Polyfab Molds a New Niche

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When Polyfab Corp. lost its biggest customer last year, the company had to figure out how to make up for a loss of 36 percent of its business.

The Sheboygan custom plastic injection molder’s main customer was in the food production business and decided to bring its molding production in house.

Polyfab was resilient, though, and worked to make up for the loss in production quickly, so there wouldn’t be any layoffs.

“We went out and tried to do everything we could to increase sales,” said president Rick Gill.

Polyfab found a new and even bigger customer, making plastic parts such as valves for a company that distributes the piping and fittings for supplying natural gas.

As a result, the company hired six new employees to meet the demand. It now has 75 employees at its 50,000-square-foot facility.

Polyfab also makes lids for antibacterial and disinfectant wipes and the dispenser buttons for the country’s largest water cooler manufacturer.

From 2011 to 2012, a number of its customers have grown 10 to 20 percent, which means more orders for Polyfab.

Molds are built in an on-site tool room. Then they are tested to assure accuracy and consistency of production. It can take up to 24 weeks to build a new mold.

There’s a lot of work done before production starts on a new part, but it’s important, Gill said.

“In the natural gas industry, if you make a bad part you can blow up a house,” he said.

Polyfab is a family business started by Rick’s parents, John and Millie Gill, in 1971. Since he took over as president in 1985, Rick has focused on increasing process automation.

“The cost of labor is high in America,” he said. “We want to be competitive by doing as much as we can with automation.”

Most of Polyfab’s customers are within 200 or 300 miles, keeping shipping costs fairly low.

“We have a very competitive industry. There’s a lot of molders out there,” Rick Gill said. “We work very hard to take care of our customers.”

Polyfab makes plastic parts by vacuuming plastic pellets from its silos to the press machines. It may color the pellets, depending on customer design. Then, the pellets are melted and squirted into the mold at very high pressure, about 20 to 25 pounds per square inch.

The injection molds and presses are cooled with water during the speedy process.

The company’s 500-ton press, for example, can make about 54,000 disinfectant wipe lids per day.

A robotic arm grabs and closes the lids. Then they are sent down a conveyor belt for a photo quality check and into a box to be shipped.

Each product has its own automated process. Polyfab makes everything from the plastic webbing in baby gates to the handles on spatulas to a part for a medical suction device.

Employees are vital in monitoring the machines and checking parts for accuracy.

“My dad hired a lot of people and trained them from the ground up,” Gill said. “We’ve hired good people and really built up the team we have here.”

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