Monday conversation: Nicolet Plastics molds streamlined business

June 20, 2013

Nathan Phelps

Press-Gazette Media

RIVERVIEW — Each week, Press-Gazette Media talks with area businesses and business leaders for its Monday Conversation.

This week, Bob Macintosh, president and CEO of Nicolet Plastics in Oconto County, talks about the company’s adoption of Quick Response Manufacturing principles and how the business stays competitive in a global market.

Nicolet Plastics operates 16 machines and offers 246 combinations of materials, from consumer-grade plastics to high-end engineering materials.

The company, which has 63 employees, was recently selected as the Small Manufacturer of the Year at the 9th annual Manufacturing Leadership 100 Awards in Florida.

Q. What does Nicolet Plastics Inc. make?

A. We’re a custom injector molder. We make throw-away components that support some of our customers and how they package and ship their product all the way up to high-end medical devices used in MRI imaging.

What we manufacture here is time and that’s what really separates us from other molders, and many other manufacturers. Everything we do here is about time... Time is money. Our focus is on eliminating white space.

Most manufacturing organizations, plastics in particular, they’re looking at about a 21-day lead time. We’ve taken seven days out of that and we’re working to get that down to seven days by the end of the year.

Q. How tough has that been?

A. It’s not for the feint of heart. What you’re challenging is a lot of the tried-and-true manufacturing philosophies: long runs are better, you don’t have to do as many set-ups. We do more than 5,000 set-ups a year, so we better be good at it.

Focusing on time does make a difference and it really sets a way for businesses to succeed in a global environment, especially here stateside. It’s a way for us to differentiate ourselves.

A lot of the business that went overseas (went after) large volume. ... That’s not the business we’re after. We’re after low to moderate high-mix business. We do anywhere from under 100 parts a year to a little over a million parts a year

Q. Where do your products end up?

A. Most of the original equipment manufacturers we serve are headquartered here, or have a significant presence in Wisconsin. We ship to Mexico, Ireland, Italy, China, Australia and to Germany.

Export shipping is less than 10 percent of our business.

Q. What’s the landscape look like for hiring right now?

A. Businesses are having difficulty recruiting talent. ... Getting the right talent is the key to success. We’ve learned over time what we need.

We’re looking for individuals who have the right combination of the desire to learn and a personality to work in a team environment. We can always teach them the skills. If they have the aptitude and the will, we can teach them the skills. It’s finding people who want to be part of this environment.

Manufacturing is not what their parents told them, it’s all about technology today. ... I want you for your ears, your eyes and your mind. If we need your back and your brawn, then we need to find a way to automate it or help you with the job.

Q. Has your location in the northwoods been a factor?

A. It has its challenges and it has its benefits. One of the things we like to tell our new employees is one of the benefits of working at Nicolet is, no matter what shift you are working, when you leave and go home you’re on vacation — everybody else has to drive here.

On the other side of it, sourcing our talent can be challenge, but that’s been steadily improving.

Bob Macintosh

Click here for more information. »