Small Business Spotlight: American Plastic Fabricators finds new opportunities to serve during pandemic

“Give us an opportunity, and we’ll make it happen,” stated Mike Morris, owner and CEO of American Plastics Fabricators in Brookneal. Morris has the confidence, creativity, and local talent to create “not just one product.” His company, which he describes as a plastics machine shop, usually handles custom jobs, “anywhere from a couple of pieces to 1,000 pieces.”

As spotlighted in last week’s issue of The Union Star, American Plastics Fabricators is now producing 75,000 plastic face shields for medical personnel at UVA, in Richmond, and in Chesapeake. The usual materials for the face shields are not just in short supply these days, they are not available.

In order to be able to fill the job, Morris used his years of experience, including work with his father and brother, to come up with alternate materials for the shields. He also started an assembly line, not normally a feature at his plant, and hired 17 local workers coming in six days a week to fulfill the order which will meet the needs of medical personnel. Morris’ company is practicing social distancing among workers and has personnel who wipe surfaces all day long. No one has been sick.

Morris explained, “There are a lot of people talented with their hands here in the Brookneal area.” He is pleased with his assembly line and said the order has “opened our company’s eyes to assembly type of work.” Morris describes his business as “working across industries” and “responsive to challenges.” Morris noted, “That’s what keeps this business fun. We’re always looking for new products.”

For the face shields order, which began as a request for 25,000 shields then turned into 75,000, Morris went to a Richmond warehouse on a Sunday afternoon to meet with a nurse from one of the hospitals in need. There she showed him a shield, and he showed her some of the materials he planned to use and a hands-on prototype mask. That’s not the kind of thing that usually happens when Morris is bidding a job, but as most people have found today, many employed are finding new ways to work to respond to the pandemic, even as others are struggling simply to find work.

Morris explained there are hundreds of kinds of plastic. Many are inexpensive, like that used to make a plastic coke bottle. Others can cost $1,000 per foot length and endure heat up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. “There are not a lot of machine shops that specialize in plastic,” he said.

Morris continued, “If you’re going to work with plastic, you have to do it often. You have to do it all the time to be good at it.” One reason for that is that plastic can sometimes move while it’s being worked on, unlike metal.

In today’s industry, working with plastic also requires computer knowledge. “We make a computer program to make a part. We can make that same part time after time. That’s a lot more accurate than what someone can do cranking by hand,” Morris detailed, as he recalled earlier days in manufacturing.

American Plastic Fabricators has been in business in Brookneal since the 1990s. Morris said he “grew up in the machining business.” He described working in his father’s machine shop in Raleigh, North Carolina. He shared that when his father retired and moved to a farm in the Brookneal area, he worked for the Fortune 200 company that bought his father’s shop. Now, in addition to working to continue his success with American Plastic Fabricators, Mike Morris lives on the farm with his father, and they raise bison as a part-time venture.

For more local news like this, be sure to pick up a print copy of this week's The Union Star. It is available on newsstands throughout the greater Brookneal area. Or call (434) 376-2795 to order a subscription to be delivered directly to your home or business.