Thursday, July 31, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;71.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/nbkn.png;2014-07-31 21:41:21
pic1
pic2
pic3
pic4
pic5
pic6
pic7
pic8
pic9
pic10
pic11
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Larry Thibeault talks about the fires at Poly-Ject in Amherst Thursday, April 19, 2012, and how the company is rebuilding.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Susan Mitchell pulls "red backs" from a molding machine Thursday, April 19, 2012, at Pronto Part in Hudson, as Poly-Ject employees from Amherst moved their injection molding business temporarily to the competitor's business, taking advantage of machines not being used.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Production Manager Dave Chouinard looks over a trigger part fresh out of a machine Thursday, April 19, 2012, at Pronto Part in Hudson, as Poly-Ject employees from Amherst moved their injection molding business temporarily to the competitor's business, taking advantage of injection molding machines not being used.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    From left, Steve Tilton, Dave Chouinard and Larry Thibeault chat Thursday, April 19, 2012, at Pronto Part in Hudson, as Poly-Ject employees from Amherst moved their injection molding business temporarily to the competitor's business, taking advantage of injection molding machines not being used.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Production Manager Dave Chouinard pulls parts from a machine Thursday, April 19, 2012, at Pronto Part in Hudson, as Poly-Ject employees from Amherst moved their injection molding business temporarily to the competitor's business, taking advantage of injection molding machines not being used.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Larry Thibeault looks over an injection molding machine damaged in a fire at Poly-Ject in Amherst . The company suffered two fires, and is rebuilding, while production has moved temporarily to Hudson.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Susan Mitchell makes plastic parts Thursday, April 19, 2012, at Pronto Part in Hudson, as Poly-Ject employees from Amherst moved their injection molding business temporarily to the competitor's business, taking advantage of injection molding machines not being used.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM



  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM



  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM



  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM



Sunday, April 22, 2012

Recovering from fire, Amherst firm uses Hudson competitor’s space

Every small businesses’ nightmare is a fire that destroys vital equipment. Poly-Ject had two of them in the same weekend, which explains why Shirley Moge’s cell phone has racked up 1,976 minutes this month.

“All calls are forwarded to this,” said Moge, office manager for the Amherst injection-molding firm, waving her cell phone as she worked at a borrowed desk in the offices of Proto Part, a Hudson injection-molding firm.

Moge and other Poly-Ject employees have been working at the offices of this friendly competitor since the start of February, when two fires in three days caused by electrical problems in an adjoining bakery destroyed 6,000 square feet of the company’s 26,000-square-foot facility. Worse, the fire destroyed all their tools and office records and cut off all electricity and phones to the building. As a final blow, smoke and water damage harmed virtually all their molding machines.

“For a few minutes you just want to cry,” admitted Larry Thibault, who founded the company in 1982 and has operated it at the end of Manhattan Drive, an industrial area just south of Route 101A, since 1994. “Then we calmed down a little bit and called a friend.”

The friend is Ken Roche, president of Proto Part. As it turns out, he had some spare capacity at his facility on Pine Street in south Hudson. By Tuesday, after Saturday morning’s fire, Poly-Ject employees had shifted into the space and were filling contracts.

The two months since then have been hectic, even more than hectic, but Poly-Ject has survived.

“We’ve only lost 1 percent of our customers, just 1 percent,” said Don Tilton, who works sales for the company.

Electricity was returned to the Amherst building last week and cleanup continues. If rebuilding goes as scheduled – the mild winter has helped – Poly-Ject will be back in operation in south Amherst in two months. Not bad.

The 20-person company with close to $2 million in sales annually is one of at least a half-dozen small companies in Greater Nashua that does injection moulding on a “job shop” basis.

The industry goes like this: Companies need tens or hundreds of thousands of copies of a plastic part, anything from a small rubbery trigger guard to the bins which hold your shoes when going through security at the airport, and job shops bid to make them.

If Poly-Ject gets the contract, it designs and machines a metal mold out of industrial-grade steel – no small task, since these molds are intricate and can weigh hundreds of pounds – and then uses them in one of its many molding machines to inject plastic into the mold, creating the parts.

Every step of that process was halted by the fire. Only one lucky break happened: The fire didn’t get to the actual molds, which are owned by the clients and not covered by the company’s insurance. If these had been destroyed, Poly-Ject probably wouldn’t have survived.

Even so, the rebirth was no certainty. It was made possible by the Thibaults’ long experience in the business and the area; the presence of a cluster of similar companies that could help out; and by fire insurance that will cover the estimated $1.8 million in extra production costs and $1 million in reconstruction costs.

“Thank goodness we had replacement insurance,” said the Thibault. This is the first time the company has made a claim on its insurance from The Hartford Co.

(The bakery where the fire started, which didn’t have enough insurance, has not reopened, Thibault said.)

Still, nothing has been easy. The extra hours continue to pile up, because Proto Part has just five machines available for Poly-Ject to use, compared to the 11 it had before the fire, which requires a lot of overtime to meet customer needs. They also have limited storage space in Hudson, so materials need to be constantly driven back and forth. Thibault and his son Steve, co-owner of the company, have had to scramble to find other facilities that have extra-large machines to meet certain orders, requiring work in Wolfeboro and in Leominster, Mass.

“I’ll be happy when we’re back,” said Dave Chouinard, Poly-Ject’s production manager, as he worked a production run on a Proto Part machine on Thursday, after which he would head to Leominster. “Returning will cut my hours in half. My wife will be happy, my kids will be happy.”

In the front offices, Moge had to largely rebuild the company order sheet from memory, while five Poly-Ject managers are jammed into a single conference room.

“It’ll be nice to have a phone conversation by yourself,” Steve Thibault said.

As for whether friction has arisen from cohabitation by competitors, who wouldn’t mind poaching a few customers or employees from each other, everybody says no – although a little ribbing does come up.

“If we run short of material, we steal some of Ken’s,” Tilton joked.

“And I come in on the weekend and steal theirs back,” Roche responded.

Joking aside, said Proto Part’s boss, having somebody leasing your idle equipment isn’t bad, even if it also means they keep borrowing your company tools.

“It has worked out pretty well,” Roche said.

In a way, the rebirth has been aided because of history.

The region has so many injection-molding companies partly because the plastic industry was virtually created in Leominster, Mass. Companies in that city have for more than a century made products ranging from the first plastic come to Foster Grant sunglasses to the pink flamingo lawn ornament.

Much of the overflow of expertise and spin-offs have stayed in the region, creating an industry cluster that has proved more than helpful.

“It has always been more friendly than cutthroat. We’ll call each other and say, can I borrow XYZ plastic, and they’ll help out,” Steve Thibault said.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com.