Breaking the mold can be a great thing, especially when it comes to being a leader in the bespoke plastics and metal components molding industry. After seventy-two years in the business, top-tier custom molder Parkway Products knows that the longevity of solid partnerships is formed by a committed team, focused on precision technology and sterling customer care. I spoke with President, Al Ridilla, and Director of Financial Planning and Analysis, Stephanie Grammer, to learn more about what this industry giant has to offer.
Parkway prides itself on always exceeding customers’ expectations with innovative craftsmanship and certainly is not a cookie-cutter fabricator. This component specialist’s presence spans North America with nine facilities serving multiple local markets in Colorado, Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina. It is also part of the Mexican market, with a facility in Coahuila, one of the country’s heaviest industrial regions. Parkway recently relocated its headquarters from Florence, Kentucky to Greenville, South Carolina.
Parkway’s service-centered approach supplies a number of industries with top-notch product engineering and made-to-order product development using a broad selection of technologies and materials. The company is built on integrity, dedication, and cohesive teamwork. “If our employees feel appreciated and part of a solid unit from the top down, they will treat our customers with the same respect shown to them,” says Al. Indeed, the philosophy has stood the test of time, and that has resulted in a customer retention record of note.
Thanks to its strong management and business development departments, the company is structured in a way that allows for smooth, effective task execution, ensuring great attention to detail and next-generation, high-volume capabilities. Its exclusive fabrication technologies with high-performance polymers are used in applications involving high-friction and high-temperature, and requiring extreme strength for use in aerospace, medical aids, and devices like compressors and automotive components.
Parkway’s high-performance polymers also find use where other plastics would perish under the strain of chemical exposure, high heat or vibration from processes like sterilization. Through its injection and compression molding, Parkway has allowed designers to ditch heavy, corrosion-prone metals in favor of these high-performance alternatives.
The company is famous for its advanced materials and proprietary manufacturing technologies that enable innovation and success for its customers. Its bestselling services include high-performance polymer molding, performed at its facility in Atlanta, Georgia. Here, it favors Torlon polyamide-imide (PAI), polyether ether ketone (PEEK) and other materials known for high-friction capabilities, thermal stability, chemical resistance, and in some cases, electrical and structural capabilities. The significantly reduced weight in these alternative materials compared to traditional metals used in internal combustion engines, transmissions, and aerospace applications also make them more desirable in modern design.
Parkway was one of the earliest adopters of magnesium thixomolding. It has worked with the metal since 2001 and performs this highly-complex process exclusively at its manufacturing facility in Loveland, Colorado. End users typically prefer to specify magnesium thixomolding for electromagnetic shielded enclosures used in electronic devices where light weight and impact resistance are prerequisites, such as with laptop and cellphone casings. Magnesium thixomolding is also popular in fabricating robotic arms, surgical instruments, structural beams, and components that need the detail of machining produced consistently in the large quantities made possible by this novel metal molding process.
To achieve these high-performance parts, magnesium is brought to a viscous semi-solid consistency before being injected into molds. The name of the process is derived from the thixotropic state of the metal being injected. It results in thin-walled, thermally conductive parts that are lightweight, but can withstand remarkably high stress and shield electromagnetic and radio frequency interference. Contrary to urban legend, while magnesium must be treated with caution during the manufacturing process, the conditions that can render it combustible are difficult to achieve, making it perfectly safe for both internal combustion engines and other high-stress applications.
Parkway’s operation in Saltillo, Coahuila boasts the largest thermoset molding facility in Mexico. This site fabricates fire retardant, proprietary thermoset composite components that cannot melt or be reshaped due to a chemical reaction known as ‘cross-linking’. Cross-linking forges a molecular structure into place at the curing point, and it remains stable when reheated above its curing point afterward. This characteristic sets it apart from thermoplastic alternatives in a fundamental way, causing a big shift in markets such as electronic circuitry, building and construction, and outdoor components.
Not one to do anything in half measures, Parkway’s paint and laser etching facility in Marietta, Georgia is one of only six of its kind in the country and has the greatest volume capacity. Multi-station paint lines pass products by six-axis robots that apply topcoats in a range of colors, after which logos and other information are etched on with a laser.
The company started out as a molded plastic injection parts supplier when it was founded by Edward Willig in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1946. Mr. Willig and his sons worked hard to develop the business into a trusted partner, and in the process, it became renowned as a trustworthy employer in the area. The company opened a second site in 1986 when it expanded to Erlanger, Kentucky.
An aerospace facility led to further diversification when it bought out Lord & Company’s aerospace products division in 1991. From this time, its footprint steadily grew through the acquisition of more facilities, and in 2006, a private equity buy out by the Willig family secured its further improved growth. The company started expanding into its two main divisions: manufacturing molded products and aerospace laminate composites. The latter was divested in its entirety in 2013. Today, the company continues to manufacture specialized aerospace components within its aerospace-certified facilities in Georgia and Colorado, utilizing multiple technologies.
A significant acquisition in Greeneville, Tennessee brought about a rapid expansion across the southeast in August 2017. “It became clear to us that the corporate headquarters should be located centrally to our mass of employees and customers in order to serve them better,” says Al. Its new offices were completed in the first quarter of 2018, bringing more top quality custom design and technology to an even wider audience.
However, throughout its expansion, the company has held onto its values. A touching tradition that survives from the days of its inception is the Parkway Prayer, which still marks the beginning of important management meetings. In this sincere request for blessing, management prays that its work may bring true benefit to all and harm to none. It also asks for the blessing and prosperity of its employees and its customers – the daily focus of its labor.
Always doing right by everyone, even when it is not convenient, forms the basis of its company culture. For this industry giant, endurance and trust are two imperative elements to lasting success. “We survived the Great Recession and other hard times by falling back on the fact that we’re going to do right by our people and our customers first, last, and always. This approach has served us well when things are good and when they are bad. No matter what, we keep climbing that mountain,” says Al.
Parkway has had a number of proud moments in its history. One of these was the acquisition of its second plant in 1986. The growth of its customer relationships is another aspect that particularly pleases the company. “In the early days, we were measuring $100K customers, but today we are fostering multi-million dollar relationships and have developed life-long client partners,” Al says.
A great achievement that is close to Al’s heart is the company’s employee wellness committee, an initiative developed over the last five years. The company’s belief in assisting its seven-hundred-employee workforce to regularly engage a primary care physician and achieve and maintain optimum health has culminated in a positive, innovative way of improving overall holistic performance and a healthy team spirit. The committee assists employees in doing its best for their future selves through activities like annual team walks in 5K and 10K races across the nation and other fun activities.
“We participate in weight-loss competitions, even when we are states away from each other. We encourage smoking-cessation with our smoke-free campuses and cessation programs offered through our medical insurance,” says Stephanie. And it is making a huge difference. So far, more than thirty employees have quit smoking, many pounds have been shed, and several life-threatening, chronic conditions have been identified or avoided thanks to the company’s wellness program.
This great lifestyle focus is part of what makes the Parkway work environment a happy one. “It takes a lot of moving parts to achieve such success, and we owe this to our machine operators, material handlers, shift supervisors, CNC operators, business managers, customer service representatives, and plant management teams. Without these exceptional employees, their significant others, and their families, we would not be the Parkway we are today,” says Al.
For Al Ridilla, supporting this self-improvement goal is central to his management style. He joined the company in the early 2000s and is very much aligned with its core values and family orientation. Al has brought on board an aggressive commercial sense and implemented rigor in the way the company measures its performance within the greater market. Parkway’s conservative approach to the cyclical nature of markets has afforded the company the stability it has taken to stay on track and competitive when markets are low, and Al’s insistence on adhering to the highest possible international standards has also contributed to a rock-solid reputation for craftsmanship.
While all Parkway’s facilities are ISO 9001 certified with the International Standards Organization, several of them are also International Automotive Task Force (IATF) 16949, Aerospace Supplier (AS) 9100, and Medical Device ISO 13485 certified, ensuring customers the utmost in relevant standards and consistency for each facilities’ specialty.
Continuous self-improvement and learning are encouraged in a big way. “We consider ourselves to be a learning company. Whether we are learning about technology, our customers, or about continuously improving our production capabilities, we are a growing company that offers opportunities for advancement for our people,” says Al. The company’s approach to meeting its employee’s needs ensures that everyone has a meaningful, life-enhancing work experience and includes competitive, strong, region-specific remuneration and benefits packages, and work-life balance.
Parkway is a generous group of caring people. To them, sharing on a greater scale is second nature, and everyone contributes to some worthy cause or another. Together, they support causes including Disabled American Veterans Society, United Way, Toys for Tots, Ronald McDonald House, and a host of other organizations.
The company’s wide-angle growth plan is as wise as its approach to capital expansion, investment, and its employees. “Our growth must always be logical and manageable, and will never come at the expense of our employees, our customers, or our financial health,” says Al.
Each plant is expected to measure up to a set of benchmark performance standards, and while each of them operates individually, each outfit also operates within the greater whole of the company, guaranteeing strength in numbers and a national support system second to none. In a family of such strength and capability, it stands to reason that at Parkway Products, everyone is a winner.