Volume 6 Issue 7 August 2005
Doors of Distinction
Plastpro Takes Innovation and Customer Service
To New Heights
by Alan B. Goldberg
The story of Plastpro’s emergence as a leading manufacturer of fiberglass entry doors in the country is best told by Shirley Wang, founder and president. In her opening address to 300 guests at a company open house on June 3, 2005 in Ashtabula, Ohio, she described the company’s humble beginnings in an office in Livingston, N.J., in 1994.
Today, it remains the home of the corporate office. Plastpro got its start as a one-person operation, hiring three employees and a handful of reps as the tiny organization began to make in-roads into the entry door market with its innovative product.
“We wanted to build a product that was not only high quality but life-long,” said Wang.
She explained how the formation of Plastpro was based on 15 years of expertise in the family’s Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics, its core business of raw materials for plastics.
With this venture, the new company would gain the benefit of vertical integration and take products from a raw material stage to a finished product for the consumer market in the United States.
Wang stressed two characteristics that make Plastpro unique: innovation and a higher level of customer service.
“We are innovative about everything we do,” she said. “We are different and we do things differently. We do not follow the traditional methods of making doors. We visited inventors all over the world to get the most advanced techniques, equipment and materials so we could make a high quality product that would be truly different.”
Wang pointed out the value of listening to customers.
“We treat our customers in a very different way,” she said. “To us, they are like partners.
We ask them what they need. We don’t tell them what we are manufacturing.”
She described the sharing of ideas and close communications.
“We develop our products with help from our customers. They give us ideas and based on their suggestions, we make prototypes. There is no question that they are actively involved in the process.”
Wang explained that the company supports its customers, who are wholesale distributors and pro-shop/pro dealers, in every possible way.
“We do whatever they need to promote the products,” she said. “We produce their brochures, attend their meetings, go to special events. We are always there when they need us!”
Wang said that when the decision was made to enter the fiberglass entry door market, the goal from the outset was to become a leader and innovator.
“Our customers have been our inspiration,” she adds. “Today, our original customers are with us and that says something about the relationship we have.”
Making a comparison to competitive products, Wang said Plastpro uses 100-percent polyurethane foam for added strength. She said the company was the first to offer steel beam reinforced doors and has one of the largest selections of door lites.
As the small business grew quickly, one of the early challenges was to keep up with the demand. Once the decision was made to manufacture in the United States, the choice of location became paramount. What made Ohio, particularly the northeast sector, very attractive was the nature of the businesses in the area.
“As the cradle of the fiberglass industry, Ohio offers one of the most highly-skilled and experienced workforces in the nation with specific expertise in fiberglass molding and assembly technologies,” said Wang. “We realized what a benefit that would be to have our facility close by. There are also many manufacturers of composites in this area and that too was a significant factor in our decision-making.”
With the official opening, the Ashtabula location became the most advanced and first fully- automated fiberglass door manufacturing facility in the world, according to the company’s official announcement. The 250,000 square foot plant will produce more than one million finished doors per year.
Among the advanced manufacturing methods is an integrated factory computer control system that automates repetitive tasks to increase the level of product
“This [system] will enhance employee safety through improved ergonomics and can be 200 to 300 percent more productive than traditional manufacturing operations,” said Dave Moeller, assistant plant manager.
He explained that automation eliminates traditional manual glazing and assembly of the components keeping employees from having to handle glues in the process.
He said, that as a result, it is possible to achieve a higher level of quality control and manufacturing precision. He predicts that the plant will reduce lead time by as much as 75 percent.
Moeller explained that sheet molding compound can be cut, weighed, prepared for molding and fed in presses, using robotics. He said the system can pick, place and assemble the various parts and components, resulting in minimal waste of material.
“We use a proprietary feed and cutting system that uses feedback from a weigh belt to ensure the correct weight of SMC (sheet molding compound) for pressing into the mold,” said Moeller. “The pressed fiberglass skin is deflashed and stacked,using an automated handling process.”
He said the two systems are referred to as the press loader and press unloader. He also pointed out that CNC’s are used to control the application rate and pattern of the gluing systems that support the door assembly process.
A programmable CNC is also used at the milling center for all finishing operations, including cut-outs.
“We’re taking a proven product and assembling it in a unique and interesting way with the aid of an unprecedented level of automation,” said Walter Wang.
He explained that the overall effect is that the company can better react to market needs and demands and offer consumers what they want.
Automation has also helped minimize the impact of rising fuel costs.
“There is no doubt that we are affected by these increases, given the nature of the materials we use. But through automation, we have been able to control our costs,” added Shirley Wang.
But even with automation, there is no substitute for the personal touch.
“We inspect every door personally for any type of defect. We take the time to hand check every part of the door. It’s an integral part of the operation,” said Moeller.
He pointed out that doors are held for 24 hours for one final check.
At the end of the line, doors are stacked on pallets in a crib of 25, French-wrapped and strapped. A bar coding system provides critical information on each unit in the event a door has to be tracked.
One of the many advantages of vertical integration is having greater control over an entire manufacturing process.
“By maintaining control over raw materials like polyurethane, polyester and fiberglass and every phase of manufacturing our Distinction Doors, Plastpro is able to lead the industry through product innovation,” said Moeller.
He explained that the company continues to meet its customers’ needs on product features. For example, with the company’s Hydroshield Technology ™ the entire door is protected from water infiltration and the possibility of rotting, warping and rusting.
“Our doors are tested extensively over a period of 90 days for air and water infiltration in order to meet the most rigid specifications,” added Shirley Wang.
Doors for Every Need
“We will be able to provide our customers and homeowners the widest possible choice of product designs, colors and size,” said Shirley Wang.
Doors are available as wood grain or smooth skin, with double- or triple-pane insulating glass including options for clear or decorative glass, as impact-resistant (providing added protection for extreme weather conditions) or fire-rated doors (with an interior core composed of phenolic fire-retardant foam) and in many finishes, from country white to dark mahogany. The many models have been developed to meet specific design requirements of consumers. For example, the Nouveau door features lites of dark, blue smooth cathedral glass or rub red granite glass in a field of baroque and vecchio glass with clear bevels.
A Bright Future
The biggest challenge Plastpro faces in the future, according to Shirley Wang, is more internal than external.
“We must maintain this high level of commitment, day after day. We must continue to innovate and to motivate our people,” she said.
As he concluded his open house address, Walter Wang left no doubt about the future for Plastpro in Ashtabula.
“We will continue to drive this company with the advice and support of our customers,” added Walter Wang. “We will make this vision a reality.”
Pointing to a temporary parking lot across the street, he said, “We will begin construction of a 100,000 square foot compounding plant to give us even more flexibility in the vertical integration of our business. But, it all comes down to having a passion for this business, in whatever we do, whatever we manufacture.”
It is this passion from the Wang family that created Plastpro and brought innovation and customer service to new heights.
Alan Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM. He has more than 30 years of experience in the insulating glass industry.
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