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PARTNERS IN PRODUCTION: Brothers Mark, left, and Mike Miller run plastics manufacturer Polyfab, which their father started 45 years ago and now has clients globally.
sbj photo by wes hamilton
PARTNERS IN PRODUCTION: Brothers Mark, left, and Mike Miller run plastics manufacturer Polyfab, which their father started 45 years ago and now has clients globally.

Business Spotlight: A Plastics Wonderland

Second-generation run plastic product manufacturer targets 3-D printing

Posted online

Forget about traditional materials.

Polyfab Plastics and Supply Inc. uses polyethylene, polypropylene and polycarbonate plastic for everything from medical waste containers and storage systems to furniture, boat docks, temperature control systems and even windows. Its products are in use across the Queen City and the United States, and as far away as Japan and China, where customers buy large cylindrical plastic pollution filters to help clean the air.

“We’ll go anywhere,” says Vice President Mike Miller, who with brother Mark runs the daily operations of the manufacturer they own with their father Lowell.

The brothers say Polyfab Plastics has a few hundred regular clients, including SRC Holdings Corp., CoxHealth, Kraft Heinz Co., General Electric, Federal Protection Inc. and Bass Pro Shops’ White River Marine Group.

Homegrown
The company’s founder, Lowell, started making plastic materials in his basement as a hobby while teaching industrial education at Missouri State University.

The hobby outgrew the space and Polyfab Plastics was born in 1972. These days, Lowell mostly leaves operations up to his sons, but he still serves as president and visits the office.

“We were raised in the business,” says Mike, recalling the early days of sweeping floors and other chores before studying the industry at Pittsburg State University.

For the past 30 years, the company has operated at 820 N. Cedarbrook Ave., a manufacturing hub tucked in about a half mile north of Chestnut Expressway. Custom Metalcraft Inc., Holloway America and Grainger Industrial Supply are among its neighbors. Around 20 years ago, Polyfab bought Digital Monitoring Products’ adjacent plant when the security systems company relocated to Partnership Industrial Center, and now, the plastics manufacturer employs 25 across 65,000 square feet in two buildings.

Walking around the plant, Mike and Mark show off plastic fishing pole racks to be sold in Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. A welder works on a medical supply unit, and bits of plastic fly away as another worker cuts a piece to size.

With plastic purchased from Sicon, A&C Plastics and others, Polyfab workers mold, cut and smooth the raw materials into various shapes for clients’ purposes. That means engine block trays for SRC and signage for CoxHealth or the more complex side: a plastic system comprising the superstructure, duct work, grading, tank lids, plumbing and hoist systems for aircraft production. Other common products are food storage equipment, conveyor parts and water treatment systems.

The same employees travel around the United States to install products for clients.

One staff member is on board just to build wooden pallets for shipping.

Clients, the brothers say, can cut down on costs and the weight of equipment by switching to Polyfab’s solutions from metal, glass and other materials, and the durability is a sticking point.

“Obviously, it won’t break as easy,” Mark says.

Declining to disclose revenues, Mike says Polyfab’s sales grew 15-20 percent in 2016, and the company’s been profitable at least the last five years.

3-D pivot
This month, Polyfab entered a strategic partnership with Milwaukee-based 3D PrintTech LLC.

Through the arrangement, Polyfab gained the use of 3D PrintTech’s advanced printing technologies, which the Millers predict will be a boon for their business – especially when it comes to replacement items, like a broken window for a recreational vehicle, or prototypes before clients commit to a new full-scale product line.

“We saw the potential,” Mike says, noting beforehand, the company couldn’t “just go hit print.”

“Well, now we can.”

Enter Ryan Heath, the CEO of 3D PrintTech who formerly lived in Springfield and has been Mike’s longtime friend. Currently, Polyfab customers have the option to 3-D print prototypes at 3D PrintTech in Milwaukee, but the Springfield company plans to bring machines to this market for local customers.

From his Milwaukee office, Heath says 3D PrintTech benefits from the arrangement by adding plastic materials to its portfolio that, until now, has focused on anatomical parts for the health care industry and other manufacturing industries. Declining to disclose the financial details of the partnership, Heath says the benefits to Polyfab also are apparent.

“They don’t necessarily have to create a tool or a mold, which can be costly sometimes. They can just print it. That saves a lot of time,” he says.

“Most of these customers are really looking for that realism that 3-D printing can now deliver.”

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