In today’s increasingly automated manufacturing world, it is difficult to keep up with the accelerating breakthrough technologies such as CAD/CAM/CAE, robotics, 3D printing and artificial intelligence.

Major multi-national manufacturers have budgets that allow them to keep up with these changes and in fact lead many of the changes. Small- and medium-sized manufacturers (SMEs) have tougher decisions to make. Outside of just the dollars and cents needed to invest in new technologies, SMEs must foster an innovative culture, finding and developing workers who can adapt quickly, whether it’s a changing business model, new strategies, new markets and new ways of building things.

Littlestar Plastics in Machesney Park, Illinois, has grown each of its 25 years in business because of innovation. Phil Preston, founder and owner, doesn’t fill positions, instead he looks for talent and then uses that talent to help guide company direction.

Just in the past year:

Modern Machine Shop wrote about a touch screen automated scheduling system it developed with Henning Software to fully automate when change orders would alter production schedules.

Plastics News and Plastics Today both talked to Littlestar about the IndiCert, a simple plastic device Littlestar created that allows workers to twist by hand into threaded insert openings. The IndiCert will not seat, so it falls out if an insert is not present. For Hel-Coil inserts, the IndiCert cannot be installed if the driving tang is still present. It’s an afordable solution to quickly identify whether al the threaded inserts have been installed correctly. The IndiCert is the first product Littlestar created to sell on the open market.

And just this month, the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star publicized the fact that Littlestar added three servo-controlled hydraulic presses that gives the company the capability to injection mold polymers such as Torlon and PEEK into shapes up to two pounds. It now is just one of a handful of companies in the world that can create parts up to that size.

Just in the past 12 months, Littlestar has created a more efficient way to run the shop, developed and launched a new product and invested in new equipments that place it at the top of its industry in terms of capability.

That’s dizzying … but it’s what manufacturers have to do to grow.