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Polymer pro Featured

11:39am EDT September 29, 2005
Over the past 40 years, there have been many challenges and advances in the field of polymer chemistry, and nobody understands that better than Rick Organ, president and CEO of Kent-based Schneller Inc.

“In the past couple years, the No. 1 item has been weight consideration, taking more weight out of the aircraft and, in turn, out of our products. And No. 2 has been addressing the environmental considerations and ensuring more environmentally-friendly products,” Organ says.

Schneller Inc. develops and manufactures engineered decorative laminates and nontextile floor coverings for the transportation and architectural industries. Its 200 employees work from its sales and support facilities in Kent and Paris, France, and a production facility in Pinellas Park, Fla., and in January, Schneller’s Asia sales and support will move to Singapore.

Organ says companies in today’s manufacturing world can’t compete on the basis of quality because quality is a given.

“It’s part of being in the game. If you don’t have quality within your products and, in turn, within your processes, then you’re not going to be able to even compete in the marketplace,” he says.

Smart Business recently spoke with Organ about how he keeps his company competitive and his customers happy.

How does ISO-9001 certification keep your company competitive?

We made the decision in 1999 to become certified to the ISO standard. We did it not because we wanted to tell everybody that we were ISO-certified, to put it on our business cards and to carry the logo.

We did it because we really felt that what we wanted to assure is that the systems and processes that we used to produce our products were built around quality, so we were going to be assured that that product met the quality expectations of our customers. Fundamentally, our systems and processes were designed and followed in such a way that they would assure that outcome.

How have you measured success?

The traditional measure is when we start to look at the impact on the bottom line as it relates to scrap reduction, rejection rates by customers and lead time reduction.

In each case, we’ve been able to achieve a dramatic improvement. In every measure, there has been multiple times improvement over where we had been previously.

It is the essence of who we are. ... We don’t think of it anymore as, ‘We’re an ISO-qualified system.’ It’s just the way we run our business. It’s part of our culture, and I’m confident that you (can) go to any person within this company, regardless of their position, and they’ll tell you the same thing I just told you in terms of the importance of our quality systems to the current and future success of Schneller.

How do you provide fast turnaround in meeting customer deadlines?

One, we spend a good deal of time on the front end working with our customers to best understand what their needs and requirements are. Once we have a clear understanding, (it enables) us to go into production and make the products that meet their needs, and we’re not going to get delayed in the process.

Two is the quality system. It’s very rare for us to have a rejection in process or in final for our products. Consequently, we don’t have to start jobs over again. That probably is the biggest single reason for our ability to produce and turn things around in a timeframe.

We made it a mission in 2000 to reduce our lead times and improve our on-time delivery reliability. From the time we began that to today, we’ve cut our lead times in half. We’ve taken our delivery reliability from below 80 percent to where, on a consistent basis month in and month out, we’re approximately 98 percent.

I really believe it’s because we put in place the quality systems, processes and business procedures that we did.

What concerns led you to think that implementing those processes would help your company?

It wasn’t as though we were getting a lot of feedback from customers that was resulting in negative feedback, but instead it was much more of, ‘We’re the leader in our industry. What does leadership mean, and in order to stay in the lead, what do we need to do?’

We felt that was something we could own in the industry that would be relevant and meaningful to the customer and prospective customers to enable us to continue to win business away from the people who otherwise compete with us.

How are you able to offer economical minimum orders?

Everything we make is custom-produced for our customers; it’s to their specific requirements. We don’t make or stock any standard product, so everything is driven by order.

In doing so, the average order size is very small because today, people are much more inclined to order what they need, when they need it, as opposed to years back, when they ordered large quantities, put them in inventory, held them and used them over time.

Our business at $60 million (in annual revenue) is made up of a very large number of very small orders. We go into production for each and every one of those orders, so it becomes very important for us that ... when we begin committing materials and people to produce that product, we’re dialed in to produce a final good quality product.

We’re able to produce short-run quantities very efficiently, very effectively and most importantly, very cost-effectively.

How do you manage that?

Shortly after we did the ISO implementation, we embraced lean manufacturing and lean techniques. We really put a lot of our resources into set-up reduction time, quick turnarounds, quick turnovers, and reduced a lot of the upfront cost that is otherwise associated with setting up equipment and people, and looked at ways in which we could adjust our procedures and our equipment to be able to come up to speed rather quickly without loss of time or materials. We started the lean techniques in 2002, and we actually did it with CAMP (a Cleveland-based professional services organization that helps companies achieve growth, bottom-line savings and improved profitability.) We brought CAMP in to help us, and we’ve done as many as a dozen projects since then with CAMP. They’ve been a very valuable partner and resource to us. CAMP’s objective from the day they arrived was to train and enable us to become self-sufficient in this area. That was very important to us because what we didn’t want to do is end up in a situation where we’re dependent upon them or anybody else to be successful.

It had to be our success, and we had to embrace it ourselves.

HOW TO REACH: Schneller Inc., (330) 673-1400 or http://www.schneller.com