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Venture Plastics Marks 50 Years of Innovation, Growth

NEWTON FALLS, Ohio — It’s been 50 years since Ken Groff made his first delivery using a pickup truck and horse trailer. Needless to say, the shipping and logistics has improved dramatically since then, allowing his company, Venture Plastics, to serve customers across the United States.

Groff shared the story Friday during a celebration of the company’s 50th anniversary. He was joined by his kids, Tim and Mike Groff and Marcia Flattum, workers and community members as he was presented with a proclamation and key to the city by Newton Falls Mayor Lyle Waddell. Sept. 20 will also be known as Ken Groff Day in the city, he said.

“We’re excited that they’ve been here for 50 years and we’re here to recognize the accomplishments and achievements and growth that they’ve had,” Waddell said.

Venture Plastics was incorporated in October 1969, with its first products rolling out in February 1970.

Three partners ran the first shop with two 200T Van Dorn injection machines. They would rotate shifts so the third could go home and sleep, Groff said.

“Three of us ran that place 24 hours a day, five days a week,” Groff said. “One would go home and sleep and come back, and the other one would go. We just alternated until we got some help.”

As the company hired more workers, Groff took to the road to sell the products to companies like the former Western Electric Co., now AT&T, and Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Columbus.

Groff’s two partners subsequently the company, leaving him the sole owner. In 1974, the company “really started to move,” he said. The company landed work with Western Electric and the former Stanley Steemer hand steamer, which it manufactured, assembled and packaged.

Venture Plastics also did work with Delphi Packard Electric Systems in Warren. When that company filed for bankruptcy, “It was a blow,” Groff said.

“We decided the best way to handle it was to go in and help them,” he said. “We kept running parts, they paid us, and we still do business with them today.”

Jason Murray, project engineer, designed and manufactured commemorative coasters for the 50th anniversary event.

Today, the company employs 120 at its plant at 4000 Warren Ravenna Road in Newton Falls, and another 80 at a plant in El Paso, Texas. In the 50 years Groff has been CEO of the company, things have changed and continue to change, he said. Customers demand more detailed parts, which tightens up production and can make things more costly, he said.

To meet stringent requirements, Venture’s quality management department uses a coordinate measuring machine to take precise measurements of new parts being introduced onto the shop floor, said its president, Steve Trapp. Using a computer with 3D imaging, the metrology experts at Venture “program the critical dimensions that we need to measure” to ensure the parts are replicated exactly to minimize variability in the process, he said.

“We take the human error out of measuring a part,” Trapp said.

On the shop floor, workers run three shifts operating 20 injection molding presses to manufacture more than 200,000 individual parts for a dozen different market segments, including automotive, heavy truck, railroad, solar, medical, telecommunications, industrial and consumer product suppliers.

In 2016, the company broke ground on a $2 million, 17,000-square-foot expansion that contains about $1 million in equipment, Trapp said. In October 2017, the Board of Trumbull County Commissioners approved a 10-year, 60% enterprise zone agreement for the project.

The expansion was built for producing the trunk finishing for the Nissan Altima. The product is made with a press that uses a post-mold assembly tool to extract the part from the press.

Jon Barnett, a program manager with the company, began designing the post-mold assembly tool in 2016 and had it built in China in time for Venture to start the run of the trunk finishing in 2018, he said. The part itself was built in about 16 weeks, he said.

A $3 million expansion at Venture Plastics allowed the company to produce trunk finishings for the Nissan Altima, say President Steve Trapp and project manager Jon Barnett.

It takes about 56 seconds to mold one of the trunk finishings, “so we’re making a little over 120 pieces an hour,” Barnett said. “It moves along fairly quick.”

Venture makes about 220,000 finishings annually, Trapp added.

In early 2018, Venture added another press to the new space to produce mounts for solar panels. The press features a six axis robot arm to extract the part from the press and place it on a conveyor to be boxed by workers. It also identifies and removes parts with imperfections.

“If for whatever reason the part has an issue with it, like it’s short or it didn’t fill out, the robot will sense that and set it down,” Trapp said.

Venture produces up to some 700,000 of the mounts annually, he said.

Robert Collens, a project manager, programmed the six axis robot for the process. For Saturday’s open house with employees and their families, Collens programmed the arm to interact with the guests, he said.

“I’m going to have to have it waving at employees,” said Collens, who will also fit a glove to the hand to give kids a high five.

One of the newest avenues for Venture is additive manufacturing, Trapp said. Venture purchased a CreatorBot 3D printer to meet the needs for customers who just want one part to test fit, form and functionality before they build a tool, he said. Venture also uses it for its own operations.

Earlier this year, Venture welcomed the Newton Falls High School senior class to the plant to get students interested in manufacturing, and introduced them to 3D printing by making statues of the school’s mascot, the tiger.

As for the future, Venture is “hiring all the time,” Trapp said. The company is always looking for operators, service clerks, tool and die setters, processors, shift supervisors and mechanical engineers.

“It’s a constant process because of the economy and because of the shortage in the workforce,” he said.

The company has enjoyed 10 consecutive years of record sales, he said. And while it won’t hit a new record in 2019, “it’s still going to be a good year,” he said. Ultimately, the goal is to be among the top 100 injection molders in the country, which requires the company to hit an annual revenue benchmark of $60 million, he said. Venture looks to finish the year at nearly $40 million, he said.

“There are 5,000 injection molders in the United States, so we want to be in that top 100,” he said. “That’s our goal.”

And it’s a goal that Groff is confident his company can achieve by keeping to the company motto for the last 50 years. “Remember to keep HIPP; working with Honesty, Integrity, Principle and Pride,” he said. Groff said he is “extremely happy” with where the company is today and credits his employees as well as the support of the community for his success.

“I didn’t know I was going to be in this position 50 years ago, or even 52 years ago,” he said.

“You just work hard and keep going and have some principles that you live by. And if you work with those and keep going, it should work out.”

Pictured above: Joining Ken Groff (center) for the 50th anniversary celebration were Newton Falls city manager David Lynch; William George, electric superintendent for the city; Marcia Flattum, Groff’s daughter; Tim Groff, son; Steve Trapp, president; Mike Groff, son; Mayor Lyle Waddell and Tarry Alberini, village councilman.

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.