Living up to a legacy can be difficult. Just ask Pete Rose Jr., who worked his way through Minor League Baseball, trying to make his mark on the sport like his father who, 35 years after retiring, still has more hits than any other Major League Baseball player.
Don Rainville has made his own mark in the plastics industry, despite following in the large footsteps of his legendary father Dewey, who founded several companies, including Conair, Universal Dynamics (Una-Dyn) and the Rainville Co.
Don Rainville started working when he was 6 years old in the mailroom of Rainville Co., the first national sales representative for plastics machinery.
During his career, Rainville was sales manager, president and owner of Una-Dyn, which he and his father sold to Mann+Hummel in 1995. At age 28, Rainville, with other engineers, was instrumental in developing the Society of the Plastics Industry [SPI] protocol for communications between injection molding machines and auxiliary equipment and in building a test fixture to determine if equipment met the protocol. These industry standards still work today.
Rainville also was a spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers from 1994 to 2000, where he worked on developing electronic material data safety sheets (MSDS) in conjunction with the Clinton Administration.
After selling Una-Dyn, Rainville stayed with Mann+Hummel until 2006 and started his current company, Advanced Auxiliary Equipment Inc., in 2008.
AAE supplies pneumatic conveying, blending and destoning equipment to the plastics, chemical and food industries. Its products include Venturi and vacuum loaders; gravimetric and volumetric color feeders for injection molding and extrusion; blenders; dryers; and regrind-management systems. Its factory in Shacklefords, Va., performs metal fabrication, welding, polishing, assembly and 3-D printing. The company consists of three business units: AAE Direct, MovaColor and Coffee Loaders+.
Don Rainville discussed his career, sport fishing, defending patents and his affection for YouTube with Plastics Machinery Magazine Senior Reporter Bruce Adams.
Tell me about your father.
Rainville: My father was an entrepreneur who started many companies. The Rainville Co. was his main company. It was the first and only national rep organization for selling plastics machinery. He had full-time employees from California to New York, and from Canada to Florida. Una-Dyn and Conair were both spinoffs of the Rainville Co. Conair, which is one of the biggest U.S. equipment suppliers to this day, was originally called Rainco. When my father sold his interest to his partner, they just rearranged the letters to spell Conair.
Foremost was a small business in Brooklyn that made custom machines. My father taught them how to make grinders. That company ended up focusing on the plastics industry.
He brought one of the first blow molding machines, called Blowmatic, into the United States from Germany. He always loved blow molding. He started the Rainville Injection Blow Molding Machine Co., which was very successful and was dominant in that market until it was sold to Uniloy.
When were you introduced to plastics?
Rainville: There was a lot of plastics activity going on throughout my entire life. From the time I was 6 years old, I worked vacations and summers filling envelopes for mailing, and as I got older, I worked in factories making chillers, grinders and other equipment. When I left Hofstra University, I went to work for the Rainville Co., which was in New Jersey, still selling nationally, and was primarily focused on injection molding machines and blow molding machines.
When did you join Una-Dyn?
Rainville: In 1980, I moved to Virginia as sales manager of Una-Dyn. At that time, Una-Dyn had sales of about $2 million to $3 million. It peaked under my management just before Sept. 11, 2001, at $42 million, with just under 350 people and 28 percent of the market share sales for dryers in dollars. I say ‘dollars’ because we made big dryers. We didn’t sell nearly as many dryers as other companies. But our dryers were $100,000 apiece, not $10,000, so we did a lot more revenue in dryers.
When did you feel like you made your first mark on the industry?
Rainville: In 1980, I went to my first SPI meeting and I brought up the fact that we were getting similar requests at Una-Dyn from multiple customers. We had just developed the first microprocessor-based control for dryers and loaders. We were introducing them into the market, and we were getting requests from different customers for specific software to communicate with their machines. It was impossible to make money doing that, but we needed to develop an industry standard so that people could connect their auxiliary machines to their injection molding machines or their extruders.
That being my first meeting, I didn’t quite understand that when you say something like that, you’re actually volunteering to do it, which was the result. I was 28 at the time. I was fortunate that we got the top technical people from major manufacturers — Van Dorn, Cincinnati, Conair — to participate in this. Top companies sent their best engineers, very bright electrical engineers, and we developed what was called the SPI protocol.
We not only created a standard, we created a test fixture to verify compliance. We wrote separate standards for every machine, for dryers, loaders, color feeders, mold-temperature controllers, heater controllers. It was a separate standard for each one, but it was a common protocol so they would communicate over a single wire. When we developed the test fixture, companies ... could test [equipment] to see if it worked. That was sort of a certification, because companies couldn’t claim they had it right if their machine didn’t pass the test.
The test fixture was extremely successful because it worked. You either passed the test and met the standard or you didn’t. Using the SPI protocol, companies were able to link their equipment to communicate, for example, between auxiliary equipment and injection molding machines. SPI was selling it for, I think, $2,500. They brought in a lot of money by selling it. It’s still in use today. It was the industry standard, until maybe last year when Industry 4.0 came out. For a protocol standard to last 35 years is incredible. The majority of people who wrote this are long gone, but because the documentation was so good and the test fixture worked, it still survives. That was very important for the industry. I got the Industry Achievement Award from SPI at the Hall of Fame Dinner in 1997 for my contributions to the industry at large, including my work on the initiation and development of the SPI protocol.
Tell me about your tenure with the National Association of Manufacturers.
Rainville: I was on the National Association of Manufacturers from 1994 to 2000. During that time, I was a spokesman for manufacturing. I was on all the evening news channels and testified to the Senate. I was on CNN over 15 times in one year.
During that time, David Brinkley did a 20-minute news feature on Universal Dynamics comparing us to Caterpillar, which was very funny, because you couldn’t tell that we weren’t equal companies. Universal Dynamics has a big-sounding name. They compared how happy our workers were to the Caterpillar workers who were going on strike. It made it look like it was an even comparison between similar companies. That was one reason why Mann+Hummel purchased us. After they saw that report, they made a decision to go ahead and purchase the company.
President Clinton appointed me to a committee on MSDS sheets to review electronic transfers. That was when I learned that there are two sides to every story. I learned that the Ford Motor Co. literally had several 18-wheelers full of MSDS sheets at a plant, and they were supposed to deliver them to the local fire departments, which is impossible. But they were required by law to supply an MSDS sheet for everything in their plant to the local emergency services. It was crazy. But the purpose of the MSDS sheets was well-intentioned and they were important.
President Clinton wanted us to make all the MSDS sheets electronic. Liberals on the committee said that the average person can’t access electronic sheets, which was a valid point. But if they were electronic, the emergency response workers could pull them up when needed, such as in the middle of a parking lot during a fire. It was a very interesting experience.
Why did Mann+Hummel want to buy Universal Dynamics?
Rainville: At that time their largest business was making fuel filters, air filters and oil filters for cars. They thought that electric cars were going to destroy their filters business, so they wanted to diversify. They already had bought a German company that made equipment like ours — dryers and loaders. They always had their own powder group, selling PVC powder systems. They wanted to expand that line so if the filter business declined, they would have another avenue for growth. In the end, I think they found out why you don’t go into somebody else’s business. It didn’t work out too well for them.
Why did you retire from Mann+Hummel in January 2006?
Rainville: It was just time to go. I had a great boss who was a dear friend. They were very good to me. It was a good company. But if I was going to go off and do my own thing, I had to do it then or never. I was in my early 50s.
What led you to start AAE?
Rainville: I left Mann+Hummel in January 2006, about 11 years after we sold Universal Dynamics to them. I had a two-year non-compete clause, so I was retired for two years. I was a big sport fisherman at the time. I went fishing every day for two years and had a great time. I enjoyed being retired.
Discuss your launch of AAE.
Rainville: I started Advanced Auxiliary Equipment in 2008 during the Great Recession. It was a fun project for me. I was the only employee, I had a factory full of CNC equipment and I had no customers. It was great. All I did was invent things and try to come up with new things.
Of course, I have to do accounting. I did all the software for our website myself. I have a wide range of interests. I think YouTube is the most wonderful development for learning ever. I call it YouTube University. In fact, that’s my solution for America for free college education for everyone, just put college programs on the internet and they should be free. If you complete it successfully, then you get a degree. People who make a living as teachers could sell their tutorial skills to people who need help. YouTube is changing the world. Anybody can do anything if they really try.
Discuss the challenges of being a new company selling to the plastics industry.
Rainville: We have three employees and we’re a virtual company that exists on the internet. We don’t have any salesmen or any print literature. But we’re innovative in our marketing and in our ideas. We did that because there are no reps available in the plastics industry. There are probably 10 strong companies competing for reps in every territory. Even large territories like Chicago, New Jersey, Texas, North Carolina, there are two or three good reps in each one of them. There are places where major companies have no representation at all in big areas.
So, we decided to sell on the internet. We can provide better service by dealing with customers directly. I think that we've proven that. But we’ve also proven that it’s difficult to sell to the plastics industry that way. The food industry is much more adaptive to internet sales. It’s quite interesting that 95 percent of our sales to the food industry comes from an iPhone or a cell phone, while 95 percent of our sales to the plastics industry comes from a personal computer.
We don’t do any print advertising to the food and chemical industry. But that’s the only thing that works in the plastics industry. There’s a big difference between the two industries. And it’s a challenge to get the word out to our customers about our products. They are used to having a salesman call on them, which we don’t do. When they decide to buy something, there’s somebody that’s been taking them out to lunch for five years, and he needs the order because he needs to eat. We understand that is how it works. So, we try to offer very innovative products to the companies that they can only get from us. It’s just the way that we’ve evolved. I think that the plastics industry will evolve more this way.
We’re designed to sell online. If you look at our website, you’ll see that you can buy parts, buy machines and get prices online. We have a new website page coming, where you can go to one page and get quotes for everything you need in one page. You don’t have to scroll to different products. We’re trying to make it easy for customers to get the information they need and to get quotes.
You said you don’t want AAE to be a “me too” company. Please explain.
Rainville: I always had the plan that I would never offer a product that was imitating a product that was out there. It had to be innovative. We try to produce special equipment that does things that nobody else has to offer. In the plastics industry, our compressed air loaders are the only ones that offer a self-cleaning filter.
We also offer blending on the machine throat, which I’m amazed that after 10 years, nobody else is doing. We’ve had customers see their parts rejects drop dramatically, just by turning on our loader. They have a vision system where they’re taking an image of each shot and rejecting parts with shorts or flash, and they see an immediate reduction in part defects because we mix the material so well on the machine. There’s no difference in heat history or viscosity running through the manifold, so it flows consistently. We’ve proven that time and time again.
We have some customers that are large companies that have purchased over 100 units. They test our equipment, see the results, and the next thing we know they have over 100 units. It works out very well for them. Our problem is selling to small companies.
Who was your mentor growing up?
Rainville: My father was amazing. He taught me everything and he was a real entrepreneur. He was in love with machinery and I was more money-oriented. He was always spending every dime he made on his next dream. And I was always saying, “there’s nothing better than having a couple million dollars in the bank so that you can chase your next dream.” It was a big difference in management philosophies. But in the end, we made a great team. I would have probably never done things he did, and he never waited until things came together to try something new. We got things done at the right time. Particularly in regard to capital investment.
What was the greatest challenge you faced growing your business?
Rainville: The greatest challenge I have is marketing. Particularly in the plastics industry, there aren’t any representatives available. Getting our products in front of customers is very difficult. They have not yet really gone to the internet for their research and for buying. Sales in the plastics industry is built on personal relationships.
What are some of the other challenges you encountered as you grew your business?
Rainville: Learning how to program CNC machines and welding. I had all these machines and I had to learn how to run them myself. That was a challenge, but it was a joy. It’s what I enjoyed the most.
I get up at 4 o’clock every morning almost seven days a week to go to work. I work all the time because I love what I do. I’m at the point now where I have so much technology in my hands that I can think of something at 4 o’clock in the morning, I can design something in SolidWorks in just a few hours that used to take me months to get engineers to do. I can literally design simple machines in three hours. I can cut them out on our own CNC cutting machines and weld them together myself and on many occasions by noon I hold it in my hands.
I used to have 40 engineers and draftsmen and it would take months to get anything done. Now I can do it myself in hours. But that’s a negative too, because that’s what I do all the time. And unfortunately, the next night, I might do it again and again.
What are some important milestones?
Rainville: The biggest milestone was when we achieved 28 percent market share in the dryers, and we were a dominant force in the building of the PET beverage and extrusion plants in the United States. We had a dominant market share. That was the year we got up to $42 million in sales just before 9/11. The SPI protocol also was a big accomplishment. It’s something I’m proud to be associated with.
The thing I get the most pleasure from today is I still get a lot of contacts from young people who came to work for me over the years who were young and immature. I got to watch them turn into productive, happy people. Many of them still stay in contact with me and thank me for hanging in there with them when they were young. Some of them did some crazy things. But they matured and ended up with families and I was happy to be able to be there for them.
To what do you attribute your company’s success?
Rainville: Innovative design. We have unique designs. People try it, it works and they buy more. For example, electric vacuum loaders have been around forever. Everyone I know has always put the motor on the lid, right back to the original Conair loader. We don’t do that. We put the vacuum motor on the floor so that there’s no dust all over the machine. It’s soundproof and all the maintenance work is on the machine level. If for some reason it fails, you can just swap it out with another one in a few seconds. You don’t have to climb up on the machine, you don’t have any downtime.
The customers that have tried it really liked it and they buy more. But its design is completely different than everything else out there in the market. But that’s all we sell. We don’t sell a loader with the motor on the lid, which every other company I know of sells worldwide. The other advantage is we can put a much larger filter in that housing than you can put in a flat pad in a loader, so our motors last four or five times longer. The customers that buy it, buy a lot more.
Do you hold any patents?
Rainville: Over the years, I’ve held many patents. I pretty much went away from patents. About 15 years ago we had a patent and we wanted to go after somebody for violating it. Our lawyer said that if you win, you’ll pay $600,000 in legal fees. That’s if you win. I don’t call that winning. So, my philosophy of patents is that if you’re copying what I did, you’re way behind me. Because we are constantly improving and developing our products. If you see something that we’re doing that you like and you want to copy it, you’re welcome to do it. Because by the time you come out with it, we’re going to have something better.
What are you developing now?
Rainville: We’re focusing on RemoteVac loaders and proportioning valve controls. We also distribute MovaColor blending equipment from the Netherlands, which is a world-class product and the largest in the world. We’re focusing on improving local service in America. Not only support and training, but parts. You can buy parts on our website for their product. We’re focusing on increasing the support for MovaColor products. We’re also working on a dryer that we hope to put out by the end of the year. That also is going to be completely different than anything in the market.
What’s your impression of Industry 4.0 and its future in the plastics industry?
Rainville: I’m not as connected to that as I used to be. The people that I’m talking to say it is not defined well enough. Without a test fixture in the standard, I really question how it’s going to work in the industry. I don’t know how many people really connect their equipment on the level that’s possible. Even with the protocol, once we had it available, the actual implementation of the protocol by the industry was probably less than 10 percent. Every machine manufacturer had to have it available, but most customers didn’t implement it. I think 4.0 is going to be the same, unless you get a clear definition of what it is, how to apply it and how it’s going to relate to connecting an injection molding machine to a mold temperature controller. If that happens, then it should be great. The old protocol is old technology. It’s bulletproof and it still works. But it’s over 40 years old. How could that possibly be state-of-the-art in today’s electronic world?
What will be the next phase of machine automation?
Rainville: I think that the electric machines have made a big innovation, not just in energy consumption, but in consistency, which will make it possible for more companies to operate lights-out. I’ve been surprised how few companies operate lights-out, even on the third shift. Most of the companies that are lights-out are just on the third shift and only on certain machines. Very few companies have really been successful with that. Certainly, if you have to do a lot of mold changes, that makes it very difficult. But I think that automation and robotics have made a big change.
Does your company do 3-D printing?
Rainville: Yes. We run six 3-D printers, but we only make parts for ourselves. We not only use 3-D printing in our machines, but we make tooling for production in our shop. It has had a big impact there as well. We don’t sell 3-D printed parts. 3-D printing gives people the capability to make more small-quantity parts. I haven’t seen anything to lead me to believe that it’s going to compete with injection molding, although I constantly read about that possibility in the future. But it is a wonderful capability for companies that want to make a small number of parts a year.
Where do you see the plastics industry 10 or 20 years from now?
Rainville: I think that the next 10 to 20 years are going to be affected by China, as the last 10 to 20 years have been affected by China. We knew 20 years ago that it was going to happen. And we sat back and watched it happen. I would say that China has gotten better as a manufacturer. I think they make very good injection molding machines now. Back in those days, we never thought they would. We thought they’d make cheap machines that would never be able to compete on a global market. But the truth is they can. Now, we’re clearly seeing the downside of the China effect on the Western world. I hope we do something about it before it’s too late.
What do you mean when you say we should do something about it?
Rainville: Basically, we’re transferring our jobs and our technology to China. The Chinese people are very hard workers and they’re very smart. I always hear American politicians say that on an even playing field, we could beat them hands down. I can tell you that’s not true. It would be a very tough competition if things were even. But things are not even. They’re not even close to even. I can buy stainless steel parts from China and I can virtually take them to the dump for salvage and get my money back. It’s just hard to understand how we’re going to compete with that. When we export our jobs, we export our middle class. Capitalism only survives when there’s a middle class.
Do you have any hobbies?
Rainville: I live on the Chesapeake Bay and I used to fish in the Atlantic until I got arthritis. I still like to fish off my dock. I spend a lot of time with my grandson; he’s a pleasure.
How would you like to be remembered? What legacy do you want to leave behind?
Rainville: I’ve helped a lot of people get a start on life. The people that I’ve helped along the way will probably be my lasting contribution.
Just the facts
Who is he: Don Rainville, president and owner of Advanced Auxiliary Equipment Inc.
Headquarters: Shacklefords, Va.