Bamar Plastics, located in South Bend, is a family-owned custom injection molding company with a reputation for quality. Founded by Barry Lee in 1978, Lee’s daughter, Heather Meixel, has been leading Bamar as its CEO and President since 2016. With a passionate and dedicated staff, including many who have been with the company for decades, Bamar Plastics entered 2020 with a successful production process in place, and strong customer relationships across multiple industries. As Covid entered the picture, Meixel and her team faced the pandemic as just another new problem to be solved together.
As a supplier of medical components, with a customer base of roughly 70% automotive and 20% medical, Bamar was considered an essential business and was able to remain in operation.
Throughout the year the company maintained full employment with no layoffs or cuts in hours and did not close at any point. Although demand for medical products did increase, the drop in demand for automotive parts left Bamar with excess capacity. Meixel took steps to protect her employees and keep people working. She and her team created a clear hierarchy for decision making designed to keep the focus on the employees, their health and economic welfare, and the health and welfare of their families. In effect, a company-wide concentration on getting back to basics.
Bamar made strategic use of this open capacity and available staff time to simultaneously pursue two distinct paths through 2020: enhancements to production facilities, and the development of an entirely new business endeavor and product line of specialized carts.
As the year progressed, demand for medical products increased and the customer base expanded. Supporting this growth and preparing for more, Bamar made capital investments in the production process by adding two more presses to the facility.
Tool Room Profit Center
During the pandemic, the tool room tackled new projects. Extra hours of staff time were available, so the team applied their expertise to a reverse design process. They reverse-engineered foam pumps for hand sanitizer and sprayer mechanisms, items that were in short supply everywhere because of COVID. This exercise turned out to be its own reward. Although Bamar did not ultimately choose to manufacture either of these products, the discipline of breaking down the design so that they could be made proved to be valuable. As a result, the tool room is now making tools for others and has become a profit center.
StepSaver: Prototype to Production
Quality is always top of mind for Meixel and the team at Bamar with a reputation built on producing high-quality precision parts and on-time delivery. Meixel maintains a focus on constant improvement across all systems and processes. Early in her tenure at Bamar, Meixel and her team initiated plans for a new type of cart that would support inspections and quality control within the plant. The ideas were only on paper until the pandemic, when timing and staff capacity were right and a prototype StepSaver cart was developed and put to work in the facility.
Meixel says that even as a prototype the StepSaver cart has transformed the entire operation—affecting every customer and every part and how people do their jobs. Inspection is a critical part of the overall process, given Bamar’s determination never to ship a bad part. Before the carts were introduced, quality assurance involved making multiple trips to collect parts from machines in the plant and walking them back to a fixed quality assurance area for checking and analysis. Now, the StepSaver cart brings the quality team to each machine, going press to press, to evaluate production and quality. These new inspection procedures have resulted in a savings of about two hours per day, along with reduction in scrap, improvement in quality, greater efficiency, and an increased ability to meet demand.
The dramatic improvements in Bamar’s operation led Meixel to create a focus group made up of several fellow business owners and local leaders. Meixel was thrilled to have the “brains and experience” of these leaders evaluating the cart’s potential and their suggestions for creating a marketable product.
The group was enthusiastic and generous with their developmental advice; Meixel’s team incorporated their revisions into the cart design. Not only was the cart’s potential recognized by the focus group, but Bamar’s newest innovation won awards from the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors and from Teachers Credit Union. Within the year, the StepSaver cart became a viable product available for purchase on its own dedicated website.
Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, 2020 has been an active year for Meixel and Bamar Plastics, investing in operational infrastructure and branching out into completely new directions. Meixel is proud of her team and their commitment to consistently doing every job with excellence. As a business owner, Meixel is extremely happy to be part of the South Bend community—a city that she loves, and a great place for a business to thrive.
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