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Chrys Kefalas

Young Manufacturers Told: ‘Think Video Games’

By | General, Small Business | No Comments

A new employee at the Ruby Concrete Company in Madisonville, Kentucky, struggled to understand how to operate its high-tech production line that essentially mixes sand, rock, cement and water to make a host of concrete products.

“Think video games,” Kent Waide, company owner and president, told the 20 year old.

“It was like a lightbulb popped on,” Waide said. “He could suddenly see, ‘Yes, there is a progression or flow of production. It’s like a video game. You go from one level to the next, to the next, to the next.’”

Waide talks video games and workplace technology to connect with young employees and help keep his small family-owned company up and running in Kentucky’s western-coalfields region.

While many businesses come and go within five years, Ruby Concrete is nearing its 150th anniversary. The company is proud of its history as a scrappy innovator and survivor with primary markets in commercial and residential construction—and as a modern manufacturer that welcomes young workers wanting to learn.

Waide draws inspiration from those who ran the company before him, starting with John Ruby. An entrepreneur, Ruby began the operation in 1869 as a lumber company that obtained a contract to provide all the wooden ties to a railroad expanding through town.

Ruby’s family inherited the company and navigated it through the “Great Depression” by diversifying with a variety of new divisions, including ones for heating, plumbing, appliances and construction.

Waide said he again thought of the Rubys a decade ago when he struggled to survive the “Great Recession.” “If the Rubys could figure out a way to get through the ‘Great Depression,’ I could figure out how to get through the ‘Great Recession.’”

So, he took a hard look at his company and decided to build a high-tech plant that could run two shifts instead of just one and manufacture several new lines of concrete products.

It worked. Ruby Concrete became far more efficient. Its output soared 50 percent.

And the company transformed with the help of not just technology but also people.

“The employees we need now are different,” said Waide. “We need ones with specialized skills,” such as “mechatronics,” a technology combining electronics and mechanical engineering.

To help hire workers with an interest in creativity, teamwork and technology and ease the industry’s nagging “skills gap,” Ruby Concrete engages in joint ventures with area schools, including an annual robotics competition.

“Employers want young employees willing and able to work, and there are training programs in place to advance these young people to good, high-wage jobs,” said Waide.

On average nationwide, a trainee can earn from $35,000 to $40,000 a year while a skilled worker can get between $75,000 and $100,000 a year.

“Some people in the business are frustrated with the young people of today,” Waide said. “They say they just don’t have the same work ethic as they did years ago. But what we find is that they just go about things differently. You need to get them excited about work and things that they can relate to. This is a generation of video game players. And that is one way that we can relate.”

Waide points out that the story of what evolved into Ruby Concrete is the story of three generations of the Ruby family, followed by three generations of his family.

In the early 1940s, John Ruby’s grandson, Clyde Ruby, returned from World War II and began Ruby Concrete. In 1965, retiring family members closed the lumber company and transferred its assets to the concrete company.

When Clyde Ruby retired in the early 1970s, Waide’s father, Harry Waide, became president. Harry had begun work there in 1953 as a laborer. In 1982, Harry became the owner.

In 2012, Harry Waide’s son, Kent Waide, took over as president. His son, Jonathan Waide, 20, is just getting started, having worked there in recent years during his high school and now college breaks.

“We’re proud. We’re grateful,” said Kent Waide, who hasn’t yet figured out how the company will mark its 150th anniversary in 2019.

But he knows this: “We’ve been able to survive and remain independent through technology. To last this long, you need to endure a lot of hard knocks. You need to be tough. You need to take advantage of the innovation of the day and try to make the most of it.”

Power of Small: More than 90 percent of the National Association of Manufacturers’ 14,000 members are small to medium-sized businesses. These are our stories.

Ecolab: A Business Model for Success

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If you want to hear how to run a company effectively, listen to Emilio Tenuta.

He is the vice president of corporate sustainability at Ecolab Inc., a St. Paul, Minnesota–based firm with 48,000 employees, $13 billion in annual sales and a record of being innovative and pro-environment—and long recognized as one of “the world’s most ethical companies.” Read More

Increasing Agility with Business Aviation

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Click Bond, Inc. is recognized as an industry pioneer and a leading supplier of advanced assembly solutions to the aerospace industry. Today the company supports global leaders across the civil and military aircraft, unmanned systems and space vehicle manufacturing sectors. Click Bond’s adhesive bonded fastener products permit installation of systems and structural attachments without drilled holes, reducing customers’ manufacturing costs and improving the maintainability and longevity of their products.

General aviation users and passionate pilots from the start, Click Bond’s leaders have leveraged an increasingly capable succession of business aircraft to deliver the company’s signature responsiveness and support to an expanding customer base effectively. Click Bond President and CEO Karl Hutter talks with Member Focus to discuss how aviation works as a value-added business tool for his company and how it can work for others in the manufacturing sector.

Member Focus: Click Bond’s products are found in a multitude of industries. How do you stay connected to your different customer networks?

Hutter: Our customer base is located across the United States, and about 25 percent of our business is with international customers, predominantly in Europe, Asia and South America. Additionally, our growth has expanded our footprint; in addition to our headquarters in Carson City, Nev., we have a design and manufacturing presence in Watertown, Conn., and a small but growing adhesives facility in Saltney, Wales.

From Carson City, we access airline service through Reno, our closest commercial airport, although the number of nonstop destinations from there are limited. Reaching our primary company and customer sites typically requires one or even two stops with commercial travel. Our team, therefore, spends an unnecessary amount of time on the road away from home and at the mercy of connecting flights and delays.

This is a major driving factor in our continuing expansion of our corporate flight operations. Our customers value our commitment to responsiveness and support; it is a source of genuine competitive advantage. Agility is one of Click Bond’s core values, and business aviation is critical to our ability to deliver it.

Member Focus: As your business has grown and changed, how has your use of business aviation changed with it?

Hutter: My father, mother and I are pilots, and early on, we utilized piston propeller aircraft—a Cessna 185 and then an Aerostar twin—for many of the company’s business trips. In the beginning, we’d have two people on a trip and fly short legs along the West Coast, calling on our customers in Los Angeles and Seattle. However, the increasing need to travel to places like Wichita, Kan.; Fort Worth, Texas; and Washington, D.C., demanded longer legs than what the Aerostar could provide practically.

We acquired the Connecticut facility, and our customer footprint continued to expand. Additionally, as programs grew in complexity, new teams of engineers and specialists needed to be in more places while staying connected to our operations in Carson City. That’s when we made the move to a Cessna Citation business jet. Today we make use of a fleet of three aircraft, including a Citation CJ3 jet for those longer coast-to-coast trips from Carson City to Watertown.

What was usually a two-stop, all-day journey—provided everything went right with connections—is now a five-hour, 15-minute nonstop flight departing right from our own backdoor. This aircraft has been a game-changer from a mission profile and economic standpoint, and the reliability for our team—and customers—is unparalleled. 

My father and I are both certified to fly the Citation, and we personally fly many of these trips, either solo or working as a crew with Jere Marble, our pilot and manager of flight operations and maintenance. He keeps the operation running smoothly and safely.

Member Focus: What has business aviation enabled your company to do?

Hutter: With our need to reach across the continent quickly and reliably, it fills the gaps commercial travel can’t, both in terms of efficiency and flexibility. The economics and payload capabilities of the larger Citation have allowed us to include an increasingly diverse group of teammates on board, representing many disciplines.

That means we can go beyond just having a limited group of senior people at a meeting or a plant visit. It allows me to expose more employees to their customers and their work. They’re not only communicating with customers over the phone or corresponding via email, but they’re also on-site, seeing the successes and the challenges firsthand. This valuable face time builds knowledge of the environments where our products are used and enhances the connection between our employees and the customers we serve.

As a company that puts customer support at the center of what we provide—from rapid turnaround of engineered solutions and prototypes to responsive on-site training and customer support—we view the capability that business aviation provides to our team as essential.

Right now we have the perfect aircraft for our mission, at least until our business drives a great need for intercontinental travel.

Member Focus: General aviation is still gaining traction in the manufacturing industry as a useful business tool. How do your customers view your use of aircraft?

Hutter: Many of our customers have roots in the aviation and aerospace industry, and they know and love that we are true aviation enthusiasts. Click Bond’s aircraft ownership and operation demonstrates that passion, but more importantly, puts us in our customers’ shoes. When we meet with Textron Aviation, for example, our contacts in engineering know we bring not only a supplier/partner perspective but also a customer perspective, and that we recognize the importance of the quality and reliability of their product to their customers, and that our own products must enable that.

Member Focus: What’s your advice for a manufacturer considering business aviation to expand its footprint?

Hutter: Definitely be thoughtful about where you are pounding in stakes—the investment in a plant, a workforce and a community is one of the strongest commitments that you will make. Ensure that the place in which you choose to land has the access to customers, material and other resources that you will need to be successful. Don’t rule out wonderful communities that may offer tremendous advantage but don’t have a robust commercial air service. That’s where business aviation proves to be a valuable asset.

A capable general aviation airport, coupled by your company’s use of business aviation, can make them not only practical places to base your operation but also unlock locations that might be the source of competitive advantage that others might never find.

 L to R: Click Bond founders Charles Hutter and Collie Hutter and President and CEO Karl Hutter in front of the company’s Citation CJ3 business jet

Small Texas-Based Boot Manufacturer Thinks Big

By | Shopfloor Main | No Comments

AUSTIN, Texas—In his 1,600-square-foot headquarters, which the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) visited during its 2017 State of Manufacturing Tour, Joshua Bingaman is a whirling dervish—designing, packaging and shipping upscale boots to as many as 150 customers per month. A former singer, shoe store owner and coffee shop proprietor, Bingaman is the founder of HELM Boots, a small but fast-growing company.

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