The mere mention of the word conjures thoughts of flexibility, strength, durability and color. It also has a distinctive odor, especially when it is being cut or heated.Look around. Try to find things made of plastic in your home or office. It might surprise you how many items are made of plastic when you concentrate on looking for them.

After a visit to Plastic Design and Fabrication Inc., 2534 W. Directors Row, a company that not only distributes plastic in hundreds of shapes and items related to plastic but fabricates plastic into any shape desired by a customer, people get a heightened appreciation for plastic in our lives.

That was the case during a recent visit to LDS Hospital to visit my daughter when I decided to count the plastic items in her room. Without hardly trying, I saw a plastic water holder, chart holder, oxygen mask holder, eating tray, ice cream cup, spit tray, bed pan and a container with units of measure written on the side.

Plastic Design doesn't deal in these items, but it does deal in the plastics from which the items are made and provides a look into the world of plastics that is getting bigger and bigger, according to Randall J. Wilson, Plastic Design president.

"Everybody in this city is a potential customer because plastics are so universally used," said Wilson. "And because there are so many types and shapes of plastic, many things can be made."

Plastic Design and Fabrication is a good representative of several plastic companies in Utah involved in a business that expands almost daily with new types of plastics and products associated with plastic.

Wilson, a Salt Lake native, started a branch office for SS Plastics of Englewood, Colo., in a building at 740 W. 17th South, with an option to buy, and in 1976 Wilson exercised that option. He changed the name to Plastic Design and Fabrication in 1976.

He also was a member of J.G.R. partnership, which built the building where Plastic Design is now located; but three years ago he sold his interest in the partnership and now leases 6,000 square feet of space from the partnership. The other officers in the company are Philip W. Stilson, vice president, who also runs Screen Supply, a division of Plastic Design, and Duane N. Loveless, secretary-treasurer.

Although he was born in Salt Lake City, Wilson was raised in Washington but moved back when he was 18 years old, fresh out of high school. He attended the University of Utah and received a bachelor's degree in history. How did someone majoring in history wind up in the plastics business?

"I wanted to get an education and I had several economics classes," is the reply. "I had always liked business and I didn't want to teach history."

After college, Wilson traveled in Utah, Idaho and Arizona for two years pedaling pressure-sensitive products for Fasson Products and then bought into Technical Service and Supply, a company distributing silk screen supplies. After one year he sold his interest and worked three years for Regional Supply Co. selling sign supplies, silk screen items and printing equipment.

That's when he started the branch for SS Plastics.

A native of Salt Lake City, Loveless was a Utah Highway Patrol trooper for two years, worked for Regional Supply and eventually worked for Wilson at SS Plastics. Later he became a partner in Plastic Design and Fabrication.

Stilson is from Denver and worked for a Standard Oil of California refinery from 1957 to 1963 as a plant operator and worked for Regional Supply Co. as a salesman and manager for 13 years. That's where he met Wilson. He became a partner in Plastic Design in 1978, the same time Screen Supply was created as a division.

Screen Supply sells all types of supplies for silk screen printing including ink, frames and silk screens. The combined operation has five employees and does $1.5 million in business annually.

A tour of Plastic Design reveals that it deals with bulk solvents in 55-gallon drums that are broken down and sold in smaller amounts to silk screen operations for use as a thinner or for cleaning equipment.

The company also has long rolls of pressure-sensitive tape in several colors. A machine quickly cuts through the long roll and produces a roll of plastic tape of any thickness desired. This tape is sometimes used in areas heavily traveled by people and directs them where to go by following the tape, Wilson said.

Other kinds of plastic tape handled by Plastic Design are high temperature masking tape, strapping tape, plumbing tape and double-faced tapes.

Plastic is a generic term for the petroleum-based products that come in numerous shapes, sizes and thickness. There are blocks, tubes, rods and sheets and many of them come in several colors.

The names of the various types of plastics usually end in "ene" or "lon" such as polyethelene, Teflon or nylon.

Because of its versatility, plastic can be cut, drilled, shaved, molded and glued to make water tanks, light covers, point of sale displays, rail guides for machines, protective shields on machines, museum displays, lecture rostrums, clocks, cargo cases for Utah Highway Patrol motorcycles, gaskets, road signs, insulated windows for schools, windows in the gorilla cage at Hogle Zoo and even furniture, said Wilson.

In short, almost anything can be made from plastic. "All we need is a specification and we put it together," he said. He also noted that the case in which photographer Paul Barker carried his equipment to take pictures to illustrate this article was made of plastic molded into shape with metal slides attached for the locks.

In 1984, Plastic Design and Fabrication received a Quality Supplier Award from Hercules for "superior quality performance," one of 17 awards given that year out of the hundreds of companies that furnish items to the large company and the only distributor to be honored, Wilson said.

Hercules nominated Plastic Design in 1986 as the Small Business of the Year in the Small Business Administration's Region 8, and the company took second place. Many other awards adorn the company walls.

Wilson and his partners don't advertise because they don't believe it does much good since they are reaching the people they want to. "We have very loyal customers," said Wilson.