This famous quote from Dustin Hoffman’s first movie, “The Graduate,” also works well to describe Plastics Engineering Company (Plenco). Michael Terreri has the story.
It began in Chicago in 1934, established by Frank G. Brotz Sr. of Kohler, Wis., as a family partnership. Four short months later, the Brotz family moved their fledgling business –American Molded Products Company – to Sheboygan, Wis., and renamed it Plastics Engineering Company (Plenco). The company’s products were thermosetting liquid resins and products cast from them, including handles, knobs and radio cabinets – items needing the strength and durability of this new substance. Plastic, especially the kind of plastic that sets up hard and cannot be remelted – thermosetting plastic – changed manufac-turing forever.
While the company was getting established in Sheboygan, research showed that a move toward the production of pressed moldings from dry, granular molding compounds seemed to be the future. These grindable thermoset resins mixed with fibrous and mineral reinforcements were easier to ship, especially in bulk. Plenco seized this opportunity to grow its business significantly and not only molded these materials, but eventually began manufacturing them as well. Over the next 66 years, Plenco became a leading manufacturer of granular thermosetting molding compounds, and a recognized producer of high-quality phenolic resins.
Plenco’s products are marketed either to OEMs directly or to the first-tier servicing companies that mold products and parts for OEMs. End use is mostly in the electrical, automotive and household appliance and cookware arenas.
End users include General Electric, Square D/Groupe Schneider, Emerson Electric and many other familiar names in the electrical industry, where terminal switches, fuse holders and connectors, to name only a few, are made of thermosetting plastic.
Thermosetting products from ashtrays to brake valve bodies show up in the cars built by General Motors, Ford, and Daimler-Chrysler – the big three in the United States – and in many of the foreign brands, especially Toyota and Mazda. Plenco’s products are perfect for automotive applications because of their thermosetting plastic qualities, including high heat resistance, good dimensional stability (the ability to keep their shape), and good electrical and chemical properties.
In the home, Plenco makes itself evident in the handles and knobs found in cookware and in the skirts of steam irons. Range tops and decorative countertops, especially when heat is present, are well served by the qualities of thermosetting products. Regalware, Mirro, Black & Decker, Hamilton Beach-Proctor Silex and General Electric are household names that use the Plenco products in their operations.
Plenco products are supported by technical engineering representatives who work closely with a diverse group of customers and prospects to address the variety of their multiple needs. As part of the company’s commitment to customer service, meetings are held periodically with customers’ management and with technical and manufacturing experts to review Plenco’s products and responsiveness.
Customers are assisted by experienced technical service representatives who call on them personally, and are backed by extensive research and development facilities in Sheboygan. Together they address any client questions. Plenco prides itself on its technical service capabilities and on its promise to provide hands-on help if a customer encounters any processing issues.
While the bulk of Plenco’s customer base is in the United States, the company does ship to firms in Europe and Asia. An emerging market in Mexico, fueled by the growth of first-tier companies servicing Mexico-based international industries, has led to an increased demand for Plenco products. With its state-of-the-art facilities and an emphasis placed on demand management, Plenco is well situated to help its customers take advantage of this emerging business market. OEMs with operations in Mexico make high demands of the first-tier providers. Plenco’s operation provides the timeliness and proficiency necessary to keep these customers satisfied.
Plenco has a wide range of products, which can be divided generally into two categories: molding materials and resins. Phenolic molding materials are offered in granular, nodular, pellet and briquette forms for compression, transfer or injection molding. They have applications in electrical terminal strips, housings and breakers, a vast array of automotive uses, household appliances and much more. Melamine-phenolic molding materials, because of the ability to match color to customer specifications, show up significantly in both the household and industrial arenas. Colored knobs, buttons and toggles, medical and dental equipment, thermostat housings, and even shuffleboard disks get more personality from the products made by Plenco. Thermoset polyester materials and thermoplastic polyester engineering resins complete the molding material picture. Typical applications include electrical connector shrouds, motor mounts, automotive ignition parts, fuel injection controls, gears, sprockets, pump impellers and a variety of furniture parts, such as arms, chair backs and casters.
Phenolic resins in solid and liquid form have applications that run from the decorative to the structural. In addition to being the key ingredient in most Plenco molding materials, Plenco resins are also used in wood-bonding applications such as toilet seats and croquet balls, and in making the green foam that holds cut- flower arrangements. In addition, Rutgers-Plenco LLC, a joint venture recently formed with prominent German manufacturer, Bakelite AG, markets and sells resins that are used in varnishes, adhesives, automotive insulation, foundry and refractory and in applications where friction is present, such as brake shoes and clutch assemblies.
Plenco’s story wouldn’t be complete without a reference to the commitment the firm has to research and development. Part of Plenco’s mission statement mentions a dedication to the “principles of continuous improvement” enabling the company to “respond to the ever-changing technical requirements” of its customers. The research laboratory provides the opportunity for the production of prototype resins and molding materials designed for specific applications. It also enables the use of experimental design that offers maximum information using a minimum number of procedures. Analytical verification follows. Thermal, spectroscopic and chromatographic capabilities provide the data necessary to ask informed questions and to formulate meaningful answers.
The importance of research and development, as well as all the competencies of Plenco, is summed up in a confident statement by Michael R. Brotz, the firm’s president and CEO: “We’re not only ready for tomorrow, we’re helping shape it.”