Partnerships Help Plas-Tech Tooling Grow

Much has changed in the years since Dean and Marcia Sonquist launched Plas-Tech Tooling in 1993.

Dean Sonquist started his business in his garage nearly 30 years ago. His company is currently building a new plant that will double its footprint.

The business long ago moved from the couple’s garage into a building in Garner. The company’s labor force has grown from 1 employee to nearly 30 full-time workers, and the focus of the business has broadened significantly. The Sonquists started Plas-Tech Tooling to provide injection mold building and repair. Today, the company is a full-service machine shop with 16 machining centers and 4 turning centers with live tooling and sub spindles. This has allowed the production machining part of the business to grow. Modeling software and manufacturing optimization tools have also improved the injection mold side of the company. In addition, Plas-Tech offers value-added services like drafting, assembly, kitting, welding, and inventory management.

Dean Sonquist credits the company’s impressive growth and success to hard work, a good team, determination, and partnerships like the one he has with CIRAS. As they have grown, CIRAS has supported manufacturing improvements, including ISO 9001:2015 certification and now the transition into robotics. In addition, CIRAS and partners have helped with the business side, including new products and marketing.

“We knew we wanted to continue to grow, and we knew there were steps we needed to take to make that happen,” Dean said. “We tried doing several things on our own, like marketing. But it took too much time away from our core business. We decided to stick to what we do best and leave other things to experts. That’s where CIRAS came in.”

Derek Thompson, CIRAS strategic advisor, first connected with Plas-Tech in 2013, when the company needed assistance with product design and access to a 3D printer as part of a collaborative project with the North Iowa Area Community College Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, a CIRAS partner. CIRAS was also instrumental in helping the company prepare for ISO 9001:2015 certification, which opened the door to new markets like government contracts. Certification also enables a small company like Plas-Tech to enter the supply chain of large manufacturers.

Additionally, CIRAS has been involved in helping Plas-Tech with an expansion project that will double the footprint of its plant. An Industry 4.0 assessment, part of the IEDA Manufacturing 4.0 Technology Investment Grants program, helped the company implement a collaborative robot (cobot), partially funded by a grant of $50,000.

“Right now, we’re using the cobot to machine plastic and drill/tap holes in steel components. It’s running unattended for 80 to 100 hours a week on some jobs,” said Dean. “It’s freed up workers to do other, higher-level tasks. It’s been a real win-win for us but, to be honest, we would never have purchased it at this point without the grant.”

While the ISO 9001:2015 certification and addition of a cobot helped get the company ready for growth, CIRAS was also helping them build a system to grow their sales. Andrew Sonquist, who had recently joined the company founded by his parents, knew achieving that goal meant developing a stronger digital presence. Once again, Plas-Tech called on CIRAS to help.

Paul Gormley, a CIRAS project manager, brought together a team of experts to help Plas-Tech develop both strategic marketing and digital marketing strategies. The strategic marketing plan helped the company understand their target markets and the messages that would resonate with customers. The digital marketing strategy was developed next and focused on the best way to deliver those messages, including a new website with targeted keywords, relevant content, and enhanced ease-of use to draw in and convert more website visitors into clients.

Gormley said the digital marketing team helped create the site, its content, and a customized analytics dashboard that provides answers to business questions, not just “random metrics nobody understands.”

A CNC mill cuts plastic for a custom wear pad used on heavy equipment.

Throughout the process, the CIRAS team worked side by side with and trained key Plas-Tech employees on how to implement the plan and keep it running well into the future. The project ended with six months of coaching from each of the experts.

“We could’ve easily paid another business to set things up for us and walk away when they’d finished,” said Sonquist. “But the behind-the-scenes work that we did with Paul—looking at who we are, the markets we want to target, and how we can reach them—that really helped us focus on where we want to go and the best way to get there.”

According to Sonquist, the website is already bringing in leads for new customers. Plas-Tech estimates additional sales of more than $1.7 million and four new jobs in the first year of the new marketing plan’s implementation.

Plas-Tech’s partnership with CIRAS continues today with the recent completion of cybersecurity training.

“We’re in the process of evaluating where we are and what we need to do next, and I’m guessing we’ll reach out to CIRAS again for more information and direction,” Sonquist said. “And looking down the road, when other things come up, we’ll probably touch base with CIRAS again. They’ve been a great partner.”

For more information, contact Derek Thompson at or 515-419-2163.