JACKSON CENTER — The year was 1968.
Wayne Korn, an engineer at Airstream in Jackson Center, didn’t like the quality of plastic, thermoformed parts the company was buying from outside suppliers.
“I thought I could do as good as what we were getting,” the now 87-year-old retiree said by phone from his home in Avon, recently.
And that’s why Creative Plastics International is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. There will be a customer-appreciation event in celebration of its golden anniversary later this year.
The Jackson Center firm got its start in a garage in Anna, where Korn was living at the time.
“We started out with some electric heaters. I mounted them in a frame. We warmed sheets (of plastic) up by hand,” he said.
Thermoforming, sometimes referred to a vacuum forming, creates plastic parts for a variety of industries by heating a sheet of plastic to make it pliable, pulling the air out of it to force it into a mold and then cooling it and trimming it.
“The basic process is pretty simple. We were too dumb to know we couldn’t do it, so we did it,” Korn said.
Today, Creative Plastics is led by President/CEO Jerry Wurm from offices in New Washington. Wurm’s Woodworking Co. purchased controlling interest in Creative Plastics Inc. in 2009, when Korn retired.
Onsite in Jackson Center, Keith Korn, a second cousin of Wayne’s, and Randy Korn, Wayne’s son, keep things running smoothly. Keith is vice president of sales and design. Randy is vice president of operations.
In the early years, Wayne made the molds for the interior window trims of Airstream trailers, himself.
“I may have done it all, myself, for awhile,” Wayne said. But it wasn’t long before a 10-year-old Randy helped with the thermoforming.
“I almost burned the house down,” Randy said. “I was making plastic parts, and I had a crush on a girl. I was sitting on a ladder, watching her out the windows. I had a sheet in the oven and it caught fire.”
None of the Korns can remember exactly when the operation moved from the Anna garage to what had been a hangar for airplanes at Shelby County’s first airstrip. Wayne’s uncles took to the air not too long after the Wright Brothers made their first flight and created the strip on their farm outside Jackson Center. Wayne’s father also became an aviator and Wayne admitted to “doing some flying, myself.” An historical marker in the front yard of today’s Creative Plastics plant commemorates those early adventurers.
The hangar was the perfect place to enlarge the business, Wayne said. It was big and empty. After he got the processes working, he added four or five additional employees. Keith came on board in 1971; Randy, in 1993. Now, the company employs 22 people working two full shifts every day.
Wayne noted that the biggest challenge for him was learning how to design and build molds so the resultant parts would be good. Keith and Randy face a different challenge in 2018:
“Finding, hiring and retaining good employees,” said Randy. There are currently five, entry-level openings at Creative Plastics. Previous thermoforming experience is not necessary. Inexperienced employees will be trained on the job.
The company has come a long way from electric heaters mounted in frames. State-of-the-art, computer-run machines now heat plastic sheets that can make parts as large as 8-feet by 10-feet by 4-feet deep.
Every part is for one or another of 70 to 80 original equipment manufacturers. Some of those parts are pressure formed instead of thermoformed.
“Thermoforming depends on atmospheric pressure. In pressure forming, there’s pressure on material to push it into the mold, which gives us much finer detail than thermoforming,” Keith said. Creative Plastics added pressure molding capabilities in 1980.
“The biggest difference since when the company started and today is the materials we can get and the acceptance of the public and the manufacturers that plastic is OK and a good way to go,” Keith said. “We have a wider variety of materials to use. The materials are better. Colors are unlimited. The acceptance of plastic has tremendously grown.”
Computers also have made an impact on the thermoforming industry. They’ve changed the design and trimming processes. Designs are developed using three-dimensional computer-aided design data. CNC routers do the trimming.
“Before, we’d have to trim everything by hand,” Keith said. The routers ensure that every part’s measurements are exact.
The firm’s customer base still includes Airstream, but in 50 years of business, it has added manufacturers in the medical equipment, agriculture, automotive and refrigeration industries in addition to other RV makers. Most customers are within a 100-mile radius of the Jackson Center plant, but Creative Plastics also serves manufacturers from Michigan to Alabama, Connecticut to Wyoming.
“We consider ourselves one of the high quality thermoforming companies in the state of Ohio,” Keith said.