By Angela Rose | Jan 30, 2017
Custom foam solutions
Industry: Industrial & Contract
Products: Custom foam solutions
As the name would imply, you'll find a lot of foam at Aurora's Foam Fabricators. Founded in 1980 by a husband-and-wife team, and purchased by McNamara and his brother Bob in 2005, the company runs about 7.5 million parts each year in its 50,000-square-foot facility. Most are manufactured from one of more than a dozen different types of foam, all of which are recyclable, environmentally friendly, and free of CFCs, HCFCs, HFCs, and BPH.
"We probably use up to 14 different types of foam at this point," says McNamara. "Depending on the customer's industry, we might use a specialty foam with a unique purpose such as sound dampening or deflection. However, the majority of the foam we use is recycled content polyethylene."
"Being in a very environmentally sensitive state like Colorado, we have to be an environmentally responsible company," he continues. "About 90 percent of the foams we use are either fully recyclable, like the polyethylene, or fully reusable in a different environment, like the polyurethane. We sell polyethylene foam scrap back to the foam extruders so they can create new recycled content foam from it. We grind up the polyurethane foam scrap and sell it to carpet pad manufacturers."
Foam Fabricators sources 95 percent of the materials it uses domestically. "We bring in a lot of foam from Texas and California," McNamara says. "We also buy foam from the Midwest and Michigan."
The company's customers range from packaging resellers to end users in healthcare, construction, oil and gas, marketing, athletics, and electronics. "The packaging industry makes up the majority of our business," McNamara explains. "We provide custom foam packaging solutions for people who manufacture products as well as people who just ship products."
The manufacturing process is very hands-on as a result, with most custom orders beginning with prototype design and qualification testing. Once the Foam Fabricators team is sure the prototype is ging to protect the product their customer intends to ship -- such as a fragile electronic device or piece of medical equipment, for example -- they send the design to production.
"At that point, depending on what the design actually looks like, it may require anywhere from one to six or seven of our fabrication processes to create the end product," McNamara says. "These processes include die cutting, band sawing, convoluting, gluing, heat welding, laser cutting, and CNC routing. We have automated equipment, but because of the nature of creating these custom products, each one of those pieces of equipment is run by a different employee."
Recently, McNamara has seen a surge in demand for custom drone and gun cases. "Since we acquired the ability to laser cut and CNC route foam, we've been able to create custom foam inserts for reusable cases for carrying guns, drones, and accessories," he says.
Foam Fabricators diversified into the print finishing industry in mid-2015, adding the equipment necessary to provide foil stamping, die cutting, folding, and gluing services for commercial printers. Print finishing now accounts for 20 percent of the company's business, with custom foam packaging solutions making up the rest.
They expanded their foam division into the Kentucky and Ohio markets with the purchase of two sister companies several years ago. "Both are foam operations -- one in Louisville and one in Cincinnati -- that we manage, but we own half of them," McNamara says. "This geographic expansion has accounted for a lot of our growth."
He doesn't expect Foam Fabricators to further diversify or expand in 2017. "I'm probably looking at a 5- to 7-percent growth rate across all three locations this year," he concludes.
Challenges: "Labor costs have become a definite challenge in our industry, especially in the Denver market over the last couple of years," McNamara says. "Labor availability is also challenging. As our equipment becomes more technical, finding experienced operators to run it has become more difficult."
To address this challenge, Foam Fabricators has been cross-training workers on equipment such as their CNC routers and lasers. "This has allowed us to fill in some of the holes that we have," McNamara explains. "We're also continuously trying to recruit new employees who have the right technical skills. Fortunately, more of the technical schools and community colleges in Colorado are coming up with programs to train people to fill these advanced manufacturing positions."
Opportunities: McNamara says growth in U.S. manufacturing is going to lead to great opportunities. "When U.S. manufacturing grows, we tend to benefit," he says. "I think we'll also see continued growth in the reshipping market. I call it the Amazon phenomenon, where people are just shipping more products in general. That really benefits us as well."
Needs: "We need to implement some of the technologies that traditionally have not been available to smaller manufacturers but are becoming much more so," McNamara says. "Most of that falls into robotics. The robotics industry is changing very quickly and becoming much more cost effective, allowing smaller companies like us to get involved. We really need to be on the forefront of small manufacturing companies utilizing robotics in order to become efficient enough to survive in the future."