A Look Back at 2021 Through Molders’ Eyes
Plastics Technology’s On Site articles, as the name would suggest, are typically based on an in-person tour at a plastics processor. As everything is these days, these articles were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. On Site’s completed in 2020 for publication in early 2021 were reported remotely, including visits with Plastikos, Plastic Molding Technology (PMT) and Trademark Plastics.
As vaccination rates climbed, and the virus’ spread seemed to ebb, in-person plant tours were again possible at D&M Plastics and MDS Manufacturing. It goes without saying that all these molders were impacted by COVID-19, with some directly manufacturing products specifically to deal with the outbreak, but none were forced to shut down over the pandemic.
All these molders were impacted by another issue that was exacerbated by COVID-19—staffing.
Peyton “Chip” Owen, owner of D&M Plastics LLC (Burlington, Ill.) was still trying to get a handle on the market when I visited last fall. “I have no idea if people are starting to feel more comfortable because they’re vaccinated,” Owen said. “I don’t know how many people were staying home because they could make more money staying home then they could working, but over the last two or three months, we’ve had a lot of success in filling open positions.” That success had included former employees who had left, coming back. Something’s going right,” Owen said, while rapping on the table in D&M’s conference room. “Knock on wood.”
When I spoke with Bryan Barrera, chief operating officer at Trademark Plastics, he echoed Owen on the challenge of finding and keeping staff in the pandemic. “We ran very lean pre-COVID, but once COVID hit, it was hard with the scarce resources that we had.” Barrera said. “It is true, whether people believe it or not, that a lot of people are being paid to stay home instead of work—they’re being paid more to stay home. So because of that, it’s been very difficult for us to get the resources that we need. So we’ve been forced even further, to get into automation.”
Automation helped Trademark, but the year was challenging, nonetheless, from a staff standpoint. “I’m not going to lie, it’s been difficult to track [retention] this year with COVID. I know that it was improving and then COVID hit,” Barrera said. “We’ve had some employees quit because of COVID; we’ve had some employees quit because it has been a tough year. I would say our retention rate is is not that great, but it’s not that bad either if that makes any sense.
Keeping Open, Keeping Safe
Paramount for all the molders I spoke with was keeping the staff they did have safe during the outbreak. “We said from the very beginning that, ‘If you get sick, and you have to stay home, we will pay you. I don’t care what the government says; I don’t care what the state says. If you get sick, stay home for 14 days, we’ll continue to pay you and come back when you feel better and you test negative,’” Owen said.
At Trademark, the company utilized rapid testing at the nearby Ontario airport to stay ahead of the outbreak. “Whenever we had an infection, whoever was in direct contact with the person, even with a mask on, we’d send them to get tested, and pay for rapid test out of pocket,” Barrera said. “We’ve spent a lot of money on that, but it’s worked out big time.” In addition, Trademark’s facilities department has been working overtime to make sure everything’s sanitized at least once a day. “I have a lot of fear and respect for COVID,” Barrera said, noting that the sanitation routing, automatic temperature sensors, rapid sanitizer guns, are all going to stay at the company. “It’s become our new normal.”
At MDS Manufacturing (St. Louis, Mo.), as difficult as the pandemic has been, it has also presented some opportunities. “We’re very busy and it’s kind of an odd thing to say but the pandemic has been a blessing for the markets we’re serving,” Mike Skaggs, company VP said. “The [Paycheck Protection Program] was a God send for us. We took advantage of all those things that we could. It was helpful; it got us through; and we never missed one single day.”
Brothers Dave (left) and Mike Skaggs of MDS Manufacturing weathered the pandemic without any shutdowns. They will be the focus on January’s 2022’s On Site.
Photo Credit: MDS Manufacturing
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