Robinson Industries Inc.

Loyalty is a virtue sometimes lost in the pressure of running a business with global competitors. But Robin­son Industries has seen its loyalty to the U.S. auto market rewarded in growing business as the car companies recover from the recession. “The automobile business is increasing back to prerecession levels,” Marketing Manager Ronda Robinson reports. “We made a decision to be loyal suppliers and continued to ship to them even when their bankruptcy was looming.”

That loyalty has paid off in in­creased business. Among the products Robinson Industries manufactures are trays and pallets that companies use for transportation of their parts and components from one location to another. When the components are removed from the packaging, the packaging is returned to the supplier to be refilled.

Among Robinson Industries’ latest projects is investigating recycling of an automotive manufacturing by­product into reusable pallets. The company also is bidding on products for the defense, alternative energy, agriculture and retail display industries, and researching development of a new lightweight pallet. For the solar industry, it is bidding on three products: reusable packaging to transport solar panels or shingles, a component for a solar panel and a base to hold finished solar panels.

Robinson Industries thermoforms and extrudes sheet and injection molds using mostly high-density polyethylene, polypropylene and structural foam. The company produces a range of products, such as plastic storm drains, a plastic ice fishing sled, drip pans and dozens of sizes of pallets. It has one of the largest machines available for producing plastic pallets. The firm can design, prototype, tool and manufacture exactly what the client needs.

Work in Process

Since earning ISO 9001:2008 certification, Robinson Industries has been practicing continuous improvement throughout its 100 acres of operations. In its attempt to become more efficient, Robinson Industries has completed some exciting projects in its 152,000-square-foot plant that have helped improve quality and control costs.

For secondary operations such as part assembly, labeling or installing urethane inserts, a new work in pro­cess area has been created where these operations can be performed. This reduces material handling and forklift travel and improves quality be­cause of improved lighting and house­keeping standards.

“One of the advantages of working with Robinson is that most other plastics companies offer either injection molding or thermoforming,” Robinson declares. “If you come to us, you know you’re going to get what you really need when we design your product. We’re not just going to sell you, for example, thermoforming when you really need structural foam. We are experts in several processes, and we will recommend the optimal choice for your needs. We do our own sheet extrusion, so that helps us control quality, price and timing. We have our own engineering department, we make our own prototypes and we do our own plastics recycling. We can control the whole process, which is a huge benefit for our customers.”

Robinson knows that plastic has an environmental advantage over wood for pallets. “A lot of companies are switching to plastic because of environmental concerns,” Robinson explains. “A study of random pallets found in grocery stores found that wood pallets oftentimes have e coli or other contaminants. When the stores use plastic pallets, it is much easier to wash them and reduce the exposure to dangerous bacteria. 

“Many exporters want plastic be­cause they don’t have to worry about the harboring of insects. There are a lot of new regulations.”

Cost Calculator

On Robinson Industries’ web site, a cost calculator developed by the En­vironmental Protection Agency and GreenScapes can estimate the cost savings from reusable plastic pallets over wood ones. “You can plug your numbers in there – how many wood pallets you use, how many closed loop trips – it will show you how much money you can save using plastic,” Robinson explains. “A lot of companies that have used wood traditionally are going to plastic to save money and to be cleaner.”

In warehouse stores, the pallets themselves are sometimes used for product display. “This is a trend they believe will keep growing,” Robinson emphasizes. “Retailers save money by using the pallets for shipping and display, and improve their brand image by displaying on pallets which match their brand colors.”

Robinson Industries is a fourth-generation, family owned company that was founded in 1947 by Fred and Ardis Robinson. Ardis – 99 years young – is president of the company, which is certified as a woman-owned business by the Women’s Business Enterprise Council - Great Lakes.

“It’s not an automatic type of certification,” Robinson stresses. “We submit extensive documentation, plus every two to three years the Women’s Busi­ness Enterprise National Council does a site visit and plant tour. They spend the day here to make sure we are actually being operated as well as owned by women. It’s quite extensive and meaningful once you get the certification.”

That sense of meaning extends throughout the many generations of families that have prospered at Rob­inson Industries.

“We are proud of our heritage and family name,” Robinson declares. “One of our favorite sayings is, ‘We take care of our customers like only a family can.’”

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