If you’ve flown on an airplane, drank a craft beer, cruised on a lake, used a humidifier in your home or had an MRI, you’ve experienced Nicolet Plastics. Based in Mountain, Wis., the custom plastics injection molding company specializes in low to moderate volumes, a wide range of materials and product mix.
Prior to 2010, Nicolet Plastics, was struggling to compete globally and domestically in the commodity-based market for plastic injection molding, saddled with large inventories and related debt. The company reinvented itself by adopting Quick Response Manufacturing, an adaptation of Lean Manufacturing. The new approach called for clear communication and buy-in from employees to be successful.
Judges said, “The company is ‘changing the plastics landscape focused on strategic variability, single-piece flow, low volume and high complexity without losing sight that their team comes first.”’
Judges cited the following innovations involving people, from its 75 employees to its customers:
• Nicolet Plastics University for customers — to train and guide customers in the understanding of injection molding and how the process factors into their needs.
• Skills matrix and cross training of the workforce — rewarding people for gaining new skills with compensation, setting aside time for employees to be trained; cross-training employees for flexibility to meet production demands. The company captures video of its manufacturing steps by outfitting skilled employees with GoPro cameras and requires new employees to view them in its training.
• The skills matrix has resulted in the elimination of job descriptions; only skill levels differentiate workers, who earn “apples,” which correlate increased skills with higher pay. (Apples refer to the company’s Apple Rewards Program; CEO Macintosh’s name was the inspiration.)
• A robust internship program — free housing, involvement in customer-facing experiences, broad exposure to different equipment and processes.
Nicolet Plastics has been able to reduce lead times to customers to seven days — less than half the time it once took. Execution of QRM principles has allowed Nicolet to establish a niche market that has resulted in year over year average annual sales growth in excess of 10 percent during the last four years.