Nicolet Plastics, Inc. has always prided itself on being responsive to its customers – Fast, Fluid and Flexible,” Steve Laurent, production manager, said. “We felt we would be able to exploit complexity and make it work for us, rather than against us. In the end it is an opportunity to exploit a competitive advantage in a marketplace that has been focused on long run production, piece part optimization.”
The key to the company’s success is speed and flexibility, Laurent said. Time compression allows an organization to improve on all dimensions, including cost, variety, speed, and innovation.
“Responsiveness to the customer includes not only what they want, and when they want it, but at quantities that allow them to lower inventories and improve cash flow – the life blood of any business,” Laurent said. “In fact, we have added customers for which the quick response focus was a key factor in obtaining the business. Sales have doubled since the end of 2009.”
Those sales include plastics parts and components for a wide array of customers, from throwaway packaging to high end Medical parts for MRI.
“We have a diverse customer base, but the one commonality between them all is their need for a plastic injection molder that can deliver consistent products and solutions that drive down their costs and meet their volume needs,” Laurent said.
We specialize in low to moderate volume, highly complex, high material mix custom plastic parts and deliver Total Product Solutions for many of the nation’s largest and most successful companies.
The company is committed to being fast, fluid and flexible with the implementation of quick response manufacturing,
Laurent explained that in 2009, when the U.S. marketplace was struggling to survive, some of the industry trends in plastics reflected the trend of major multinational firms increasingly moving business offshore to get away from rising costs at home. A major part of that business that was leaving was the high volume, minimally complex plastic injection molded parts where companies took advantage of the abundant labor force and low wages to reduce overall costs of their projects.
“We realized ahead of this curve that in order to remain competitive, to strive and thrive in that manufacturing and economic landscape we had to exploit our strengths and turn weakness into opportunity,” Laurent said. “We noticed that although the high volume business was leaving, the low to moderate business at these companies was not able to take advantage of the offshore workforce, due in part to lack of technical skills and logistical costs and support of complex projects.”
Today, Nicolet Plastics has strategically positioned its business to support the changing needs of the marketplace, providing customers with what they want, when they want it, exactly what they need in the time frame they need it in.
“In order to meet those expectations, Nicolet Plastics is continually focusing on new technology, speed, and time,” Laurent said. “Our focus on time, and responding to customer needs means Nicolet Plastics is never boring. It’s exciting. Things are always changing based on time and innovation.”
Employees are encouraged to follow their passions and goals, with financial incentives for additional training,
“As technology continues to grow and innovate, so to must the existing employee pool,” Laurent said. “Being cross-trained and cross-functional is more important to a business than focusing on only one particular job or activity. Nicolet has recognized that developing a multi-skilled workforce is key to our future needs and employee needs. In order to be successful with this focus on the types of employees we need, Nicolet Plastics is making sure to set aside time specifically for training.”
The company is innovating with automation as much as it can, he said, freeing employees from redundant, repetitive work and allowing them to focus on more critical areas for growth and innovation.
“ We are not bringing people on board for their brawn, we need them to think strategically and have vision and a thirst for knowledge,” he stressed.
Taking into account the human element of motivation, incentives at Nicolet Plastics were designed to recognize and reward employees for the time and effort invested expanding their skill base. Employees are rewarded for technical abilities and willingness to learn new skills, participating in a credentialing program to grow individual production and process-related skills.
At Nicolet Plastics, Inc. employees begin training with a 90 day period of training. From there the company worked with an Apple Rewards/ Skills Matrix to drive cross training and enable employees to increase pay as they develop new skills. Skills are evaluated on relative difficulty, training, and how much on-the-job experience is required to master each skill. For every 10 apples earned, the employee receives an additional 50 cents an hour. By learning multiple new skills, thereby adding to both their and their team’s value, a worker has earning potential of up to $9 an hour beyond the entry-level rate.
Nicolet Plastics built the skills matrix, including both soft skills (interpersonal, ability to work in team environment) and hard skills (technical ability to start a press, do a mold change, understand quality levels and measurements). Once the skills were defined, the next step is to evaluate the employees in terms of skill levels. Written and practical testing is done to determine competency levels. From here, Nicolet Plastics can see what training would be needed to staff the ideal shift. Customized workforce training creates highly skilled, cross-functional employees.
Manufacturing Spotlight is a limited-term series that looks at some of the industries located in the Antigo area with an eye on letting potential employees understand the opportunities that exist in the region and the skills required. It is being done in cooperation with the Langlade County Economic Development Corporation and Northcentral Technical College. Comments and suggestions are always invited and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Antigo Daily Journal