Manufacturing in America: Universal Polymer & Rubber

What is the state of manufacturing in America? This question has been on our minds for some time now, and after reading articles and reports on the subject, we decided to take a closer look by talking to some of the men and women on the front lines of the industry. The following interview with John Zielinski, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Universal Polymer & Rubber, is the first in our “Manufacturing in America” series. The goal of this series is to highlight some of the manufacturing challenges and triumphs that are occurring right here in our backyards.

For context, Universal Polymer & Rubber is a privately-held company that was started in Middlefield, Ohio in 1970. Universal Polymer manufactures rubber molded parts, rubber extruded parts, and plastic extruded parts, and supplies them to a range of industries around the world. We sat down with John last month to talk about the past, present, and future of Universal Polymer. Here’s what we learned.

To start things off, can you tell me a little bit about who you are and how you got to be where you are today?

Sure. I’ve always been in manufacturing. I’ve been in a number of different industries: on the metal side of things, metal stamping, the foundry business, forging, and part fabrication. I actually ran a company that made wheels and mounted tires for off-road applications as well as trailer applications. Then, in the late 90s, early 2000s, I got into the rubber side of business, ran a compounder, and actually had my own business as an independent rep, and then in 2005, Universal was one of my principals, and their president came to me and asked me to take over their sales. We did that in 2005, and in the last 12 years, we’ve tripled our sales, both organically and through acquisitions.

That’s incredible growth! I saw your recent acquisition of Crest on your website—congrats to you.

Thank you.

When it comes to Universal Polymer, you’re definitely on an upswing. I’m trying to reconcile this happy success story with some of what I was reading. This Economist article from the other day talks about a shortage of skilled workers. Is Universal Polymer facing any challenges in that department?

Yes we are. We face the same challenges at various levels as some of the companies probably cited in The Economist. Some of our skilled and experienced workers are rubber extrusion operators, press operators, and even in general labor, there’s a shortage of workers because there are so many jobs open. Our press room, for example, is hard work, and it can get very warm in the summer. People who are looking for a cushy position or an easy job simply don’t last in that environment. There’s definitely a shortage of labor. We’re a group of six manufacturing companies, part of the Cypress Companies, and every company within Cypress is hurting for good people to fill in positions.

Is Universal Polymer embracing automation, or have things pretty much stayed the same in recent years?

We’re getting more automation, but we are far from an automated factory. For instance, we’re going more and more into injection, more automated presses, if you will, faster presses. But the rubber industry itself—it’s a big concentration around northeast Ohio—tends to be full of owner/operators who will often patch up equipment to get by. That’s how it’s always been, and these are the companies we tend to acquire. So what I’m saying is that we’re in a very mature industry, and there’s not as much automation. But in the last three years, we’ve added more of what I would call modern equipment and we have plans over the next five years to add further.

Right now, we’re looking for a visual inspection machine, which will rapidly speed up our visual inspection process (this is something that humans currently do). It’s a tedious and costly process, but some parts we make have to be looked at for excess flash or certain defects, and it’s a visual inspection. We’re looking to bring on a visual machine, which will be a nice investment.

It seems to me like today’s manufacturers understand the need to embrace innovation. Can you provide an example of an innovative solution that your company has devised in order to solve a common industry problem?

Absolutely. This past summer we launched a new mobile unit initiative as a way to better serve our customers. Basically, we designed a specially-equipped trailer that we could take on the road to provide on-the-spot hydrostatic testing and modification to customers who have purchased our pipe and manhole products. That’s an example of innovation in action, and it also shows our commitment to customer satisfaction.

That’s excellent. How would you say American manufacturing today stacks up against all the global competitors?

I would say American manufacturers are number one. When I say that, we’re talking the entire package you get for dealing with an American manufacturer. Obviously, when it comes to labor-intensive parts that are lesser engineered, we can’t really compete with the cheaper labor forces that other countries offer. So if it’s a lesser engineered commodity-type part, the American company probably won’t get the business. But for everything we offer, from sales and marketing through engineering support, through program management, to a willingness to get involved with your customers’ business as a supplier, I would say American manufacturers are the best.

Help Celebrate National Manufacturing Day Friday, October 6th!

National Manufacturing Day (NMD) is an annual day of recognition for the modern manufacturing industry. Established to highlight companies in the manufacturing sector and their many accomplishments, it is also designed to inspire and help secure the next generation of American industrial creators. Those firms interested in participating may register on the official site. Once listed, individual events can be marked as public or invitation-only.

NMD initiatives include the promotion of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) subjects, bridging the skills gap and reshoring of industry back to the U.S.

On Friday, Oct 6, 2017, NMD will highlight more than 2,000 American manufacturers, with many opening their doors to the public to showcase this vital sector of our economy and inspire America’s youth to pursue careers in manufacturing and engineering. Manufacturers like UP&R understand how essential it is to motivate millennials to graduate in science, technology, engineering, and math, as these graduates hold the key to future American production and innovation. Industries’ goals are to help ensure that the manufacturing industry in America will continue to not only survive, but thrive.

A couple of proudly made-in-the-USA examples from UP&R’s product line are Goldline and AMERIPRIDE Tarp Straps. These straps are used by truckers to keep their tarps securely tied down and their cargo safe from weather or any other environmental hazards.

Based in Middlefield, Ohio, our company got our start in 1970 and has been in continuous operation as a premiere custom manufacturer of rubber extrusions, plastic extrusions and rubber moldings including compression moldings, transfer moldings and injection moldings that meet the needs of our many valued customers. In celebrating this day, we not only acknowledge our contributions but those of all our partners in industry.

Remember to read our informative blogs and to follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay up to date. Should you be interested in our many products or services, feel free to contact us directly by calling (440) 632-1691 or by requesting a quote.

Happy National Manufacturing Day 2017 from Universal Polymer & Rubber! And remember to support initiatives like STEM education, bridging the skills gap, and reshoring year round!

 

Small Manufacturing Updates Under the New Administration

With every presidential election comes change, and with a new administration in office both large and small business’ have been feeling the effects. The U.S. stock market saw a jolt of activity that hasn’t been seen since 2014. In August 2017 the Dow Jones set record highs, hitting an intraday peak of 22,179.11 on August 8th. Although the outlook seems optimistic, some of the numbers aren’t playing out as expected.

Although the Dow Jones is up, this is the first time numbers have been down in the manufacturing industry in a couple of years. As of July 2017, the monthly automotive light vehicle production in North America was off by about 13%. That’s a steep drop in an industry that has seen monthly increases (year on year) for two to three years. Here at Universal Polymer & Rubber, we understand how all industries can affect each other. For example, the housing industry has been flat and is down from just one year ago. All manufacturing companies that produce supplies for the housing industry will, in turn, feel the impact of the stagnant market. Although the outlook was good and indicators like the Dow Jones are up, small and medium sized manufacturing companies haven’t seen those positive effects.

What’s even more concerning is that the American manufacturing base sees more chaos than order. Take for example the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  40% of our automotive business, and a large percentage of original equipment parts and systems, comes from Mexico and Canada. A change of border control and / or a tariff will change the expectancy and function of our business and the millions of businesses like ours. It will also send cost models out of the window, in an industry that is extremely cost conscious, that negotiates over pennies as if life itself depended on it.

President-elect Donald Trump has also campaigned on getting rid of NAFTA, feeling America is getting the short end of the stick. Now, President Trump is in negotiations to better the deal for the U.S., although many don’t think Canada or Mexico will buy into much change, as it would hurt their own countries too.

Mexico may well consider President Trump’s dedication to building a wall between the two countries as counter-productive to their goals. So whether or not NAFTA survives is anyone’s guess at this point. Many small manufacturers are struggling with the uncertainty of the future and what it holds, and uncertainty is never good for manufacturers. Here at Universal Polymer & Rubber, we will continue to manufacture rubber extrusions, plastic extrusions and rubber moldings including compression moldings, transfer moldings and injection moldings for our customers, while we stay abreast of what’s impacting our industry.

To learn more, we invite you to read our blog, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and connect with us on LinkedIn. To learn more about how Universal Polymer & Rubber can help you, we invite you to contact us today.

 

5 Ways to Run a Thriving Manufacturing Company: Lessons from an American Success Story

For almost half a century Universal Polymer and Rubber has been a market leader in the domain of rubber and plastic extrusions and custom created products. During that time the business has placed a great emphasis on client satisfaction and in 2017, when most production units in Ohio are struggling to stay afloat, we have not only managed to expand our operations but have also been recognized as a “Made in USA” success story by the renowned publication Construction in Focus.

5 Golden Rules from Those Who Have Braved It All: 

Manufacturing may be the lifeblood of the nation, but that doesn’t render businesses in the industry immune to the cycles of supply and demand.

There are challenges to be circumvented. And brands that can’t establish themselves as purveyors of quality items falter and fail.

Companies that set themselves apart from the competition do so on the dint of hard work, a desire to learn and evolve an insightful understanding of industry dynamics.

 

 

Here are 5 hard won lessons from the veterans at Universal Polymer & Rubber Ltd. to help you ace running a manufacturing company: 

1. Be Practical and Rooted in Facts: It is easy to get carried away by the avalanche of rumors and fallacies saturating the industry grapevine. Hyperventilating over a future scenario that may or may not transpire isn’t the best use of time or resources. Projections, estimates and market predictions are handy tools to have, but only when they resonate with the take and understanding of your company and client base. Instead of chasing “what ifs,” manufacturing businesses must address known issues like the growing skill gap in the industry and the dwindling interest in core manufacturing as a career choice for graduates with well thought out, strategic actions like participation in and promotion of Manufacturing Day.

2. Be Discerning when it Comes to Staffing: Talent shouldn’t be hoarded – even in manufacturing where there is a real absence of qualified candidates. Benched employees lose their finesses and also suffer from disengagement. They negatively impact the morale of the rest of the workforce. However, rapid expansion is a possibility given the trend of reshoring over the years. A fine balance between staffing and the business level is required. It is the worth the investment to create a pipeline of “just in time” recruitment possibilities to ensure the best utilization of labor.

3. Understand that Acquisitions Take Time to Produce Results: Acquiring assets is a great way to rapidly increase sales. How?

          A. The acquired assets transfer their goodwill and clients to the parent company.

          B. The acquired assets may possess complementary skills that help companies penetrate a whole new market full of possibilities.

Universal Polymer & Rubber has made multiple acquisitions and learnt from each undertaking. The most important take-away is the fact that all good things need time to mature. Acquisitions are no different. They have to be assimilated and worked on before they can positively influence bottom-line numbers.

4. Pay Attention to Details: Manufacturing is a highly competitive industry. Maintaining a legacy of quality is essential. To this effect companies must constantly improve following the principles of Kaizen. Certifications like ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 16949 offer benchmarks of excellence and provide guidelines that reduce waste, bring down defects and boost customer satisfaction.

5. Balance Long Term & Short-Term Goals: While it is great to have a 50,000-foot view of the business operations, it’s the day-to-day activities and meticulousness in executing them which keep a company strong and profitable. A game changing business not only stays abreast of latest technological breakthroughs, it incorporates the insights in everyday activities for tangible results.

Universal Polymer & Rubber Ltd. has lived by each these five lessons and the results are evident.

If you want to learn more about succeeding in manufacturing, follow our blog and our LinkedIn and Twitter pages.

Need a custom quote? Contact us today.

 

Made in America, Built to Last: Universal Polymer & Rubber Ltd. Is Featured in “Construction in Focus Magazine”

This month UPR received a rewarding validation of our efforts, being recognized by one of the most widely read publications in the world of manufacturing and construction– Construction in Focus. Universal Polymer & Rubber Ltd. is pleased to be seen as a “Made in America” success story in the July 2017 issue.

We would like to thank the magazine for the opportunity and to tip the hat to everyone who has been involved in helping us earn that spotlight.

A Made in America Success Story” (pages 114-117), is a candid look at the legacy of Universal Polymer & Rubber Ltd and dives deep into the secrets of our longevity. The write-up digs through our accomplishments during such uncertain economic times, highlighting our efforts to avoid reliance on exports for revenue. Contrasting companies are especially glaring because many rubber manufacturers and suppliers in the Midwest have been forced to closed their doors in the past decade.

Still, we remain confident in our diverse product line and our commitment to quality conscious, lean production. In the next five years, we look to expand our footprint in North America and aim to increase the volume of trade with international clients.

What Sets UP&R Apart?

Hendley talks to a few of our company’s captivating factors:

  1. Our ability to custom create products from client supplied designs – models and blueprints. Standard units like tarp straps are good sellers. But our expertise isn’t restricted to these “bought off the shelf” items. UP&R customers depend on our prowess when it comes to crafting parts from customer designs.
  2. Our diverse product pool and market base. We aren’t just an automotive seller or a pipe gasket company. We have the skill to manufacture tarp straps and items that require finely honed rubber and plastic extrusion capabilities as well.
  3. Our dedication to quality. UP&R team members are the best at what they do. We possess the ISO 9001:2008 certification (without design) and also the ISO/TS 16949 certification across all facilities.

Also mentioned are snippets about the ‘5 S’ program that will help with all future facilities, whether expanded or acquired.

Finely peppered with quotes from our Executive Vice President, John Zielinski, we find that the engaging article both informs and inspires like-minded companies and future business prospects.

Contacting UP&R

If you are interested in staying up-to-date on the latest in manufacturing, construction, and the plastic and rubber industries, please follow our blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Need a quote? Get in touch with us today.

What’s Holding US Manufacturing Back?

In the United States, the manufacturing industry is very important as it creates jobs for millions of people, as well as provides the products and goods the country needs.  Our previous blogs have looked at how the economy has fared since President Trump took office and the importance of the American Manufacturing industry and Manufacturing Day.  While there have been positive signs that the manufacturing industry is growing, it is still not at the peak levels of the past.

Manufacturing

3 Obstacles Holding US Manufacturing Back

  • Securing Talent: The majority of American Manufacturing is based in mid-western states, and in areas that are more rural than city.   Many manufacturing companies in these areas have jobs available for qualified candidates but have trouble convincing people to relocate to these areas.  By being based far away from high population cities, long commutes could keep candidates from accepting offers.  To grow a business, quality employees are needed, and this can be difficult for Midwestern manufacturing companies.
  • Lack of Modernization: While technology has advanced significantly over the last decade, not all manufacturing companies have taken advantage of this.  Many are still running their operations on old computer systems and software, and are still doing business by fax.  Reasons for this range from the potentially high cost of updating these systems, to not wanting to change a system that has been in place for years due to a high level of comfort.   By not updating this technology companies are missing out on opportunities to be more efficient which could lead to additional profit and revenue.  It also could prevent talented employees from joining the team who would not want to work with outdated systems.
  • The “Old School Culture”: Many Midwestern manufacturing companies are family owned and operated, and are made up of employees who have been with the company for decades.  While their loyalty and experience is necessary and important, many times this can create a culture that is resistant to change, and unwelcoming to new employees and ideas.  By not staying up with the latest industry innovations, and welcoming new viewpoints and ideas from new employees, it will be hard for these companies to be competitive and successful long term.

By embracing new ideas and technology, manufacturing companies across the United States will be able to improve their efficiency and production and set themselves up for long-term success.  At Universal Polymer & Rubber we are proud to be a Midwestern manufacturing company and are always looking for the best way we can serve our customers.  For more information on our products and capabilities, please contact us.

The Sales Development Process Isn’t As Quick As You Think

To be a successful business it is important to develop new customers while still providing excellent service to your existing customers.  At Universal Polymer & Rubber we are a manufacturer of rubber molded parts, rubber extruded parts and plastic extruded parts, along with tarp straps for the trucking industry.  We are regularly meeting with new potential clients to review their needs and requirements and discuss how we might be able to assist them.  This sales development process is not quick like some businesses might think, but requires due diligence done on both sides to make sure the fit is right.  Below is an outline of the sales development process.

Business meeting

The Sales Development Process:

Creating the Relationship – The first and one of the most important steps of the process is creating the initial relationship with a potential new client.  Getting your foot in the door isn’t always easy and can take time to build trust and understanding regarding the services your company can provide them.  This can require much follow up and persistence and usually isn’t as simple as calling up and offering to be the company’s new supplier.

Providing Samples – Once the initial relationship is made, the next step is providing samples or porotypes to show the company you can meet their requirements.  This can require multiple meetings to learn the exact specs of what they need, and once that is obtained more time will be used to make the samples to present to them.

Testing of Products and Materials –   When the sample or prototype is presented to the client, they will then need to perform testing to make sure it actually meets all their requirements and will fulfil all their qualifications.  Many times there can be back and forth at this step as changes are required.  By creating a good relationship in the initial step, this can be an easier operation as both sides are looking to develop a successful working partnership.

Ramp Inventory Down from Old Supplier – All the specs have been met, the customer is happy with the product. Is the customer immediately able to buy in bulk from you?  Not so fast!  Most likely they have a large amount of inventory still on hand, or possibly even on order from their old supplier.  More waiting time will be spent as they finish up this entire inventory and then are ready to receive the items you will be providing.

While the sales development process can take a long time, it can be worth it for both sides at the end as a successful partnership has been created.  For more information on the products and services Universal Polymer & Rubber can provide for you, please contact us here.

How Is the Economy Doing Since President Trump Took Office?

Historically when there is a change in presidential administrations, there is a sense of hesitancy in the business and manufacturing world as people wait to see what changes will be made.  This year with the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency, that hesitancy does not seem to exist.  A key part of President Trump’s campaign platform, and his first months in office has been the goal of bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States and increasing the amount of American made products and goods.  This has led to a positive feeling in the manufacturing industry as companies look to take advantage of this new presidential direction.

Economy and Manufacturing in USA

Job Creation and the Economy:

One of the best ways to track how the economy is doing is with job creation numbers.  In February, reports from ADP and Moody’s Analytics reported that jobs were added at an impressive pace, much more than was predicted. Employment in the private sector increased by 298,000 in February, and goods producers added another 106,000 jobs on top of that.  Construction and the manufacturing industries also added 66,000 and 32,000 jobs respectively as well.  These are enormous numbers and show that businesses believe the economy is going to continue to grow under President Trump.

Manufacturing Growth:

Manufacturing growth has also been up significantly since President Trump has been in office.  According to the Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) monthly Manufacturing Report on Business, the February PMI came in at 57.7.  The PMI is the index used by ISM to measure growth, and this February reading is the highest monthly PMI reading since August 2014.  Many manufacturing sectors contributed to the growth including transportation equipment, computer & electronic products, fabricated metal products, and wood products among many others.  New orders, which are a huge factor when calculating the health of the manufacturing industry was up 4.7% to 65.1, matching the previous record high that was last seen in December 2013.  Overall almost every reading was up in the latest report, showing that the platform of the new administration is enhancing the economy and manufacturing industry.

At Universal Polymer & Rubber we are proud to be an American manufacturing company.  Our GOLDLINE, SILVERLINE, and AMERIPRIDE tarp straps are American made and used throughout the trucking industry.  This positive trend for the economy and manufacturing industry has been great to see after years of stagnation, and we look forward to seeing it continue.  For more information on products and services, please contact us.

Introducing AMERIPRIDE Tarp Straps from UP&R

UP&R is excited to introduce our latest product for the trucking industry: AMERIPRIDE Tarp straps. Made in the USA, the AMERIPRIDE line continues the tradition of our GOLDLINE and SILVERLINE Tarp straps, which have been a standard for the trucking industry since the 1970s. Tarps are vital for truckers to keep their cargo safe from weather and other environmental hazards, and AMERIPRIDE straps will help meet your tarp tie down needs.

Made of EPDM in our Middlefield OH facility, the AMERIPRIDE strap has excellent UV and Ozone resistance. The AMERIPRIDE tarp strap is available at an affordable price for use in the trucking, transportation, recreational vehicle, and marine industries. Remaining flexible across a variety of climates, these straps will perform their task of holding down tarps. Available in sizes of 10”, 15”, 21”, 31”, and 41”, they come 50 pieces to a boxed and can be shipped to any location. Delivered with S hooks that are manufactured in house directly from wire coils, UP&R is proud to offer a product that is completely Made in the USA.

Also this year from March 23-25, we will be exhibiting at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Kentucky. This show is the largest heavy-duty trucking industry event in the world, with over 70,000 attendees, and 1,000+ exhibitors from the United States and abroad. An annual event for the trucking industry to come together and showcase new products and ideas, this is a can’t miss show. Be sure to visit us at booth #69128 for one of the first opportunities to get a look at our AMERIPRIDE Tarp straps. Our product specialists will also be available to answer any questions about our products and services.

For more information on our AMERIPRIDE Tarp straps and how they can assist in your tarp tie down requirements, contact us.

UP&R is ISO/TS 16949 Certified

There are many reasons a company would want to be ISO/TS 16949 certified. ISO is the acronym for the International Standards Organization, which is a non-governmental, independent organization. The ISO publishes standards which lets consumers know they are getting the best products, services, and systems. The ISO also facilitates international trade, with consumers in all countries understanding they will get the best in quality and efficiently produced products, all while being made within specific safety standards. ISO certification is completely voluntary but has gained widely in popularity.

ISO certification

To date, the ISO has published over 21,000 standards in a variety of industries: from food safety to technology to agriculture and everything in between. ISO/TS 16949 is a technical specification which was developed to help aid with quality management systems. It allows for continuing improvement, while addressing defect prevention with the reduction of waste along the automotive industry supply chain. It is based on the ISO 9001 standard, and is a valuable certification to obtain if a company is looking to work with automobile manufacturers.

ISO/TS 16949 was drafted by the International Automotive Task Force (IATF) along with a technical committee made up of ISO members. This technical specification was designed to bring about regulations that are country specific when dealing with quality management systems. The ISO/TS 16949 certification is valid for three years.

As a custom manufacturer of rubber extrusions, plastic extrusions, and rubber moldings, Universal Polymer and Rubber understands the importance of being ISO/TS 16949 certified. Not only does being certified streamline the manufacturing process, but it ensures any risks or problems are addressed during the process. A benefit of this is that customers are able to have a higher rate of satisfaction by knowing they are getting a quality produced piece that was manufactured using the best methods of safety and efficiency. By using more efficient processes, which translates into a lower cost for production, which in the end saves our customer’s money. For more information on the services we can offer you contact us.

Custom Manufacturer of Rubber Extrusions, Plastic Extrusions and Rubber MoldingsIncluding compression moldings, transfer moldings and injection moldings