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THIS IS SHIELDS® Windshields: How it all began

It’s been almost 50 years since Bill and Jacki Shields started Form Tec Plastics in the basement of their Lake Edgewood home. Since then, the company has continued to expand its footprint and SHIELDS® Windshields has emerged as an industry leader.

Tucked away in Martinsville, Indiana, the company has developed a worldwide reputation for excellence, but how well do you know how it got there?

Second-generation family member and President, Brad Shields, sat down with his daughter, Director Alyxa McKee, who represents the third generation, and in a podcast, they talk about some of the early days of the company.

This is the first in a series of conversations hosted by Tim Surber about how the business took shape and grew over the past four and a half decades.

The early years

Brad remembers helping his dad from an early age. During the podcast, he shared a humorous story with his daughter, showing the family’s commitment to local sports and the business.

“We were still at Lake Edgewood and we had this hallway between the basement and the garage where dad started making all the molds. Mom had her office right there on the other side of the fireplace in the basement. That was the office when it started. The garage was insulated and heated so dad could work all year.

“This was probably about 1977, maybe 1976. I’m helping dad with the mold and I’m using a carving tool that he showed me how to use. We’re listening to Jerry Sichting and the boys at regionals in basketball and I ran the carving tool into my hand and had to get stitches – but we had to wait until halftime.”

Brad’s reentry into the business

“I don’t know how the conversation came up, but you know, it was tough. You know Dad had a lot of challenges and overcame a lot of obstacles so there was some tension sometimes. I told him someday I’ll take over the business. I was informed that was never, ever going to ever happen.

“I was 10.”

Despite his early declaration of taking over, his love of teaching and coaching high school football kept him occupied.

But that didn’t mean he strayed far from home.

“I worked trade shows and was always involved with what Mom and Dad were doing, but dad really wanted me to get a business degree from IU. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be a coach and a realtor.”

Eventually, his connection to the business continued to expand and Brad’s path ultimately lead him back home.

Working up to an office

Even after he returned, he had to work his way up to getting his own workspace.

“During the first summer, I had to build a room for our new air compressors. I spent the first part of the summer building that room and then I started working on molds. I wanted an office, but that was not happening. I finally got a desk, a stand-up desk outside my dad’s back door. No phone and a stand-up desk. I finally got a phone, but when it was raining, I couldn’t talk on the phone because of the metal roof above me. I finally asked if I could build my little office, which I did.”

Introduction to polycarbonate

The next step in Brad’s evolution was taking on polycarbonate.

“When I finally got my hands on polycarbonate, I was amazed at how much I just knew, without ever knowing I knew. I’d been touching plastic my whole life. I did work for mom and dad one summer in college and I was forming fairings in acrylic, which has some similar properties, and that taught me a lot.

“But growing up watching plastic heat and form and touching it and feeling it as a kid, messing it up, screwing it up, I really jumped into it with a lot more knowledge than I ever thought I had.”

The next generation

Brad made sure to pass that knowledge along to his children to accelerate their knowledge of the business.

“I kind of put that back to you (Alyx) and your brother a little bit. You guys played on the bags. You guys grew up doing all kinds of seat rolls. Whatever I had the boys doing, you two little monkeys would do the stuff in the background, and so when it came to athletic training, there was a lot of stuff you just did, because you’ve been doing it since you were a toddler, because you didn’t know any better, and I think that was kind of the same thing. “

As Director of Operations now, Alyx appreciated the early exposure and lessons.

“Just growing up around plastic with that all that makes sense. I’m glad and I appreciate that. When I first started, I was in the conference room. I didn’t have a place either.

The evolution of the building

Alyx often refers to the facility as a Lego building. During tours, people are usually surprised by the number of rooms that have been added over the years.

Each new building represents an expansion for the company, and it continues to this day.

You do what?

When Alyx and Brad give tours of the building, people are almost always surprised at what the company produces. As many tours as Brad has given, he’s yet to have anyone knowledgeable about the business.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had one person take the tour and go yes, that’s what I thought you did, or yes, that’s what I thought was in here. They’re like, ‘I can’t believe it’s this big’ – and it is. You need GPS or the breadcrumbs to find your way back sometimes.”

Racing to the next market

One of the contributing factors to the ongoing growth is the rapid expansion of products SHIELDS® Windshields sells. The company started out making motorcycle fairings, but with the addition of polycarbonate, it opened up new possibilities.

NASCAR, and racing in general, was the next area of opportunity. The circuit had just moved to polycarbonate from glass and demand surged as teams prepared to make the switch.

NASCAR wasn’t the only one.

“We had IndyCar using windscreens, and Riley and Scott. They used to be in Indianapolis and then after they split up, Mark’s stayed around. They would do IndyCars and so dad and Mark Scott were pretty good acquaintances, so we got into that. We were kind of on the fringe of the race car world, but we were doing custom work.”

SHIELDS® continued to build its racing presence, adding the Corvette, Camaro and Mustang molds to its lineup, followed by Ferrari’s, Jaguars and Maserati’s.

The lineup continued to expand, and the vision was to own the motorsports market.

Until heavy equipment came calling.

A cold call changes the vision

Brad envisioned eventually moving toward construction equipment, but a cold call requesting a Bobcat skid steer window changed the timing. A call to the head of engineering gave SHIELDS® its first OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) contract and the wheels of progress kept turning.
That was just the tip of the iceberg for the expansion of the company.

The next product was a Caterpillar skylight. It was initially hand-trimmed, but it was at that time SHIELDS® decided to invest in its first five-axis router. Once it was up and operational, Brad and two others went from 20 parts a day to 20 parts an hour.

Learning from the past

Racing was good, but construction windows were even better. The company still produces motorsports, but the vast majority of the business is dedicated to heavy equipment.

Brad sees the benefit of having done both.

“I think the way that it panned out, in order to make the construction windows the best that we do, and you can see our quality difference, is because we went through motorsports and the hard curves and the big molds.

“We had to learn to be able to do a C5 Corvette, which is a tough window. And then we could do the Dodge Viper. We had to be quick, because race car guys are like ‘Hey, I got a race in five days.’ So we learned to just jump. We became very nimble, very responsive, and very inventive. And when I say ingenuity, I’m not calling us geniuses, I’m saying we learned how to trick the system and make parts now. We really learned to form and that has put us over the top in our world.”

Alyx concurred, adding, “And that’s what we still use. We still utilize a lot of those tricks in production.”

Brad added his agreement, “It’s much more sophisticated, but the heart of us is forming. We have better heating elements, we have better equipment, we have better this and that, but we have the same tool, the same procedure and the same art.“

Moving forward

Alyx represents the third generation of Shields to work in the family business. She is tasked with expanding the vision and taking it to the next level.

That process has already begun.

“We’ve done a lot in three and a half years,” Alyx said. “I have a vision in my head of where to take this great foundation and this great product that you guys have started.”

Full podcast

To hear the full interview with all the expanded stories and anecdotes, check out our podcast on Spotify under “This is SHIELDS,” click on this link https://open.spotify.com/episode/44i2fAhvX3T0sgqbSlpVxK?si=JlKozu3kSeKodN-l8Gp1sQ or type this link in your browser. A new episode will be recorded each month.

By |2023-09-20T17:11:02+00:00September 20th, 2023|About SHIELDS®, Education, Uncategorized|0 Comments

SUPERCOAT™ What Makes Us Different

SHIELDS® people, today we are going to dig into a part of our business that sets us apart from our competition. Our proprietary SUPERCOAT™ is the hard coating that we add to our polycarbonate products. This coating gives you a windshield with a scratch-resistant surface that is abrasion resistant to steel wool! So, you get the perfect OEM fit and function with the best scratch resistance, but how? Let’s dig into our SHIELDS® SUPERCOAT™ and talk in terms of candy!

Yes, candy! To explain how we have a hard coating on our products with the perfect form we like to use a 3 Musketeers candy bar as an example. When you buy a new 3 Musketeers candy bar you have a flat bar with hard chocolate all over it. What happens to the chocolate when you bend the candy bar, it cracks and breaks, right? That is what happens when you try to form and bend polycarbonate with the coating on it. Many of our competitors know this so they use a coating that is softer, not hard chocolate. They can then bend the candy bar without the coating cracking. That is okay, but the scratch resistance is not nearly as good.

 

That is when we realized there is a better way to handle a candy bar. We don’t accept not having both the best coating and the perfect form, so we do not compromise. To get this we take our candy bar and shape the nougat into the perfect form first! Then we bring in the chocolate and add it to the nougat. You end up with the best of both, our SUPERCOAT™ and the advantage of SHIELDS® form, fit, and function! If our windshields were a candy bar, they would be the tastiest and the coolest looking in our opinion.

That is a quick take on our hard coating we have a video demonstration of this on our Instagram page. You can also learn more about what we do on our other posts like, how polycarbonate is better than glass. But, don’t just take our word for it, check it out for yourself, and try a SHIELDS® replacement windshield! You can find our entire retail line here and order quickly and easily online. 

Until next time,

SHIELDS® Team.

 

By |2020-08-24T18:00:22+00:00August 24th, 2020|Education, product properties|4 Comments

Polycarbonate Guages & Why They Are Important

SHIELDS® people, I want to break down polycarbonate gauges and explain why it is important to know what thickness you are ordering your SHIELDS® replacement window and why!

One of the main reasons to go from glass to polycarbonate (AKA Lexan, Safety glass, etc – if the names are confusing read this post) is because polycarbonate is 260X stronger than glass! Glass is just going to break, it is not “if” but “when”. Maybe a bias statement, but we have not been proven wrong yet. If you are new to SHIELDS® it is fair to warn you, we are confident in what we do here, it is our passion!

Now that you are aware of our confidence let’s dive into today’s topic. We offer three gauges for each of our products, 1/4″, 3/8″, and 1/2″. When replacing glass this is a serious choice. Talking to our customers, we let you order whichever gauge you desire; however, we strive to ask as questions that can help lead you to the safest decision. Over the phone, it might come across as an “upsell”. That is not the goal, I assure you. We want YOU to be the safe and sometimes that means suggesting that you need the 1/2″ gauge. I may be jumping ahead, let’s go through each gauge of polycarbonate and what its’ suggested use may be.

1/4″ Replacement Windows

Let’s begin with 1/4″. Quater inch polycarbonate is the simplest to understand. The general explanation we use is this: If you are using 1/4″ glass and are fine, then our 1/4″ poly will be perfect.  You will have use of the same hardware, and your wipers will work great. Our 1/4″ gauge windows and doors replace glass great for most applications BUT there are circumstances where you might want a heavier gauge. A note for anyone dealing with cars or racing, this does not necessarily pertain to your applications. For questions about racing and cars, give us a call!

3/8″ Replacement Windows

Okay, onto our middle thickness, 3/8″. This gauge is one we suggest when your application involves any of the following but not limited to: GRASS MOWING, GENERAL CONTRACTING, AND MATERIAL HANDLING. To be as clear as we can be 3/8″ is NOT suggested for demolition, skid steer loader brush clearing, or wood processors. If you think you might someday do any of these you will want to get a heavier gauge. We have come across people getting a 3/8″ door or window and a year later decide to do some brush clearing. If this is you, you will want to upgrade thicknesses purely for safety reasons. We might sound like the cup is half full; however, you never know what is hiding in that brush! We are the plastic people, have a little faith in us, we promise your safety is at the top of our list.

1/2″ Replacement Windows

That leads us to our final gauge, our 1/2″ thick polycarbonate. This is the gauge when someone is uncertain or your work includes, but not limited to the following: DEMOLITION, SKID-STEER FORESTRY APPLICATION, GROUND CLEARING, BRUSH CUTTING, WOOD PROCESSORS, OR TREE SHEARS. This is a short list to help you understand that our 1/2″ polycarbonate is the safest choice. There are more applications that would apply. When ordering over the phone we ask that you share your application with us as we want to ensure you are ordering the appropriate polycarbonate replacement window.

We love it when customer call; however, we do have an online store. This is hands-off for you. Like other online stores, you can select what you want, put your info in and presto, you ordered your SHIELDS® polycarbonate replacement window! (This is for heavy equipment only, sorry car people, be patient yours is coming!)We are proud of our store; however, this puts the responsibility in YOUR hands as the customer! It is your choice on what you order. Therefore, if you have questions about gauges, I hope I have answered them and we are always here to answer your questions.

Stay safe out there, SHIELDS® people!

1-800-554-7527

www.shieldswindshields.com

By |2020-08-07T11:30:49+00:00August 7th, 2020|About SHIELDS®, Education, Heavy Equipment|0 Comments