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May 25, 2004 > Tri-City Plastics

Tri-City Plastics

In 1967, the world chortled at a scene in "The Graduate" in which a smug Los Angeles businessman takes aside baby-faced Dustin Hoffman and declares, "I just want to say one word to you -- just one word - plastics." Although the term was used as a double entendre, referring to shallow minds as well as the coming revolution in product design, the truth of the statement for manufacturing is indisputable.

Brian Petersen and Tim Kirkland of Tri-City Plastics understand the prophecy of that statement and are grateful to a Belgian-born chemist entrepreneur Leo Baekeland. Baekeland hoped to capitalize on shortages of naturally occurring shellac used to insulate electrical cables in the early years of the 20th century. In 1907, he created the world's first completely synthetic plastic he called "Bakelite."

Bakelite could be molded quickly into different shapes and retained its shape even when heated or subjected to solvents. Soon Bakelite was being used for everything from jewelry to light bulb sockets. Its use diminished only when other, more brightly colored plastics were introduced. Twentieth century chemistry brought an explosion of new products, using plastics, to consumers. These proved stronger, more enduring, and more versatile than their natural counterparts. Today, plastic materials are so widely used it is hard to imagine life without them.

Brian Petersen is a machinist by trade with a background in cabinetry and fabrication who spent time restoring antique tractors. He says that about twelve years ago, "I got tired of the oil, metal and slivers and went into plastic." Working with a plastic fabrication company, he met Tim Kirkland, a software librarian, who had been laid off from his job. Even though Tim had had never worked with plastic before, Bryon asked him if he would like to work at the plastic fabrication facility. "I was desperate," says Tim, so I said "yes." At Bryon's request, the company agreed to hire Tim and he says, "I have been learning ever since." These friends both found an interest in the variety and possibilities of plastic manufacture.

When the plastic fabrication shop closed, Bryon and Tim decided to take an entrepreneurial leap into their own business. On January 1, 2001, Tri-City Plastics was born! "We are making it, but it is tough," says Bryon. He adds, "The only problem is that there is no boss to blame" and with a chuckle, adds, "so we fire each other every couple of weeks!" Along with Bryon's mom, Betty Petersen who he calls the "unsung hero" of the business, the duo has worked many long hours that most small business people have grown to know well. "It's like raising a child," says Bryon.

"Even as a youngster, I was always taking things apart to figure out how things worked and then rebuilding them," says Bryon. "I even worked as a blacksmith for six years with the Renaissance Pleasure Fair, so I am a real 'hands-on' type of person." Plastic is flexible and can be shaped and formed rapidly. Depending upon your requirements, "there is a plastic that will meet your needs."

Tim says that often customers come to Tri-City Plastics with an idea and rely on the creative talents of Tri-City Plastics staff to put the final pieces in place - bringing it to reality. "Some plans come to us as full-blown blueprints and others as drawings on napkins. It runs the gamut. Some people come in with just an idea in their head and ask if we can help." Bryon adds that he feels that this is one of the strengths of Tri-City Plastics. "We can fill in the missing piece of an idea. Some engineering clients will come to us with 75% of an idea, but need help to complete the concept." With an eclectic fabrication background, Bryon says he can often think of techniques and "tricks of the trade" to transform concepts into reality. Trips to the hardware store often result in ideas of how to use items in novel ways. "Sometimes we are able to reduce time, effort and cost by thinking outside the box."

Tri-City Plastics is based on an "open" concept. The public is welcome to visit and ask for help even if it falls outside their expertise. Bryon and Tim have formed a network of artisans who can either supply a key ingredient or may know of a better way to fabricate a design. "We always ask our customers about what they do to see if there is a chance to network," says Bryon. "It's the old fashioned theme of know your neighbor."

"Our doors are always open to questions," says Bryon. "There is no stupid question except the one that isn't asked." He adds that most fabrication shops are specialized and do not give retail service for the public.

Bryon cautions that although plastics can provide an answer to many things, it does have limitations. However, "There is a constant reengineering of plastics resulting in new uses."

Many jobs become "mind numbing" with repetitive demands, but both Tim and Bryon agree that their role is anything but routine. "We never know who will walk through our doors and what the project may be. It's a constant challenge. We do what the job requires whether it is to cut, form, bend, machine, drill or join plastic." Some plastics can be "solvent welded" where separate pieces are actually joined chemically while others must be screwed together or mechanically bonded. In any case, these people know what to do!

The Tri-City Plastics team has been enlisted to help with some interesting requests. They have been asked to create everything from a full scale mock-up of a turbine engine to a biological containment apparatus. "We build a lot of boxes and displays," says Tim. Their skill to shape plastic of different texture, color and thickness, facilitates efficient custom production. "The ability to glue any shape together, means that no matter what shape is required, it can be done - hexagons, octagons, whatever. We are good at the odd stuff where everyone else kind of hems and haws. We will try it!"

An example of Tri-City Plastics ingenuity is the unique and classic design of the new Tri-City Voice stands, now beginning to appear throughout the Tri-Cities. An idea of what was needed without a concise plan resulted in a stand that was a welcome addition to our "stacks and racks" distribution. The new stand has been well received by local stores. Tri-City Plastics is now working on additional ideas to incorporate the diverse requirements of retail outlets who stock the Tri-City Voice.

No matter what the request or how detailed the idea, Tri-City Plastics is a welcome home for practical and creative solutions. The cheerful atmosphere and "can do" attitude makes even fuzzy ideas sharpen into focus. Come by to see how Tri-City Plastics can help your idea to fruition!

Tri-City Plastics
6803 Central Ave., Newark
(510) 742-8008

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