Thermoforming at its Best

Productive Plastics
Written by Claire Suttles

During its more than fifty years in the plastics industry, Productive Plastics has become a contract plastics manufacturer of choice for customers across many industries. Productive Plastics has continued to innovate to find new ways to add value for its clients, increase efficiency in its operations and maximize the quality of its production.
Productive Plastics has grown to into an industry leader, always in pursuit of excellence and profitable growth. It differentiates itself by focusing on core values of honesty, integrity, respect and fairness and by investing in its people and processes. These values have served as a catalyst for generations of growth and success in the family-owned and managed company.

For Evan Gilham, chief operating officer of Productive Plastics and the third generation of Gilham to join the company, marketing the company is easy: get the parts out in the market and educate the customer as to why the products are superior.

“We have to do the cost savings. We have to do the ongoing improvements to make sure we’re competitive in the marketplace, but what’s really going to set us apart is our innovation and our commitment to bringing value to the customer.”

Speaking with Gilham, you quickly get a sense of the pride he has in the company’s operations and success, as well as the generations of knowledge that is present at Productive Plastics. The company was founded by his grandfather in 1955 with a bonus he had received upon returning from service in World War II.

Evan’s father joined the family business after completing college. He drove the next wave of growth and helped the company transition to a plastics processor in the 1970s. In 1980, Productive Plastics added pressure thermoforming to its menu, which increased the company’s aesthetic offerings and ability to customize and lowered up-front tooling costs in the process.

Multi-axis CNC routing capacities were added in 1985, with rapid prototyping and CAD/CAM technology adopted in the 1990s. By increasing its abilities, Productive Plastic was able to better serve the needs of its customers, with comprehensive solutions from ‘art-to-part’.

What started in Runnemede, New Jersey as a six-man woodshop specializing in tooling for foundry and fiberglass applications, has now grown to become a leading contract thermoformed plastic manufacturer. Its manufacturing abilities including pressure thermoforming, twin sheet thermoforming and vacuum thermoforming.

In the manufacturing process known as thermoforming, a plastic sheet is heated until it is soft enough to be pliable and pulled onto a mould using vacuum – Pressure Forming gives a highly detailed part with pressure assistance – cooled and then trimmed. The process can produce hundreds of parts per hour.

Defining itself as a solutions provider, as opposed to merely a parts and commodities maker, Productive Plastics has earned a reputation for quality output and project success. It brings innovative solutions for full product development cycles – from prototype to production.

Gilham and Productive Plastics understand that customers are, “looking for unique”. Many of its customers do not want to hold inventory, yet still want a very competitive price. “We’ve dealt with a lot of heavily engineered materials and customers that are looking for a very tight aesthetic look.”

Productive Plastics offers custom plastic manufacturing and value-added services including engineering, design, tooling and assembly. It provides these services to original equipment manufacturers and other manufacturers that are in search of quality products with exceptional service and support.

According to Gilham, one of the primary values the company adds for its customers is in assisting them through the process of, “selecting which process makes sense for their covers, because we’ve got some guidelines we use on what volumes make sense, what size of parts makes sense and what kind of tooling makes sense”.

Thermoforming processes come in at a fraction of the cost of structural foam or injection molding, offer customers unique design possibilities for complex designs and helps customers to achieve an ideal look and display. The company offers customers color options, high gloss finishes, complex shapes, surface texturing, distortion printing and design continuity. And all can be done at a competitive price.

“The big sell of pressure forming versus vacuum forming in our process is: you are getting a very large panel – with comparatively low tooling costs – that looks like an injection molded part. You get those nice flowing lines; you can get textures; you can get logos; you can get writing embossed right into the part.”

Several industries are well-served by thermoforming, using both products and components manufactured by Productive Plastics. “Our major markets that we operate within right now are with medical, kiosk and industrial products,” Gilham said. “The areas that we are trying to get a larger presence in are bus interiors and exteriors and aircraft interiors.”

Plastic thermoforming is an ideal solution for customers with volume requirements of 250 to 3,000 parts, as well as for those who require larger parts. Productive Plastics specializes in heavy-gauge thermoforming commonly used for kiosks, medical device enclosures, fitness machine components, mass transportation interior components and in industrial equipment.

Productive Plastics can save customers anywhere between forty to sixty percent of the cost of tooling and injection molding. The company addresses customers’ needs at a lower cost while still delivering results on time and in accordance with specifications. This custom plastic thermoforming brings great flexibility to the original equipment manufacturer marketplace.

“We truly believe that our customers should have a strategic advantage in doing business with us over our competitors, and that doesn’t just mean price. Price is a component, but it also has to be in the value that we bring,” said Gilham.

The company educates and informs its customers, helping them to understand how Productive’s solutions can add value, save costs and maximize both design and output. Listening closely to customers’ specifications, Productive Plastics makes every effort to meet them, reducing the need for multiple conversations and offering them a proven streamlined process.

One of the ways in which this quality is guaranteed in through ISO 9001:2008 certification at the current 68,000 square foot facility in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. The state of the art site is a far cry from the shop in which it started. The facility enables Productive to manage and deliver customers’ project goals while supporting the range of services it offers.

Gilham said that Productive Plastics was able to complete a recent project in half the time it took competitors for a similar project. The large components required high-tolerance tooling using the pressure-forming processes. Productive streamlined the customer consultation and tooling process, limited the time dedicated to project management, cut lead times and, ultimately, delivered faster results.

The engineering expertise at Productive Plastics comes from deep industry knowledge. Its core values and system of controls that ensure consistent quality, vibrancy and design are combined with lean manufacturing processes.

“That really starts with making sure that it’s got the right tooling selection at the beginning,” explained Gilham, “that we have the right specifications, the right tolerances, that we keep track of time, that we do the due diligence together to make sure that we’ve got their quality systems covered.”

Productive Plastics has been recognized for its quality, receiving gold and silver awards from the 2015 SPE Thermoforming Division Conference for the two entries it submitted. The entries demonstrated Productive Plastics’ expertise and engineering prowess as a contract manufacturer for the medical diagnostics equipment industry.

The gold award winner in the heavy gauge/combined value-added assembly category was an MRI scanning unit made from ten thermoformed parts created with cast molds and machined molds. The silver award was presented in the heavy gauge/combined value-added assembly category for an automated medical diagnostic test machine consisting of seven different pressure-formed parts.

Both projects exhibited Productive Plastics’ attention to detail and the ability to overcome engineering challenges with ease to customize solutions to meet customers’ diverse needs. “To receive two awards from the prestigious SPE Thermoforming Division, it really helps to validate some of the things that Productive has been working on over the last five to six years,” said Gilham.

“What I tell my team is: ‘we’re not only trying to grow the business here at Productive, but we are looking to be legitimate ambassadors of the thermoforming process.’” The production quality at Productive Plastics is reflective of not only internal quality standards but also the thermoforming industry as a whole. One poor engineering performance can misrepresent thermoforming as a process.

“The way that we grow – the way that the processes improve – gives us an edge over our competitors,” Gilham stated.

“We’re really trying to expand in a controlled way, using the things that we already know about the process or about the materials to service these customers,” he added. “In the future, what are the services that we can provide to our customers from both the standpoint of engineering support, as well as looking at additional processes like 3D printing?”

As it looks towards the future and the possibilities for expansion, not just in the markets being served but in new clients, additional projects and capabilities, Productive Plastics can help mould customers’ ideas into reality.



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