TCU Honors South Bend’s Bamar Plastics for Adapting to the Pandemic

The company’s new automated quality-control cart, The Step Saver, helped them pivot to thrive in unprecedented economic conditions. The cart moves freely to facilitate the inspection of parts and improve the efficiency of the production process.

Teachers Credit Union recently honored businesses across Indiana for adapting to the coronavirus pandemic, including Bamar Plastics in South Bend. Overall, $35,000 was distributed to five winners of the TCU Innovate! Business Challenge, which highlights how businesses have adapted to unexpected and difficult pandemic conditions.

“The coronavirus pandemic has created economic conditions that have forced businesses and nonprofits to face unprecedented challenges,” TCU President and CEO Paul Marsh said. “Our business members have shown great agility and creativity in their operations, products and services, and we’re proud to support some of the best ideas through this challenge.”

Bamar Plastics was awarded $5,000 for the development of a new product — The Step Saver. Heather Meixel, Bamar’s president and CEO, and her 15 employees primarily produce high-precision insert-molded automotive components, but they needed to pivot to recoup revenue lost to the pandemic.

The Step Saver helps Bamar’s employees more efficiently do their jobs. A mobile cart outfitted with quality-control instruments, The Step Saver can move freely throughout a factory to facilitate the inspection of parts. The device changed Bamar’s inspection process — and its adaptability makes it a potential game-changer for other industries as well.

“With The Step Saver, my inspection time went from two hours of my morning routine to just 45 minutes,” said Bamar Plastics’ Quality Engineer Nivedha Vijayakumar. “It’s saved a lot of time for me and everyone else. I can get the parts approved quicker, and if any defect is found, I can let the process technicians know, then and there. Time is money and it’s saved a lot of money for us.”

The Step Saver prototype features an antimicrobial plastic surface, a battery to keep the cart operational during an eight-hour workday, and it’s sturdy enough to withstand a run-in with a forklift. Drawing on input from a focus group of leaders from various industries, Bamar already has plans for additional technology and other features to refine The Step Saver.

Meixel envisions custom carts, as well as standard offerings with flexibility to allow businesses to adapt to them to their needs.

“The Step Saver will continue to evolve,” Meixel says. “We want to incorporate more technology. What I see is a product line, probably five or six different kinds of carts, and then customizable options. It’s pretty exciting.”