George Aultman of Vantage Plastics
Vantage Plastics strives to form solutions, form a sustainable future, and form better lives
Twenty-seven years ago, George Aultman and his brother Paul were approached by two brothers who owned an existing plastics business, asking the Aultman brothers if they were interested in purchasing the facility. From its humble beginnings with six employees and three machines, Standish-based Vantage Plastics has used innovation and ingenuity to grow steadily to roughly the 415-employees, multiple-additional machines, and the vertically integrated operation it is today.
Since the niche of Vantage Plastics is to be the innovative and integrated plastics processor, it has introduced several injection molding machines into the new location expanding its plastic processing capabilities. This will allow Vantage Plastics to provide many additional product solutions for an expanding number of markets and customers. This has been done in conjunction with Lotis Technologies which has been added to the family of companies as an injection molding design and management group.
George says his and Paul’s upbringing on the family farm in Coleman is the source of their work ethic, inventiveness and can-do attitude.
“Our father was a ‘Dow farmer’ and served in World War II and our mother was a true ‘Rosie the Riveter,’” Aultman said. “With their guidance we were taught and ingrained with many values. Among them we learned the value and joy of teamwork in running a farm to achieve positive operational results and to overcome obstacles. We learned not only about the value of maintaining tools and equipment but also how to use ingenuity when something broke or needed to be made to work.”
That inventiveness has been ingrained into Vantage Plastics’ DNA since the beginning and represents one pillar of the company’s mission: “To Form Solutions.” Vantage Plastics’ first customer was General Motors, whose first order was for a twin sheet product. The company didn’t actually have the machine that was needed to make the part but through ingenuity, was able to retrofit an existing machine and supply the necessary parts.
Since those early days, Vantage Plastics has experienced steady growth and always reinvested back into the company. Early on it achieved the ISO-9001 quality certification and has been recognized with several awards over the years. Today, the company has 18 thermoforming machines, five extrusion lines, and now 10 injection molding machines. These machines are used to manufacture products including material handling parts, custom containers for auto parts, consumer products such as deer blinds, sleds, kids’ wading pools, and more. It has also added engineering, design, software programs, testing equipment, staffing, and many other enhancements to support positive customer experiences in ever increasing and diversified markets. In addition to working with all major OEMs, Vantage’s customers include the agricultural, food processing and handling, recreation, construction, medical, military, aerospace, and a multitude of other industries.
Vantage Plastics also makes sure to take advantage of the many resources that are available to growing companies. Seeking assistance with its trade and export efforts, Vantage Plastics began working with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s International Trade program early in its history. MI-STEP grant funds have enabled the company to participate in several trade shows, including Pack-Expo, the Automotive Packaging Summit, and the Automotive Meetings in Queretaro, Mexico, that allowed the company to meet directly with Mexican customers and resulted in increased export sales. It also helped establish two of its new sales representatives that live within Mexico.
“The MEDC team has been a real godsend to us, helping with training, trade shows and several other programs,” Aultman said. “They’re very quick and responsive, providing all kinds of resources and have been of great assistance with any request we’ve had.”
The purposeful reuse or diversion of waste streams of materials is another component of the company’s mission. “To Form a Sustainable Future.” In 2016 Vantage added a recycling division called Edge Material Management, guaranteeing to buy back and repurpose any plastic product manufactured by Vantage Plastics when its useful purpose has come to an end. The company continues to pursue new recycling opportunities and has recently added equipment that can recycle Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) and Expanded Polypropylene (EPP). There are very few locations within the United States with this capability. The company also maintains a dedicated innovation team that helps investigate how certain waste materials including organic blends can be incorporated into plastic materials for special applications.
The company’s innovation team looks at new solutions for material handling, and manufacturing efficiencies. At a recent Society of Plastics Engineers event held in Cleveland, Ohio Vantage Plastics received two Gold Awards for unique product solutions that revolutionize both the material handling and agricultural fields and will have a significant impact on both.
“In fact, our whole team has unbelievable capabilities, from the production floor workers to the maintenance crew. I never cease to be amazed by the skills Michiganders have,” Aultman said. “The east side of the state especially is an undiscovered natural jewel , with people who have tremendous skills and work ethic. The talents and skills right here in Standish, Bay City and surrounding areas of Michigan are truly amazing. Without our team of people, we couldn’t do what we do here.”
The company has also investigated working with Canadian-based Ocean Legacy Foundation to see how plastics being retrieved from the ocean might be recycled into new products. Vantage Plastics has also worked with Tesla to create returnable/reusable plastic packaging instead of disposable cardboard for installers to deliver Tesla’s solar-powered integrated battery systems, or “PowerWalls,” to be used on homes and businesses for supplying a source of electricity powered by the sun. This is what Aultman refers to as a “conversion” where other commonly used materials are replaced by plastics to achieve an improved outcome.
“Forming Better Lives” is the third, and most important, pillar of Vantage Plastics’ mission, Aultman says, with the overarching goal of forming better lives for customers, employees, the community and the world at large. The company focuses heavily on engaging with its employees and providing pathways and opportunities for growth from within. The vision it aims to achieve by 2027 is to be the “premier employer with a highly engaged workforce through individual development, world class safety, integration and process automation.”
The company gives back in numerous ways, including forming a nonprofit 501c3 called the Well Outreach, which provides many services not only to employees but members of the community, including other businesses. The company also participates in the annual Manufacturing Day event, bringing in hundreds of students from several area schools to encourage them to explore the diverse number of careers available in manufacturing as well as demonstrate Michigan’s leadership in advanced manufacturing.
Vantage has experienced exponential growth and in 2023 the company achieved record sales with the expectation that 2024 will exceed that record. Aultman also sees more automation in the company’s future, which will translate into less physical work for its employees, leading them to more skilled positions. Most recently the company has expanded its operations into Bay City by restoring a 325,000-square-foot previously abandoned industrial building. This effectively doubled the company’s existing space and has significantly expanded employment opportunities.
With an eye toward strategic development the future is almost unlimited, Aultman says. The region’s strong talent pool, the company’s innovative approach to providing solutions, and the opportunities to continue delivering sustainable products that have an impact on the world all point to a bright future for The Vantage Plastics Family of Companies.
Learn why people like George Aultman are choosing Michigan at www.michiganbusiness.org/why-michigan/.