Tag: Manufacturing Page 1 of 2

Custom Engineering and Lamjen

One of the first things I learned during my visit to Custom Engineering is that it was a two-for-one visit. I was able to tour Lamjen, which also operates at the McClelland Avenue site.

Custom Engineering and Lamjen, along with Venango Machine Company in Wattsburg, operate under the Custom Group Industries umbrella.

Together, they help Custom Group provide a diverse range of products, as each has its own specialty: Custom Engineering, the largest of the three, is known for designing and manufacturing heated platens, as well as hydraulic presses and contract manufacturing. Lamjen focuses on precision machining, often with smaller parts. And Venango Machine produces smaller platens.

That range of services was apparent on my tour of the businesses. Dave Tullio, Custom’s president, pointed out the variety of equipment – from older, manual machines to sophisticated computer-operated machines – that is used to keep the companies competitive. And Jim Ohrn, Custom’s vice president, points out some of the company’s unique capabilities, including drilling through the plates.

The array of products also gives Custom Group an advantage in a sometimes-unpredictable market, by allowing it to serve a diverse group of customers.

“I’d like to say that some of that is management strategy,” Tullio says with a laugh. “But some of it is luck.”

About Custom Engineering and Lamjen: Custom Engineering has been around since 1954, and Lamjen since 1970. Current owner Tom Hagen purchased Custom in 1997, and picked up Lamjen in 2000. (Venango Machine, which opened in 1954, was purchased in 1999.) Combined, the three have about 170 employees. They serve a range of customers, including mining, oil and gas, defense and water management, and their products can be found in everything from airplane interiors to amusement park rides. The company does business at a global level, and identifies China as a major competitor. “The global economy both helps and hurts us,” Tullio says.

Why Erie County: The company’s leaders are active in the community, which they say helps them know where to find resources. Some of those resources have come in handy in the past, Jim Ohrn points out, as the company has found funding through the city, the county and the state.

Challenges of Erie County: Some of Custom Group’s challenges center on the national policy, requiring changes to encourage customers not to go offshore for their business, Tullio says. But some of the challenges are at a more local level. For instance, the company’s leaders see a benefit in having more large, multinational corporations doing business in Erie County, helping to strengthen the overall economy. In addition, the company has found it a challenge to find qualified workers, particularly welders. As a result, the company has worked to create its own welding program internally. “Our claim to fame is the quality of our welding,” Tullio says.

Fun fact: When Custom Engineering began, its largest customer was Formica.

Address: 2800 McClelland Ave., Erie, PA 16510 or www.customeng.com

Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing

 

On quite a few of my 50 in 50 visits, I’ve learned about a business with a long family history, dating back generations.

That wasn’t the case with this one. When I visited Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing, the business was exactly one month old – at least under its new ownership.

Jon Meighan took ownership of the Fairview Township business on Aug. 1. The business, formerly Scully Enterprises, was in need of a new owner, and Meighan, an engineer at GE Transportation who always knew he wanted to own his own business, was looking for an entrepreneurial investment.

It was a good match, Meighan decided. He was able to put together the financing – including a $400,000 loan from the Erie County Redevelopment Authority – to make the purchase, and he renamed the company Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing.

Now he has his eye on more changes. He is looking to grow the company, by attracting new customers and diversifying that base.

More than anything, he wants to build something that lasts in Erie County. There were other parties interested in buying the business, he said – but many of those would have taken the work and moved it out of Erie County.

Though a Syracuse native, Meighan has made his home here, and he wants to build up his company here. And that’s good news for Erie County.

“We’re not selling to consumers in Erie,” he says – instead, Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing mostly sells to outside companies. “That’s money coming into this business, coming into Erie, from elsewhere.”

With Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing, Meighan wants to build a legacy for his young family, and to do right by his employees.

“We want our employees to share in the success,” he said. “As we grow the business, we want them to have a part in it.”

About Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing: The company has 11 employees, with Meighan making a hire to add a new position in the past month. He hopes to add more employees as the business grows. The company, which makes molded rubber products, largely serves the transportation industry, though Meighan has his eye on expanding to recreational vehicles and agriculture. Their customer base is largely within a 12-hour drive from Erie, he says.

Why Erie County: There are several factors that make Erie County appealing, Meighan says. One notable one is the ready-and-able workforce here. For example, Meighan says, the workers at his company had been capably running the business since the previous owner passed away – now he can work with that capable staff to add new customers and grow the business. In addition, the affordability of purchasing a business is appealing, he says. “This wouldn’t have been manageable in Pittsburgh, Cleveland or California,” he says.

Challenges of Erie County: For Meighan, the challenge was finding the right fit – the right business that spoke to his expertise and offered opportunity for growth. Now that he’s found the right businesss, he’s working to build a company that will last for generations.

Fun fact: Meighan might already be lining up the next generation at Lake Erie Rubber & Manufacturing – his daughter was born just five days before he took ownership of the company, and his son celebrated his second birthday on the same day the Erie County Redevelopment Authority awarded him the loan.

Address: 6410 W. Ridge Road, Erie, PA 16506 or www.lakeerierubber.com

Laser Creations and Windtek

Laser Creations operates out of a sprawling facility next to railroad tracks in Platea. Decades ago, when Platea was known as Lockport, the building was home to a lumber mill on the banks of the Erie Extension Canal.

It’s fitting, then, that today Laser Creations operates a full wood shop, creating custom wood products for laser engravings.

“We’re still working with lumber, from rough cut to finished product,” says owner Mark Youngs.

Those products range from wooden plaques and key chains to ring boxes and decorative keepsakes, all engraved with custom logos, designs or seals.

But the wood work is only a portion of the business. About 40 percent of Laser Creations’ business comes from doing jobs for other companies, Youngs says. That includes creating laser-cut items for advertising and other uses.

The job-shop work dates back to the company’s beginnings, when it was founded as a business services company in 1969 by Youngs’ father, Walter Youngs – a man that Mark Youngs describes as “a constant entrepreneur.”

Mark Youngs must have inherited some of that entrepreneurial spirit: Laser Creations isn’t the only enterprise in the family.

Another Platea business, Windtek, is owned by Youngs’ wife, Wendy.

Windtek, less than a mile down the road from Laser Creations, constructs and sells windsocks and runway lights.

In the small shop run out of the Youngs’ garage, Wendy Youngs oversees the company founded by a family friend – and fellow aviation enthusiast. Today, Windtek takes pride in selling quality equipment to airports and airfields, as well as oil rigs and other facilities.

Wendy Youngs, who has run the business for 17 years, handles the business side, while other employees work on stitching the heavy-duty windsocks and constructing other products.

“It’s an opportunity for a little retirement business,” Wendy Youngs says.

About Laser Creations and Windtek: Laser Creations had its start on the city of Erie’s east side before Mark Youngs’ father purchased the property in Platea. At one point, the bustling company had 50-plus employees working two or three shifts. Today, about six employees work at Laser Creations – though Mark Youngs believes that the company has the potential for growth, with some added marketing. Laser Creations is largely a regional operation, contracting with a Butler-based company. Windtek, which has four part-time employees, mainly sells to aviation customers who see ads in trade publications. Wendy and Mark are engrained in the aviation culture, and as a result are friendly with Windtek’s competitors. Windtek sources its heavy-duty premium windsock fabric from the mills in the South – “We’re all-American,” Mark Youngs says proudly.

Why Erie County: For the Youngs family’s businesses, Erie County presents a good geographic location – even in the mostly rural Platea area. “At one point, we were the best kept secret in Erie County,” Mark Youngs says. Erie County is not too far from major metropolitan areas, with travel easily accessible, he says.

Challenges of Erie County: Some of the challenges of Erie County are really on a broader level, Mark Youngs says – foreign competition is a challenge for his business, with lower-quality, mass-produced items made overseas available for less than the hand-made products created in his shop. He also sees federal and state regulation and red tape as a detriment to encouraging the entrepreneurs that are badly needed to restart the economy. He sees a need to build up Erie County’s economy as a whole, as smaller businesses like his feed off larger businesses.

Fun fact: Mark and Wendy Youngs also own the Green Roof Inn in Platea.

Address: Laser Creations, 10043 Peach St., Girard, PA 16417 or www.lasercreations.com. Windtek, 10451 Peach St., Girard, PA 16417 or www.bestwindsocks.com.

Port Erie Plastics

My visit to Port Erie Plastics, in Harborcreek Township, was a reminder of how prevalent plastics are in our daily lives.

I was sitting at a table talking with some of the company’s managers about the business when Jon Connole, the sales and marketing manager, suddenly took notice of my keychain.

“That’s one of ours,” he said.

It turns out, he was right. My keychain is from Erie’s Munio, and it was made right there in Harborcreek.

As we toured Port Erie Plastics, I saw more everyday items coming off the production lines: Christmas tree stands. Storage bins. Pill boxes.

In a room tucked away in a corner of the 300,000-square-foot facility, specialty items were being imprinted by a laser printer. This division handles products made for a company run by Jim Kelly, the Buffalo Bills legend.

The broad range of products, serving a variety of industries, bear out the plastics-driven future that founder Henry Witkowski foresaw when he launched the business in 1953.

The company has grown since its founding, moving from Erie’s east side to its current site in Harborcreek in 1966.

“We were the only thing out here then,” said William Witkowski, Henry’s son and the current owner and CEO.

The Harborcreek facility, which has steadily grown in the decades since, is ready for another expansion (more on that later), in order to accommodate the steady growth of business.

The company, which has hired more than 30 people in the past few weeks, is looking to hire about another 20, said John Johnson, the company’s president.

“It’s new customers and new products,” he said of Port Erie Plastics’ recent growth.

About Port Erie Plastics: The company, which started with one injection molding machine, now runs 90 machines and specializes in custom plastic injection molding.  The company also offers other services to customers, and runs its own in-house tool room and engineering facilities. The company has more than 400 employees, both in its main facility on the east side of Troupe Road and at its 275,000-square-foot warehousing facility, just a bit south on the west side of Troupe Road. The company has been in growth mode for the past 15 to 20 years, Johnson said, with an extra boost coming in the past several months.

Why Erie County:  The leadership team at Port Erie Plastics sees many positives in the quality of life that the community offers for workers. That includes community assets, recreational opportunities and a relatively easy commute. In addition, the company has seen the advantages of having Penn State Behrend’s  plastics engineering programs in their backyard. In fact, the Witkowski family joined with other Erie-area plastics companies to help initiate and develop the program at Behrend. As a result, Port Erie Plastics and other local plastics companies enjoy the benefits of Behrend-trained interns and employees.

Challenges of Erie County: While Port Erie Plastics is able to find workers for its plastics engineering positions, filling general employment positions remains a challenge. The company struggles to find qualified workers. As that demand for workers is only expected to increase in the next decade, Port Erie Plastics identified a need for more pathways to manufacturing jobs – whether in high school or through a community college. Another challenge of being located in Erie County is even more pressing, however: Port Erie Plastics has been frustrated by delays in getting a permit to add on to their existing facility. The plans originally called for work to begin in the spring; due to delays, now the company is worried about getting the work done before winter sets in.

Fun fact: The Witkowski Building, part of the Engineering Complex at Penn State Behrend, was named for William Witkowski.

Address: 909 Troupe Road, Harborcreek, PA 16421 or www.porterie.com.

A. Duchini Inc.

A. Duchini Inc. has been a fixture on Erie’s east side for generations. That legacy was evident as we toured the site.

Inside the office, current owner Jim Duchini describes the people and places in the black-and-white photos that hang on the walls. His grandfather, Italian immigrant Avellino Duchini, founded the company in 1932, and his father and uncles later took over the business.

Outside in the brickyard, Jim Duchini points out a building that was in one of those old photos. Inside a storage area, he points out rows of molds – still used on the site – that were made by a company run by a man posing in one of the old photos.

That history continues to influence A. Duchini Inc. now, 85 years later. Jim Duchini talks with pride about how the company donates block to build baseball dugouts in honor of his uncle. That’s just one example of how A. Duchini Inc. has given back to the community – and to other companies.

Jim Duchini is forging ahead with the same principles that guided his father and grandfather: Create a quality product. Serve the customer. And give back to the community.

About A. Duchini Inc.: The company got its start thanks to the entrepreneurial drive of Avellino Duchini. He was an experienced mason, and when the company stopped making blocks, he bought the machine and started making hand-molded blocks himself. The company now uses much higher-tech machinery to produce products including block, bricks and pavers. The company also manufacturers specialty masonry that is more energy efficient. The company sells real and man-made stone to both construction firms and homeowners; sells and installs fireplaces; and also operates an Ace Hardware store on site.

Why Erie County: Avellino Duchini ended up in Erie, where he had family members, after he came to the U.S. from Italy in the 1920s. It has been home for the Duchini family ever since. Today, A. Duchini Inc. has deep roots in the community, with its products present in many familiar buildings around the area. Current owner Jim Duchini is a third-generation owner; his children, who are also involved in the company, represent a fourth generation of Duchinis in the family business.

Challenges of Erie County: Building regulations, and in particular the inspection regulations that are used by the city of Erie and other municipalities in Erie County, have been hard on the company’s business, Jim Duchini says.

Fun fact: The A. Duchini Inc. facility is capable of producing tens of thousands of blocks per day.

Address: 2550 McKinley Ave., Erie, PA 16503 or www.duchini.com

Great Lakes Automation Services

Two words immediately come to mind when I think about my recent visit to Great Lakes Automation Services Inc. in McKean Township: Service and pride.

For starters, Great Lakes Automation is designated as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business – and one that is proud of its contracts with the government, and even prouder of its hiring of veterans. Military photos of employees hang on a wall in the packaging division, and military memorabilia decorates office space.

The core of strength and dedication that distinguishes our military members also runs through Great Lakes Automation’s approach to serving its customers.

The company, which designs, manufactures, assembles and ships machines that automate production lines, has been steadily building its business since the current owners purchased it in 2002. They added the packaging and kitting division in 2007, and then acquired Clifton Machining, in Lake City, in 2009.

The company’s leaders – including CEO Ken Fisher and President Mark Fatica – remain committed to providing quality products to their customers. That means fine-tuning automated machine to a customer’s specifications, or developing their own tests to guarantee that products – some of which are used by U.S. troops – will work in the field.

That dedication has paid off in return customers, Fatica says.

“We satisfy the customer, and they come back to us,” he says.

About Great Lakes Automation: The company, which collectively employs about 65 workers, has been at the McKean facility since 2009. Great Lakes Automation largely serves companies in a 300- to 400-mile radius, though it has done business as far away as California, and even in China and Mexico. In addition to working with prime contractors to the federal government, particularly the Department of Defense, the company also works with the automotive, medical device, electronics and consumer goods industries.

Why Erie County: The company’s leaders find Erie County a good location for their business – it has a reasonable cost of living, which keeps business expenses down. For workers, that means that the grass is often greener here, when it comes to how far a dollar will stretch. “Moving into here is easy,” Fatica says. “Moving out of here is tough. You don’t get what you get here anywhere else.”

Challenges of Erie County: Great Lakes Automation, like many manufacturers, is facing an aging workforce and is seeking younger skilled workers. The business requires a variety of skill sets, including mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, tool and die workers, and employees who assemble and package components. They would welcome community college programs that would teach young people the skills they need for the manufacturing floor. “Nobody teaches this anymore,” says Fisher. “So we have to teach it.” In addition, the company would like to see greater collaboration among Erie County businesses, in order to both speak with a louder voice and to support each other.

Fun fact: Great Lakes Automation Services has handled more than 900 installations of automated systems globally.

Address: 8835 Walmer Drive, McKean, PA 16426 or www.glasi.us

 

Coming up next week: We head out to Washington Township to visit Skelton Farms.

Rogers Brothers

During my recent visit to Rogers Brothers Corp. in Albion, an array of photos caught my eye.

The vintage black-and-white images, displayed outside company president Jay Kulyk’s office, showcase some of the original Rogers Brothers trailers and highlight the company’s history.

And it’s quite a history – Rogers Brothers, after all, has been operating in Albion since 1905, and it is now run by the fourth-generation of family members.

As Kulyk tells it, the business got its start building bridges and other steel structures, as well as homes, but switched to building trailers once customers started requesting them. Early trailers had a capacity of one ton and were pulled behind the early automobiles and trucks of the time. As the company developed, so did their trailer designs, particularly those designed to carry heavier and heavier payloads.

One of the most interesting images on display at Rogers Brothers was an old advertisement, touting the advantages of the company’s trailers: “Every type, every size, every capacity,” it read. “Your truck will haul at least twice the load.”

Today, Rogers Brothers builds semi-trailers and tag-along style trailers for a variety of industries, including mining and construction. The production process in Albion is impressive in its attention to detail. During assembly, massive steel beams are welded together, gradually creating a skeleton for a trailer as the pieces move along in production. The sheer size of the trailers is remarkable – after all, these trailers must be strong enough to transport huge pieces of machinery.

The large-scale, complex trailers that come off the production line at Rogers Brothers might be unrecognizable to the company’s earlier owners, but it’s clear that the company’s decades-old philosophy remains the same.

According to Kulyk, today’s Rogers Brothers sets itself apart by customization, specializing in building trailers to fit a client’s needs. Like the founders, it has adjusted its business to best serve the customers – and still provides trailers for every type, every size, every capacity.

About Rogers Brothers: If you’ve ever seen heavy equipment being hauled behind a truck on a highway, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a Rogers Brothers trailer in action. The company does business in all 50 states and even internationally. It has provided trailers for the mining industry in South America, including in Chile and Peru. The company employs about 50 people in its Albion facility (which is a union shop).

Why Erie County: It’s clear that Rogers Brothers is deeply rooted in western Erie County, not just by the family ownership, but also by the family ties among employees. The company has second- and even third-generation employees working at the business. Kulyk is himself a fourth-generation employee – his great-grandfather, Louis Rogers, was one of the original founders. Kulyk’s brother and sister also work at the company, as do his wife’s brother and his sister’s husband. His son and his nephew have done part-time work at the company, representing a fifth generation of Rogers descendants working at the business.

Challenges of Erie County: The challenges that Kulyk recounts reflect geographic and economic realities broader than just Erie County. Transportation of completed trailers can be costly, he says. In addition, Rogers Brothers often finds itself with higher overhead costs than its competitors, he says, because competitors in the South have lower labor costs, whether they are union or non-union shops. The inability to compete with general competitors, cost-wise, is one of the reasons that Rogers Brothers turned to the custom work that is now its specialty.

Fun fact: It normally takes, on average, four to six weeks for a trailer to be constructed at Rogers Brothers.

Address: 100 Orchard St., Albion, PA 16401 or www.rogerstrailers.com.

 

Coming up next week: We explore the millwork at Dovetail Galleries in Erie.

 

Eriez

My recent visit to Eriez was an intriguing look at the capabilities of magnets and also at the scope of a global business rooted in Erie.

One of my biggest takeaways, however, was in the management’s glass-half-full approach to business.

The optimistic viewpoint was apparent in the company’s approach to their workforce, where employees are given opportunities to advance from entry-level positions to more advanced – and higher paying – jobs. Even the idea of an aging workforce, which has caused many manufacturers to worry about the prospect of losing years of institutional knowledge, is viewed as an opportunity at Eriez.

While the loss of that skillset is a concern, it also invigorates the workforce, President and CEO Tim Shuttleworth says – “it’s an opportunity for someone waiting their turn to move up.”

That same attention to the positive – along with a breadth and depth of production capabilities and markets served – has kept Eriez in a strong position even during downturns.

When one sector falters, the company – which is headquartered in Erie County but has a presence on five continents – focuses on the half of the glass that is full, Eriez’s management team says. That is, Eriez focuses on the sectors that remain strong.

Eriez is unique in that it serves a diverse array of industries and produces an array of equipment, all on a global scale. As we toured the facility on Asbury Road in Millcreek Township, we saw vibratory equipment, such as conveyer belts that shake pieces down a line – just like you shake cereal out of the box, as Eriez’s Charlie Ingram, vice president for sales and marketing, describes. We saw powerful magnets used in food production that can detect even tiny pieces of metal. And we saw large electromagnetic separators that are used mainly for industrial work.

That kind of innovation fits in with Eriez’s roots, emerging as an entrepreneurial idea 75 years ago, and it’s the kind of big-picture thinking that is keeping the company ready for the next opportunity yet to come.

About Eriez: Eriez had its start in the 1940s, when O.F. Merwin developed a magnet to serve his customers in grain mills. Today, the company employs about 300 workers at two facilities in Erie County – one on Asbury Road and one on Wager Road – and employs hundreds more at locations around the globe. The company’s mission statement is rooted in the golden rule – meaning the management aims to treat its customers and its employees in the way they would like to be treated. In fact, an eye-catching display in an Eriez meeting room illustrates that mission in a way that reflects the company’s global footprint: The familiar sentiment is repeated in philosophies from an array of world religions.

Why Erie County: Eriez’s management says that the company can recruit from Erie County’s talented workforce – and that includes area universities that produce interns for positions like engineering. Here, the company again takes a glass-half-full approach, this time in regard to GE Transportation. Though the loss of GE as a local powerhouse has been a blow for the region’s economy, Eriez is able to see a sliver of a silver lining – namely, in its own recruiting efforts. In GE’s heyday, Eriez used to lose a lot of talent to the larger company, and now Eriez is better able to compete for those skilled workers.

Challenges of Erie County: Eriez identifies a need for increased air service at Erie International Airport as a leading challenge. The company’s global footprint necessitates frequent travel into and out of Erie, and Eriez faces lost time waiting for connections at airports, or driving to airports in Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Buffalo. In addition, expanded service to Erie International is vital to the clients that Eriez serves, as it would make site visits – which help sell customers on Eriez products – much easier to plan.

Fun fact: Eriez is one of the founding members of the Erie Regional Manufacturer Partnership, which aims to develop and maintain a skilled workforce.

Address: 2200 Asbury Road, Erie, PA 16506 or www.eriez.com

Coming up next week: We head west to Albion to visit Rogers Brothers.

 

 

Allegheny Wood Works

My visit to Allegheny Wood Works in Lake City reinforced the importance of partnership.

It was partnership that brought the current owners – brothers Steve and Mike Kraus – together in the business.

Both men bring unique business skills to their enterprise, and are thus able to complement each other. Steve Kraus, who has a background in retail, oversees the human resources, sales and accounting side of the business. Mike Kraus, who has a background in finance, now oversees the production and the shipping. Both left their previous careers to buy into the business, which is tucked away on a quiet street in Lake City.

“We’re the biggest manufacturer that no one knows is here,” Steve Kraus jokes.

As the owners since January 2014, the Kraus brothers are now proud to call themselves the largest manufacturer of solid hardwood doors in the country – or at least the largest that they know of.

During a tour of the Lake City facility, the care and craftsmanship that went into every door is apparent. The company prides itself on the quality of its work, starting with the quality of its lumber. We saw the door-making process from start to finish, culminating in the finishing touches applied by workers from Elk Creek Painting.

That brings me to another partnership: Allegheny Wood Works leases space to Elk Creek Painting, which in turn handles finishing work, such as wood staining. It’s a relationship that serves both companies well.

“That’s helping to support another 10 families,” Mike Kraus says, in addition to the 27 on Allegheny Wood Works’ payroll.

About Allegheny Wood Works: The company sells solid hardwood doors across the country and internationally, but they’ll also sell one “to the guy down the street,” Mike Kraus says. They do quite a bit of business in new home construction, but they’ve also found that their products – especially custom orders – are in demand for renovations of historic buildings and homes.

Why Erie County: Allegheny Wood Works predates the Kraus brothers’ ownership, but they are content with its location – not just in Erie County, but in west county specifically. They are Erie County natives, and they recently moved their families from elsewhere in the county to the Lake City area. They appreciate the logistics advantages offered by Erie County, and also the relative proximity to quality Appalachian hardwood.

Challenges of Erie County: Some of the challenges that Allegheny Wood Works has faced arise from state laws. In Pennsylvania, unemployment costs can be prohibitive, the Kraus brothers said – so they developed a system to ensure that a worker is a good fit for their company before offering full-time employment. They work with an agency to place workers on a temporary basis, which gives them the option to offer full-time employment once they are confident that the employee will be a strong addition to the Allegheny Wood Works Team.

Fun fact: Allegheny Wood Works does its own etching on glass inserts in doors. No design is too simple or too intricate.

Address: 10003 Railroad Street, Lake City, PA 16423 or www.solidhardwooddoors.com

SEPCO-Erie

When we visited SEPCO-Erie in Summit Township, I expected to learn about the products and processes of the shop. What I came away with, however, was a lesson in communication.

On the day of the visit, SEPCO owner Dan Ignasiak invited me to attend his brief daily meeting with the staff. It was a fast-moving, informal talk that touched on safety concerns and company news, and also included few tidbits of humor and history.

What was best about the experience, for me, was seeing the open platform for communication between the company and the employees – the employees were privy to the company’s progress, and they were also encouraged to highlight suggestions or improvements that they, personally, were responsible for. It’s an idea that Ignasiak implemented after reading the book “2 Second Lean.”

In the meeting I attended, the brief lesson of the day that Ignasiak passed onto his crew centered on a quote attributed to noted American engineer W.E. Deming: “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

That sentiment – which reflects the Japanese business philosophy of kaizen, or constant improvement – is one that SEPCO has taken to heart over the past few years. As we toured the shop floor, Ignasiak pointed out some of the changes that have not only improved the work environment for his employees, but have also boosted his bottom line.

For example, he explained to us how a coolant recycling system that was recently installed now collects, cleans and reuses the coolants that keep the machines running properly. The recycling system helped improve the air quality in the facility, Ignasiak says, and also helps the company save money on coolant. In fact, he says, the system paid for itself in under two years.

It is in those ways that Ignasiak shows that SEPCO-Erie has taken the kaizen idea to heart.

“We’re changing all the time,” he says.

About SEPCO-Erie: SEPCO, which stands for South Erie Production Company, was founded in 1966 by Ignasiak’s father. Today, the company has about 25 employees (some who have been with the company for 30 years) and specializes in fabricated metal parts, especially engine components. The company added its first robotic arm in 2015, with the assistance of a grant from the NWIRC, a nonprofit partnership that serves manufacturers in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Why Erie County: SEPCO has a lot of related support industries in Erie County, Ignasiak says – pointing out that Erie County has a higher concentration of plating businesses than Pittsburgh does. He also mentioned that it is easy for SEPCO to get supplies, since steel trucks can get here easily from major highway routes.

Challenges of Erie County: Ignasiak said he would like to see greater training opportunities for specialized industries – particularly in a community college model that would provide the necessary skills to young people while still being affordable and approachable.

Fun fact: SEPCO’s website seems to say it all about the company, describing the business as “Great people running really super cool machines!”

Address: 1221 Robison Road, Erie PA 16509 or www.sepco-erie.com

 

Coming up next week: We explore Allegheny Wood Works in Lake City.

Page 1 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén