Inspiration and Innovation

Lapeer Plating and Plastics

Lapeer Plating and Plastics is a manufacturer of high-visibility decorative components for the automotive industry such as emblems, side panel moldings, grilles, exterior and interior trims, and other ornamentation. Through a commitment to beautiful design and high-quality production, Lapeer puts the signature on its customers’ products.
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In 2010, Lapeer Plating and Plastics was formed out of a restructuring of an earlier entity called DOT Industries. After forging its way through the economic downturn of 2008, the company consolidated its resources from three locations in the United States and a joint venture in Mexico into one facility in Lapeer, Michigan. Although it has nearly a decade under the Lapeer Plating and Plastics name, the company maintains a much longer-standing relationship with the automotive industry.

In the beginning, Lapeer focused its production on simple electroplated parts, but over time, the company made every effort to continually improve the quality of the components it was producing. Today, the company makes high-quality parts designed to enhance the look of a vehicle.

“A lot of what we do is badging,” says Dean Harlow, chief executive officer of Lapeer Plating and Plastics. “It’s an important piece because it’s on the exterior of the vehicle, so it gets a lot of scrutiny.” The components made at Lapeer project an image of the product and the customer.

To manufacture these products, three processes are used: injection molding, electroplating, and some basic assembly. Beyond these, the company is working on other value-added services including the emerging industry trend of lighted badges and paint on chrome. While many competitors offer molding services exclusively, Lapeer chooses on jobs where at least two of the three processes are required. Ideally, the project will require the company to mold, plate, and assemble the product. Lapeer aims to be a solutions provider, offering much more than a standard mold and ship service.

Over the last year, the company has been working on improving operational efficiency by fine-tuning processes. In terms of production, it has increased its available stock quantity to three days’ worth of finished goods and has reduced the amount of scrap produced by sixty-two percent. Employee working hours have been balanced by adding a third shift in assembly to reduce overtime, and quality has been improved to eliminate the need for premium freight. The company has invested millions of dollars in improving its facilities and its equipment. Lapeer Plating and Plastics is growing and working diligently to manage that growth strategically.

Within the LP+P team, the company’s leadership is empowering employees to make more decisions. The company aims to be the employer of choice for current team members and people seeking work in the industry. Giving careful thought to the limited labor market, LP+P is making a careful effort to retain and draw in skilled workers by improving compensation and benefit packages and incorporating a career ladder so that its employees have a clear sense of where they are and what they can achieve.

“We have to provide the right environment for our employees,” says Harlow, “so that we’re leveraging the unique workforce that we have, treating everyone with dignity and respect, and allowing people to reach their full potential. We want to have a much greater focus going forward on providing opportunities for advancement and promotion from within the company.”

Being located in metropolitan Detroit puts the company in a convenient position, right in the center of the automotive industry. Much of its customer base is nearby. Being accessible to clients is crucial to creating lasting business relationships, as it enables the company to quickly address issues to ensure that customers are satisfied with the service it is providing.

While molding and assembly services are important components of LP+P, its core skill is electroplating. Electroplating is a process by which a component can be plated with a metallic alloy such as chrome. A chrome emblem, for example, is likely made of molded plastic with chrome plating applied to it using this process. Plating services are a critical talent for LP+P, and the company has invested heavily in highly specialized plating equipment to manage the process.

For injection molding the company operates thirty-one mold presses, of which roughly half are automated, meaning that they have a robot with an end-of-arm device that can remove a part from the mold and place it on a material-handling conveyor where an operator can process it. “The nice thing about automation in molding,” says Harlow, “is that the robot keeps a constant cadence, so you know exactly how many parts you’re going to get out of that robot every shift, and you know that they’re taking them out of the mold in a consistent way every time.” Often, when an operator is in charge of removing parts from a mold because the parts are still cooling, pieces can bend, and defects can be created. Automation improves quality, efficiency, and enables the company to run with lower labor costs.

Recently, the company has made several key changes to senior management. The result is a highly-experienced team with strong industry relationships, and an outlook focused on quality, delivery, and a collaborative approach to working with customers as a problem solver and a solutions provider. The strategy going forward is to continue improving, but also grow and diversify in terms of sectors and customers by seeking opportunities outside of the automotive industry.

LP+P offers high-quality products, but what truly makes the company an asset to its customers is its ability to develop innovative ideas. “If you can bring new ideas to customers at the right price,” says Harlow, “if you can get the design staff excited about something, they’ll get engineering and purchasing involved with innovations. That’s when we can move beyond what’s referred to in the industry as a build-to-print company toward being a solutions provider.” Operating as a solutions provider, rather than simple supplier of components, is where LP+P shines.

Two examples of innovative services offered by LP+P are lighted badging and paint over chrome. Lighted badging has recently become a trend for electric, hybrid, and autonomous vehicles. These are emblems that are backlit to accent the badge and draw attention to the vehicle and to the brand. LP+P has incorporated lighted badging into its offering to differentiate itself in the marketplace and to help customers’ products stand out. This is a relatively new trend, but LP+P expects it to grow significantly going forward.

‘Paint over chrome’ is another trend in the automotive industry providing a low-cost way to create more variety in a product. The automotive marketplace is highly competitive, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are interested in creating as much variance in a product as possible at a minimal cost. Paint over chrome is a process by which a product can be made in a variety of colors using the same equipment as the initial chrome plating process. The company plans to expand its painting capacity in the future by building a much larger paint shop and incorporating automation.

“One of the reasons people like working here is that they get to see what they build every day,” says Harlow. “As opposed to making something that goes in the engine compartment, or a computer hidden under the instrument panel, you can literally see the products we make every day because they’re a part of the ornamentation of the vehicle. I think that gives people a lot of satisfaction.”

But along with the sense of satisfaction comes a responsibility for very high levels of quality, because it is the aesthetic that makes an ornamental component work. “You could give a part to five different people, and each one might have a different opinion on whether or not that part is good,” says Harlow. “Our quality processes are critical with parts that are so subjective.”

Lapeer Plating and Plastics is bringing new and innovative branding solutions to its customers, creating beautiful high-quality badging and ornamental components. “It’s never stopping,” says Harlow. “Continually improving, always looking to improve your processes, to be better, to do better.”

Security as Culture

If you take a close look at all the many gadgets and electronic devices that fit into your daily life you’ll likely find that an exceedingly large number of them are made in China. This probably won’t surprise you, as offshore manufacturing has been a staple of the North American electronics market for almost fifty years. Beyond electronic gizmos, you’ll also find that toys, clothes, even some food products are being manufactured in low-cost foreign regions. This has been a prevailing reality for a very long time, but things are about to change.

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November 18, 2019, 1:48 AM EST

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