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Gorman-Rupp: Advanced Technology and Trustworthy Governance Make this a Great Manufacturing Story

  • January 31, 2015

Hydraulic pumps are a $6.3 billion industry in North America. One of the leaders in the industry is Gorman-Rupp, based in Mansfield, Ohio. The business was founded by a pair of engineers in 1933. From those humble, Depression-era beginnings, Gorman-Rupp has become a global company, with sales in 120 countries.

Along with its subsidiaries, Gorman-Rupp offers more than 4,000 models of pumps. And the broad array of applications -- water, wastewater, construction, industrial, agriculture, HVAC, solar heating, fire protection, military, and flood-control – drive home the point that pumps are a ubiquitous part of modern life.

Flood control is one of the noteworthy applications. When the Army Corps of Engineers needed massive-scale pumps after the levies broke in New Orleans, Gorman-Rupp’s Patterson Pumps subsidiary was called upon to play a major role. Pump systems that ordinarily would take 18 to 24 months to plan and manufacture were delivered in just 6 months, winning high praise from the Corps.

Patterson makes advance-engineered pumps that can move one million gallons of water every minute. With that level of power, it is not surprising that in 2014, Patterson Pumps received a $60 million order for large-scale pumps in New Orleans – the largest order in company history.

In 2014, Gorman-Rupp was recognized by Forbes magazine as one of the nation’s most trustworthy companies. The firm has achieved that distinction four times since 2009. Companies are ranked on factors that reflect sound accounting and governance practices. In 2013, Gorman-Rupp was honored with an E Award for its success in exports.

Gorman-Rupp and its subsidiaries are also active members of the Hydraulic Institute, a trade association that has been creating pump standards since 1917.

From its innovative pumps to its trustworthy governance, Gorman-Rupp is another Great Manufacturing Story. For a list of nearly 100 other stories highlighted on this site, click on the "Index" button above.

Modine Manufacturing: A Century of Innovation

  • December 5, 2014

Modine Manufacturing Company, based in Wisconsin, will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016. It is a global thermal-management company with sales of $1.4 billion. Modine makes engineered heating and cooling technology that is used in vehicles, HVAC applications, and refrigeration systems.

Modine has more than 2,200 patents, but it views innovation as more than just new products. The company’s culture is built on the conviction that every process can be continually improved though innovative thinking.

That philosophy was present right from the start. Back in 1916, Arthur Modine was a young engineer who followed the growth of the automobile industry with considerable interest. As he observed, the automobile was a revolutionary advance in transportation, but many of the parts being used in cars were either ineffective or unreliable. He first introduced a new radiator, then a new car heater. His technologies had an indelible impact on the car industry.

Today, one of Modine’s advanced products is the Airedale precision air conditioning system, which can meet the demands of modern datacenters, which consume enormous amounts of electricity, and which must be controlled at precise temperatures. Another application is the cooling of greenhouses, an industry sector that Modine has led for many years.The automotive business remains central to Modine’s operations. The company focuses on direct offerings to OEMs, rather than on the aftermarket sector.

In recent years, Modine has used acquisitions to broaden its product portfolio and deepen its footprint in global markets. Concurrently, it has consolidated production where it makes financial sense. Two factories in Germany were consolidated into one. The company announced in 2014 that a U.S. plant would be closed, with production shifting to three other U.S. plants.

Businesses don’t last for 100 years without doing a lot of things right. Modine was founded on the principle of solving thermal management problems in better ways. Modine customers will attest that the company has never lost that focus. 

Bison Gear and Engineering: A National Leader in Innovation and Workforce Development

  • May 21, 2014

Right Angle Gearmotors

Railroad gates, combine harvesters, surgical pumps, mobility scooters, beverage dispensers, coffee roasters, routing equipment, and assembly lines all have at least one thing in common: They customarily rely on gearmotor technology to power their operation.

One of the world’s most innovative designers and manufacturers of gearmotor technology is Bison Gear and Engineering, which is based in St. Charles, Illinois, about 40 miles west of Chicago. Bison, which was founded in 1950, serves customers across North America and around the world.

The company has about 260 employees, roughly one-third of which are engineers. Casual observers might be surprised to learn that more than half of the gearmotor products it ships are custom-designed. Bison uses a “design blitz” process that features unusually fast turnaround of proposals, efficient scheduling of all processes including engineering, and an engaged staff that focuses intently on customers’ unique applications and needs. This custom prototying and design blitz process is so effective that it was recognized by the Association for Manufacturing Excellence in late 2013.

Bison began adopting lean manufacturing in 2000, and quickly benefited from that commitment. Productivity increased. Time lost to accidents decreased. Today, all of Bison runs on lean principles – from product development to the assembly line. This allows the firm to develop solutions quickly, provide products to customers at highly competitive prices, and continually refine and improve their internal processes.

The late Ron Bullock, the company's longtime CEO, was an evangelist for careers in manufacturing, and the need to equip current and future workers with the advanced skills needed in the manufacturing industry. He advanced that message through his work in several leadership capacities for the NAM, its workforce development arm (The Manufacturing Institute), and the Illinois Manufacturers Association. Moreover, he also pioneered the Manufacturers Education Initiative, a comprehensive approach to preparing students and adults for careers in advanced manufacturing that is now widely used in Illinois.

It is particularly instructive to see how Bison Gear, itself, has approached workforce development. It starts with the recognition that its employees are the heart of the company. Bison employs a Chief Learning Officer to oversee the development of the company’s workforce. Job applicants are evaluated through an on-site skills assessment called ACT WorkKeys. Applicants must achieve level four scores in all categories before being considered for open positions.

Bison also encourages production employees to continually enhance their skills through the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council’s training-and-testing program. Bison pays for employees to take the self-directed, online learning courses, which cover safety, quality, maintenance, and processes/production. Each module typically requires 15 to 18 hours of self-study. Employees receive cash awards and internal recognition for completing modules and for becoming certified. The company also offers a program called GEAR (Growth Education and Results) that financially supports employees who seek college degrees related to their jobs or career path at Bison.

This emphasis on skills standards and continuous learning is coupled with an onsite fitness center and wellness program that helps employees pursue a healthy work-life balance.

Bison works closely with educators and skills standard board colleagues to ensure that course offerings and workforce programs are as closely aligned as possible to the workforce needs of the manufacturing community.

In the meantime, Bison continues to develop and produce innovative, high-quality products that meet their customers’ rapidly evolving needs. It is a formula for enduring success and a Great Manufacturing Story.

Peavey Electronics: Top Quality at a Fair Price

  • February 25, 2014


As a young man in 1957, Hartley Peavey went to a Bo Diddley concert, fell in love with rock and roll guitar music, and the course of his life and career were forever changed.

Peavey is the President and CEO of Peavey Electronics, one of the largest independently owned manufacturers of amplifiers, sound systems, microphones, guitars, drums, consumer electronics, and other products. The Mississippi-based company has 33 facilities on three continents, including 18 in its home state. Hartley founded the company in 1965 and has been its sole owner and CEO.

Peavey Electronics produces 2,000 products that are sold in 136 countries. Their instruments or equipment can be seen in use on stage at concerts by the likes of Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Three Doors Down, Visqueen, Nickelback, Hank Williams, Jr., and in facilities like the Beijing Airport, Sydney Opera House, Hollywood Palace, Disney and Six Flags theme parks, and New York’s Apollo Theatre. In fact, the company has made it possible for artists, churches, and organizations all over the world to afford quality sound equipment.

So how does someone go from attending a Bo Diddley concert to becoming a legend in the music-products manufacturing industry?

As a kid, Hartley used to win science fairs and model airplane contests, so he had an aptitude for building things. He was also growing up in Mississippi, at a time when much of what we call rock and roll was taking root in the region up and down the Mississippi River. Peavey’s father was a big-band musician who owned a local music store and had his son select the records to carry, with the criteria being records that young people would purchase. So Hartley became familiar with the emerging artists so popular in that region, and beyond, like Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, and B.B. King.

Hartley applied his aptitude for technology to build his own guitar, and then his own amplifier. He hoped to be a rock star, but after getting kicked out of three bands, he had what he calls a serious conversation with himself. “My gift,” he told an interviewer in 2010, “was building things. And thank the good Lord, I had the intestinal fortitude to realize that I wasn’t the greatest musician, and to sit down and decide what I was good at, and then to go for it.” 

In the 1960s, the independent manufacturers of instruments and equipment were being bought up by corporate conglomerates, and many felt the results were higher prices and declining quality. So Peavey saw an opportunity and built his business around providing top-quality products at fair prices (rather than pushing the limits of what the market would bear). That is a philosophy his company has maintained for nearly 50 years, under his steady leadership.

The Peavey product catalog is constantly evolving, because the trends in music and the needs of musicians are always changing. One of the most complex products to develop was the MediaMatrix, introduced in 1993. It is a software-based digital networking system, with more than one million lines of source code. Innovation continues at a fast pace. And the new Vipre amplifier, which was debuted at the National Association of Musical Merchants (NAMM) show in 2013, has amazing features and is one of the most versatile amp products on the market.

Hartley Peavey is proud to be a manufacturer, and has been a member of the National Association of Manufacturers and the NAMM for years and years. He is also proud of the opportunities his company creates, not only for its employees, but for its customers, in terms of providing affordable, highest-level products.

His business success reflects the fact that he found something that his natural talents would allow him to be good at, and that he worked extremely hard. There is a lot of sacrifice in getting to the top of a business, he says, and you’ll never get there with an eight hour day. His company’s many thousands of satisfied customers are grateful for his hard work, business philosophy, and continued commitment to innovation.

For more Great Manufacturing Stories, click here.

Tessy Plastics: Innovation Drives Incredible Comeback

  • January 29, 2014

In 2001, Tessy Plastics suffered a severe setback when its largest customer, Xerox, pulled out of the inkjet cartridge business. Overnight, the Elbridge, New York enterprise lost 40% of its sales. Revenue soon contracted further, when terrorist attacks sent the U.S. economy into a tailspin. Tessy had no choice but to lay off half of its 795 workers, and to rethink its business strategy. Roland Beck had just been promoted to president of the family owned business, and he feared for its future.

Fast forward a decade. In the space of 10 years, Tessy has entered new product lines, and revamped and expanded its operations in Elbridge. Moreover, it established a custom injection molding operation in Lynchburg, Virginia in 2007, and announced plans in January 2012 to invest $4.8 million to expand the Lynchburg operation, creating 60 more new jobs.

The foundation of Tessy’s revitalization was four key decisions: First, production workers were organized into work cells, each responsible for the operation and profitability of one or several manufacturing lines. This allowed employees to develop closer relationships with customers, better meeting their needs.

Second, Tessy scrapped its JIT operations, in favor of doing longer production runs and warehousing products until customers need them. This change eliminated the need for making hundreds of tool changes a week for small jobs.

Third, it moved from hand assembly to robotics. Tessy now retains nearly two dozen technicians who design, build and troubleshoot its machines, which make parts and in some cases finished products. Examples are Old Spice deodorant containers and the plastic sliders at the top of Hefty OneZip bags.

Fourth, realizing that they were losing money on half of their customers, Tessy dropped 19 of its 38 customers. It then sought out more profitable customer relationships, and moved deeper into serving the medical equipment industry, which needs plastic parts for many medical devices, engineered to strict tolerances in clean manufacturing environments.

Today, Tessy employs 800 in Elbridge, 300 in Shanghai, and 200 at the soon-to-expand plant in Lynchburg. According to Beck, the firm makes 20 million parts daily at its plants, which operate 24 hours per day. Beck visits employees on all three shifts, retaining a personal touch as the business grows. Tessy’s example of overcoming adversity through innovation makes it a Great Manufacturing Story.

GrafTech International: Keeping the Curiosity Cool on the Way to Mars

  • December 31, 2013

In November of 2011, NASA launched the unmanned Curiosity rover aboard an Atlas V rocket on a mission to Mars. It landed there seven months and 350 million miles later. One of the many challenges NASA overcame was protecting Curiosity from the intense heat (estimated at 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit) generated as it penetrated the Martian atmosphere.

A Parma, Ohio-based manufacturer, GrafTech International, developed and manufactured the thermal solutions that were integrated by LockheedMartin into a nearly 15-foot heat shield that was attached to Curiosity. This technology made possible the rover’s 98-week mission, which is helping scientists understand the past and current environment on Mars by exploring the Gale Crater, and sending back stunning images.

The Mars-voyage application may be one of the most exotic for GrafTech. But the company is a longtime technology leader, and traces its roots to the formation of the National Carbon Company in 1886, when the thought of exploring Mars was little more than a dream. National Carbon later merged with Union Carbide. The graphite/carbon division took the name of GrafTech International in 2002.

Today, GrafTech still uses the innate properties of graphite to provide thermal management solutions for advanced energy technologies. Its markets include aerospace, defense, energy generation and storage, fluid sealing, fuel cells, industrial heat management, lighting thermal management, nuclear power, oil and gas, semiconductor manufacturing, solar technology, and steelmaking, among others. It has embraced lean principles in its operations for many years.

GrafTech has customers in more than 50 countries, and keeps a close eye on global GDP. In late 2013, citing the IMF’s fourth straight quarterly downward revision in global GDP projections, management announced it will reduce costs through changes in inventory practices and by closing production facilities in Brazil, South Africa, and Russia. Its remaining, state-of-the-art plants will be prepared to increase capacity as the graphite-electrode market improves. Their plan is a good example of the constant fine-tuning that manufacturing companies must do to compete in the fast-changing global marketplace.

Meanwhile, the achievements continue. GrafTech was chosen to provide advanced-material components for NASA’s Orion manned space vehicle, which is slated to make its first test flight in September 2014. And a specialized, modern manufacturing facility dedicated to making a thermal management product used in advanced electronics, including tablets and smart phones, opened in Sharon Center, Ohio, in 2013, creating 45 jobs. Graphite can pull heat away from the electronics in tablets, laptops, and smart phones, thereby allowing industrial designers to make electronic devices thinner.

As new techologies are developed in the years to come, the thermal-management uses for graphite will continue to grow, and GrafTech will be well positioned to redefine limits and drive those advances.

DuPont: Nurturing Careers in Science

  • December 19, 2013

Each year, Science magazine presents a list of the best employers in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. Employers are ranked on 23 variables, including financial performance, work culture, and academic and intellectual challenge. More than 3,500 scientists around the world are surveyed by the journal, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Among the companies so recognized, DuPont made the list in 2013 for the sixth year in succession. Across six continents, DuPont employs more than 10,000 scientists in the areas of biology, chemistry, materials science, and engineering. Science-driven innovation lies at the heart of the company’s long-term business strategy.

Through the years, their researchers and managers have introduced such ground-breaking technologies as  Teflon® coatings, Kevlar® fibers, Tyvek® house wrap, Nomex® thermal protection, Corian® kitchen surfaces, Plenish® soybean oil, and Sorona® renewably sourced fiber, among dozens of others.

Under the leadership of new Chair and CEO Ellen Cullman, DuPont is continuing its transition from traditional chemicals to a greater emphasis on food science, environmental protection, and renewable energy solutions. Science lies at the heart of the company’s focus. She and the company are encouraging high school and college students in the U.S. to study science, math, and engineering to ensure that companies like hers will be able to continue to conduct R&D activity in the U.S. long into the future.

DuPont believes that by collaborating with customers, governments, NGOs, and thought leaders, it will help find solutions to global challenges related to providing the world with enough food, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels, and protecting life and the environment. That focus means the emphasis on science and innovation at DuPont will be stronger than ever for many years to come.

PPG Industries: Innovation with Impact

  • December 17, 2013

Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries is a truly global company. Founded in 1883, it now manufactures in more than 40 countries and does business in more than 70. PPG’s products are concentrated in four categories: Paints and coatings, optical, specialty materials, and glass and fiberglass.

PPG’s corporate tagline is Bringing Innovation to the Surface, and in each of its divisions, the level of innovation is impressive.

In the coatings category, PPG serves industries including automotive, aerospace, marine, industrial coatings, and packaging coatings. In 2013, PPG expanded its Springdale, Pennsylvania plant to accommodate a new electronic materials manufacturing cell. The group manufactures graphene and nano-silver conductive links, which are innovative materials used in the automotive, telecommunications, and medical fields.

In the optical arena, PPG produces optical monomers and coatings, visors and goggles, photochromic dyes, and through a majority-owned joint venture, the Transitions photochromic lenses for eyeglasses.

PPG recently invested $9 million to expand its Barberton, Ohio plant, which makes optical casting resins for eyewear, coatings for passports and silica for a variety of paint and rubber products. The expanded plant will now make organic light-emitted diode (OLED) products. These thin, efficient lighting products are used in smart phones and televisions.

The PPG story began in the glass industry, and their innovation in that field continues today. For example, Dassault Aviation in 2013 announced it will use uniquely curved, lightweight glass windshields and side cockpit windows designed by PPG for the new Falcon 5X business jet. The custom-shaped windshield provides optimal pilot visibility, and uses the company’s Surface Seal coating to shed water. The windows are manufactured in Huntsville, Alabama.

Innovative glass from PPG is playing an important role in sustainable building, as well. The Bullitt Center, an office building in Seattle that has been called the “greenest” structure of its type in the world, features PPG’s Solarban low-emissivity glass and Starphire ultra-clear architectural glass. All of the building’s energy harvesting, water harvesting and treatment, and waste processing can be conducted on-site. Architects chose PPG’s glass product for its balance of thermal, solar control and lighting performance. Solarban is part of a curtain-wall system fabricated by Northwestern Industries in Seattle. Because of the large windows and high ceilings, the building draws 82 percent of its lighting needs from the sun.

PPG’s glass products were also employed at the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which was selected for a 2013 Green Design Award. The project used three types of PPG glass to achieve the desired energy-efficiency objectives.

Much can be learned from any company that survives for 130 years, especially one that continues to be a global leader in its product categories. Innovation clearly is one of the driving forces in PPG’s continued success.

Texas Instruments: Leading in NanoPower Harvesting Innovation

  • December 10, 2013

One of today’s most exciting emerging technologies is a process called NanoPower Harvesting. The goal of this technology is to harness unexploited energy in the environment and put it to practical use. Extensive R&D efforts are underway.

Here is how Texas Instruments (TI), a technological leader in this developing field, paints the picture: “Imagine a world in which we’re surrounded by wireless sensors that monitor environmental conditions such as air quality, and they all simply scavenge the power they need from sunlight and elsewhere. The first glimmer of that day is already here.”

NanoPower Harvesting can be defined as systems that extract and manage tiny amounts of power from ambient sources such as light, solar, thermal, electromagnetic, or vibration to supply the power for low-power devices with applications that may not be possible with traditional battery-powered systems.

One future application is likely to be using energy from human body heat to power sensors for medical and fitness monitoring purposes, according to TI. Another could be monitoring the condition of infrastructure, such as bridges and levees, where checking and changing batteries is not especially practical. Yet another application almost certainly will include wireless monitoring of HVAC and lighting smart-systems in factories, office buildings, and homes.

TI has already introduced a number of products in this space. One is the bq25504 Ultra Low Power Boost Charger. This product does not harvest energy, but it provides the vital connection between a harvesting device (such as a photovoltaic solar cell) and an end-use electronic device. It features a high-efficiency current boost charger/converter, user-programmable power point tracking, cold-start capability, and flexible energy storage options. It operates on only 330 nano-amps, which TI notes is the best in the industry.

There is another environmental benefit of this technology. By reducing the need for batteries or extending their life, there will be fewer batteries ending up in landfills.

When placed on a wireless sensor node with three commonly available integrated circuit components, the bq25504 can extract energy from ambient light and use it in applications such as powering a microprocessor. This application provides a hint of the exciting things to come, as product designers will develop other innovative uses that conserve energy and improve our quality of life. In the interim, the work that TI is doing to expedite the use of this technology is a Great Manufacturing Story.

Vitamix: Rugged Quality, Commitment to Healthy Diets, and Export Success Fuel Global Business

  • November 29, 2013

As increased information becomes available about the benefits of healthy diets, more people are turning to blenders to create their own whole-food juices, soups, and smoothies. Consumers by the thousands have learned the hard way that not all kitchen blenders are created equally. A number of the products on the market are prone to jamming or breaking.

Product quality sets Vitamix apart. This manufacturer, which is based in Olmsted Township, Ohio, just west of Cleveland, has been selling kitchen products since 1921 and making blenders since 1937. It is a leader in blending technology, and has developed high-quality blenders that have the versatility and durability to stand up to the challenges of the whole-foods era. The firm now has several hundred employees who make and ship hundreds of thousands of products each year.

Vitamix is now a fourth-generation family business that has, since the beginning, been an advocate for healthy diets. In 1969, the company president unveiled the Vitamix 3600, the first blender that could make soup, blend ice cream, grind grain, and knead bread dough. His wife created hundreds of recipes for healthy and tasty foods that could be made with the Vitamix. The firm added a commercial blender for the foodservice industry to its product mix in 1985. Vitamix can also perform service on machines up to 20 years old, pending the availability of parts.

The company learned early on that they key to selling its products is getting people to see demonstrations. That is why you may well have seen Vitamix being demonstrated in a store in your community or on television (they have been on television, in fact, since 1949).

If product quality and durability sets Vitamix apart from its competition, its success in the global marketplace helps make it a Great Manufacturing Story. Vitamix products are now available in more than 100 countries, from Antigua to Vietnam.

That wasn’t always the case, of course. When Jodi Berg joined the family business in 1997, Vitamix was primarily a domestic business, and her mission was to make it an international company. She visited 13 countries that year, some of them multiple times (while also planning her wedding). In doing so, she drew on her background as a certified quality auditor and a director of quality and training for Ritz-Carlton.

As she explains an in article in Cleveland Business Connects, their goal was not to grow quickly, but rather to ensure the same product quality and customer experience in each market they penetrated. That focus meant saying “no” to traditional export companies, and fostering a slower, more personal approach in which it cultivates relationships, and articulates specific expectations, from its distributors. The success internationally has been dynamic. Former Commerce Secretary Gary Locke bestowed the E Award for exporting success on the company in 2010. In 2012, the firm won a Kitchen Innovations award from the National Restaurant Association, as well. Moreover, Berg went on to become the company's president, ensuring its continued dedication to its founding principles as it meets the needs of health-conscious customers.