Plastics for all Seasons and Cycles
EVCO Plastics is a highly-skilled injection molding company with tool building capabilities. It is known for having the ability to complete technically difficult work and high-volume runs. Currently, EVCO is investing in infrastructure and expanding operations in the USA, Mexico and China to accommodate future growth in a number of industries.
Dale’s mother and father started Evans Plastics in 1948 in a Quonset hut in Madison, Wisconsin. His father Don had always been interested in plastics. The designer and draftsman had attended the University of Wisconsin and enjoyed playing around with his craft when an investment from his father-in-law permitted the inception of Evans Plastics. In 1964, Don sold to his brother-in-law what would become called Zeier Manufacturing.
“Zeier Manufacturing is still in business. My cousin runs it. So, we started over in our basement and built a small 1,200 square foot building in DeForest, which ushered in the beginnings of EVCO – very humble beginnings. It grew, and I graduated from college in 1973 and worked to start our engineering department.”
By 1981, Dale’s mother and father retired to Nevada and gave him the keys. It was not a large operation but had two facilities: one in DeForest and the other in Oshkosh. Shortly afterward, it opened in Georgia, added to the Oshkosh facility, entered into China, added a medical plant and expanded into Mexico.
The key to EVCO’s success lies in its customer diversity; the power sports industry may be on a downturn or out of season while the medical or packaging markets are strong. In this way, there is always a strong segment to counter the weaker ones. “Every industry has its cycles. One of the things we have tried to do is to balance those cycles with different industries against each other. Every industry has those cycles and we would watch that very closely.”
The company’s biggest market segment is industrial, and this accounts for over twenty-five percent of its business. Supplying products for the agricultural sector is another significant portion of its business. Historically, EVCO has concentrated on parts for appliances, plumbing, lawn and garden tools and, most recently, the power sports, medical and packaging sectors.
EVCO expanded production into China in the mid-eighties. At first, this was mainly for mold building since some of its clients were having molds built in Taiwan, but the quality was lacking. By 1989, it opened its facility in Shenzhen, controlling the source of raw materials and steel.
Gradually, EVCO went from merely building molds in Shenzen to injection molding and sampling. “When you start sampling molds, you put in an injection molding machine, and pretty soon, you do pilot runs before entering into production. We started a separate injection molding facility over there, but recently we merged them back together and are moving into a new facility.”
EVCO’s Chinese facility recently started running weekend and night shifts unattended, and that is noteworthy. “The things we have done in the U.S. to be competitive, we are also doing now in China, and if that means unattended operations, then we will eventually run some part of our business in China unattended.”
The majority of EVCO’s clients are large firms that appreciate the company’s ability to produce product around the globe. EVCO can make parts in the US, Mexico or China and is looking to expand operations into Europe. In this way, it satisfies the needs of global clients, and can do the engineering and designs wherever it needs to.
“You make contact with people, develop relationships and make sure that whatever part of the world you are needed in, you are there – within limits of course. Everybody is reducing overhead, and they want to deal with one person – one entity – and then have it made wherever it can. It becomes easier for them.”
Currently, EVCO is working with a client on a ninety-mold build. For that, people in all parts of the world must be working on the project in parallel to get it done.
EVCO builds large parts in the US and is expanding its large part manufacturing abilities in order to do that. “You can’t just ship air across the world. It’s much more efficient to mold large parts here in the USA and distribute them, since shipping costs are less of an issue, than shipping air freight or on containers from abroad. We’ve been going strong on that, and it’s been working pretty well for us.”
EVCO is very active with the chambers of commerce at both the local and state levels and feels that it is important to do this so people understand what the company does, how it accomplishes this and what is needed from students who could become future employees.
“For over twenty-five years, EVCO Plastics has sponsored a work-study program with its hometown high school in Deforest, Wisconsin. That’s a big reason why the custom injection molder has won the PN Excellence Award for industry and public service.” The PN Excellence Award is given by Plastics News, the news magazine of the plastics industry.
Dale has also been involved as an adviser on local Deforest Area high school committees, as well as a wrestling coach and sponsor for thirty years. “I graduated from there; our people graduated from there, so we see a lot from them, but we also deal in other parts of the world with their local high school communities. We try to let kids know more about manufacturing in order to increase their understanding.”
EVCO has three facilities in Mexico: two are in Monterrey, and the third is located in Juarez. In Monterrey, there is one plant that is focused on smaller machines and a second which operates larger presses. The smaller one was designed for about fourteen machines. It is centralized with secure handling, drying, air conditioning and all the necessary amenities. There are now thirty machines in operation. This was accomplished when the company added small-part molding abilities by using some of the space it had previously dedicated to shipping bays to double its capacity.
The large machine facility was its first plant in Monterrey. “The guys are really strong in lean manufacturing, and because of that, we were able to eliminate some more warehousing and other things that we had internally, so we added another bay and added our first 2,500 ton machine there. The largest we had before was 1,100 tons, so it’s a big step and we have room for a couple more.”The power sport business in Mexico is booming – along with the strong automotive sector – and EVCO is at its forefront providing molded components.
EVCO has made the move into returnable packaging with their EVPAC product, which saves the client money despite the expense needed to store it. “With one-time-use, you’ve got a bunch of boxes that you can make up and tape together before shipping the product out the door. With returnables, you look for what is sustainable. You not only have to have the boxes that you ship out with the product, but you have to bring them back in, and they cannot collapse. This is a challenge as it takes up about twice as much storage space. However, we are really pushing returnable packaging to our clients for sustainability and cost savings.”
Finding skilled employees is another challenge, and, to remedy this, the focus has been on internal training. The company will look to reliable, talented people within the organization and ask if they would like to get into robotics. EVCO sends them off to school, pays for it and a few years later it has a skilled professional. It has also been offering tool and die and mold making apprenticeships for forty years.
For the last twenty years, EVCO has been using the pay-for-knowledge system. “You don’t give a pay rise on seniority; you get it on increased knowledge. This can also work with internal training. Also, the local technical college [Madison Area Technical College] has, for the last twenty years, held classes in our buildings where we do a lot on the technical side.”
EVCO is always adding to its production capacity and replacing old equipment. It invested twice as much in 2015 as it did in 2014 in new equipment and facilities to prepare for the future. The company goal is quite ambitious; it aims to double in size every eight to ten years. Dale is always looking at what measures are needed in order to achieve this.
As to the company’s determination to succeed, Dale refers to the book ‘Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… And Others Don’t’ by Jim Collins.
“The thing I got out of it is that you can have different manufacturing styles, but you really have to bet the right horse. You really have to pick the right industry, and you really have to pick the right business in that industry. Then you have to go after them and keep them satisfied in what you are doing, and grow with them. Because if you pick the wrong client, it doesn’t matter what we do; we will eventually fail.”