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PRD, Inc.: Remaining Agile in a Changing Market
   by Dianna Brodine
   Profile   Spring  2008
  
Pop Quiz: A customer calls with an urgent need for a low-volume part run that must be molded in a dust-free environment. You have no clean room on site. What do you do?

The PRD Response? Build a temporary Class 100,000 clean room to accommodate the customer… in four days.

Located in Springville, Ind., PRD, Inc. looks like your typical injection molder. With 110 employees and a facility that runs 24 hours, five days a week, PRD, Inc. produces materials for the automotive, industrial, medical, business equipment, noise/vibration control, hearing protection, and military industries. The company has 52 horizontal presses, ranging in size from 20 to 390 ton. The facility also runs two 85-ton vertical molding machines. PRD dabbles in decorating, but primarily focuses its resources on molding and assembly, both hand and automated. It looks and sounds like a normal injection molding operation. But underneath the layer of ‘expected’, PRD, Inc. incorporates some fairly unexpected elements designed to keep it and its customers at the forefront of a changing industry.

Two Presses, Paid in Full
Even PRD’s history is not a traditional tale. Incorporated in 1979 as an offshoot of sister company D&M Tool Corp., PRD opened its doors as an injection molder when a D&M Tool Corp. customer ordered tooling, but couldn’t pay for it. Instead, as the customer was going out of business, it made good on its debt by giving D&M Tool Corp. two injection molding presses. Ansel Deckard, Jr., the owner and founder of PRD, used the presses, the employees, and the customers of the out-of-business molder to create a successful company.

In 1983, John Passanisi was brought on as president of the plastics molding operation. Holding a degree in plastics engineering from the University of Lowell (Mass.) and a MBA from the University of Indianapolis, Passanisi had both technical experience and a solid business background. Passanisi’s first action was to shut down the entire plant for two days. He took the time to clean, reorganize, and evaluate the capabilities of the organization.

At the time PRD operated with four presses and 12 employees molding parts for RCA, Otis Elevator, and for a noise control and safety products company. The company grew steadily with its current customer base until 1989, when Deckard sold PRD to Specialty Manufacturers, Inc. In 1993, PRD made a concerted effort to break into the automotive business by becoming Ford Q1 certified. It was the first of many certifications to follow, including TS16949, ISO 9000 2000, and ISO 14000.

One key to PRD’s success is the fact that the company is essentially debt-free, having concentrated on putting its profits right back into operations. “We made smart decisions in equipment purchases and automation so we can be a low-cost producer,” said Tim Deckard, vice president and general manager of PRD, and son of original owner Ansel Deckard, Jr. Other factors influencing the company’s financial success include a location in a rural area and having an annual employee turnover rate under two percent in an industry averaging 30 percent. “We have a family atmosphere,” explained Melissa Orr, human resources/purchasing manager. “It’s a tight-knit group of people who care about what they do and about each other.”

No More ‘Shoot and Ship’
Historically, PRD has been very open to changing company procedures to adjust to customers’ needs. That has included keeping up with the trend toward automation. “When I first came here, John and Tim talked about ‘shoot and ship’ business,” said Orr. “We processed product at the press, packaged it in bulk, and shipped it out. In a short period of time, those days were gone.” PRD looked at secondary processes that could meet the need for one-stop molding and assembly. At first, mechanical assemblies that could be done at the press were developed. Then as assembly became more complex, PRD added servo robots. “If there’s something a lot of molders won’t do, we’ll take a look at it,” Passanisi said with pride.

A recent example of the types of decisions that led to success for PRD was a new lighting application for a customer in Europe. The customer needed a supplier for a special LED application, requiring the use of a specialty grade of polycarbonate and a special press. The only problem? PRD didn’t have the press. However, PRD saw a potential for growth in molding this type of part and purchased a custom 20-ton electric press capable of molding the unique polycarbonate. Passanisi explained, “The customer requirement was only going to use about 10 percent of the press capacity, but we believed that having the new machine would open doors for future growth. In the six months since the press purchase, we have sold over 50 percent of the press capacity by sharing with potential customers what our new capability can afford them. We see this press being totally sold out soon.”

The press purchase was just the latest in a five-year trend toward investing heavily in automation, with equipment ranging from a simple robot to pick up the part and sprue from the mold to a 3-axis servo-controlled robot that removes the part from the press, cuts the gate from the runner, and packages the parts. Much of this automation is driven by the consolidation happening in the industry, leading to more demands on suppliers. Many established customers are asking PRD to expand into work that was previously sourced with larger molders. “PRD is investing in its customers, when it makes business sense to do so, by purchasing the needed capital to respond to our customers’ needs,” explained Passanisi. “The capital investment by PRD allows our customers the luxury of minimal up-front expenditures for automation projects or special equipment. PRD recovers its investment in each part that is produced. This results in a true partnership with our customer.”

PRD prides itself on its fast response to customer needs, but it also has succeeded based on the complexity of the business it takes on. “We have over 250 active molds and over 300 materials in stock,” said Passanisi. “To most molders, this is a major issue, but PRD has learned to deal with the variety by using common mold bases and personnel who can keep mold change times to a minimum.

Leading in Education
The customers of PRD, Inc. aren’t the only ones to benefit from the company’s commitment to remaining at the forefront of the industry. PRD’s employees also have been able to take advantage of some unique opportunities.

The Global Standards for Plastics Certification (GSPC) originated in Great Britain in the 1970s in an attempt to create and maintain plastics manufacturing core competencies. GSPC is a comprehensive, rigorous training system designed to ensure that plastics industry production employees have a consistent level of knowledge and hands-on skills related to safety, quality, customer service, and the production process. To achieve GSPC certification, each employee engages in a series of structured training events designed to expand his knowledge base and improve overall skill sets.

The GSPC system is now being implemented or promoted in 33 countries but is still a relatively new concept in the U.S. Over the last three years, Indiana companies have invested a significant amount of time and energy into the GSPC training process, but the direct costs have been covered by grant funds from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development (IDWD).

By early 2008, more than 30 percent of PRD employees had completed Level 1 of the GSPC and another seven percent completed Level 2. Although the training sessions were offered on company time, significant amounts of self-study also were required. The PRD employees were up for the challenge. According to Orr, “The GSPC training energized the employees and got them excited. They saw this as an opportunity to achieve lifelong certification.”

The educational opportunity pleased Passanisi. “Any education is good,” he said. “Plastic theory and foundations haven’t changed all that much but our people needed to understand why they were doing things – the scientific knowledge – especially for the set-up and process guys.” Recognition parties were held to honor the employees who completed Levels 1 and 2. In addition, the employees who achieved Level 2 certification were treated to dinner with PRD management.

During the GSPC process, PRD employees benefited from a full-time training coordinator already on staff at the company. The trainer, Judy Turner, was not only able to help employees achieve their goals through the self-study portion of the GSPC education, but also performs essential education functions on a day-to-day basis. “Judy coordinates everything for new customers and new projects,” explained Orr. In addition to walking the floor and assisting with anything that is outside of the normal way of doing things, Turner also is responsible for ensuring that every operator is cross-trained to perform every job in the facility. Passanisi emphasized the importance of the position in saying, “The key to any operation is to make sure everyone knows the same information and is doing things the same way. Our trainer allows us to share knowledge across all three shifts, across all operations.”

Changing Times, Stable Values
Passanisi and PRD continue to look toward the future of injection molding, and the visioning process has led to a personnel change. “For the first time in 29 years, we have hired a full-time sales manager,” said Passanisi. “We have always grown by word of mouth but it’s a totally different world now. To expand into other areas, we need to have someone dedicated to sharing our capabilities with potential customers.” For old clients or new, PRD is devoted to remaining a customer-service-oriented business. Passanisi understands that the industry itself is changing, but he doesn’t believe the commitments a company makes to its customers are any different. “Business is tough now and answers that used to be simple are getting harder. But our values won’t change. We will continue to run our company with integrity, honesty, and loyalty.”