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Dymotek: Setting a Safe Course Through Rough Economic Waters
   by Dianna Brodine
       Winter  2009
  
As a relatively young injection molder, an outside observer might not expect Dymotek to be prepared to weather the current economic recession. It’s often those with a long history of service and decades of experience that survive when the waters get rough. Dymotek, however, has prepared itself well for the turbulence currently affecting the molding industry. With a distinctive culture that encourages employee involvement in evaluating the company, a workforce that is ‘absolutely fanatical’ about customer service, and a willingness to invest in its customers, the Ellington, Connecticut company is sailing through the current economic storms.

Dymotek, shortened from Dynamic Molding Technologies, entered the injection molding business in 1991 as Truebro. Owned by two brothers (Thomas and Steven Trueb) who had invented an ADA-compliant under sink pipe-covering system, the company existed to manufacture its proprietary product line. Executive Vice President Norm Forest was brought on in 1997. Previously the head of a testing and qualifications laboratory for another company, Forest developed the custom molding business as a support component to the core business by going to local tool shops and asking for mold testing work. Without any sales support, the custom business became an important component of the product mix. When the Truebro line was sold off to a plumbing company four years ago, the Dymotek name was chosen, a 20,000-square-foot manufacturing/warehouse addition was built, and a custom injection molding business was born.

Focusing on the injection molding of thermoplastics and silicones (thermosets), the company offers assembly (manual and automated using robotics, 3 axis and 6 axis), pad printing, welding, heat staking, inventory management/direct shipping, and product development/improvement. Dymotek’s markets are primarily industrial and commercial products, with the company also serving medical and automotive customers and still molding the Truebro line.

Investing in Its People, Building a Team
The creation of a culture is a delicate operation. Too little latitude in management/employee relations and the work atmosphere becomes tense and distrustful. Too much latitude can result in lowered standards for quality and professionalism. Finding a balance that results in a dynamic atmosphere with devoted, hardworking employees who still have time for a little fun is difficult. As a part of that balancing act, the company’s management decided to flip its organizational chart four years ago. “As managers, our job is to support the team so why not show the management of the company at the bottom of the chart where support starts?” asked Forest. The company went further by introducing an employee satisfaction survey in 2005. “When you think about trying to find out how well we manage the company, who better to provide feedback than an off-shift employee? That person will surely be able to tell me if I am doing my job well or not,” said Forest.

The survey contains 20 questions, covering topics such as the effectiveness of internal communications, employee empowerment, efficiency of workflows, customer concerns, business growth, and overall productivity. The survey is not simply a measurement tool, it’s a report card for those in management. “The question that asks our employees if they feel management is committed to the company scored 100 percent this year,” said Victor Morando, vice president of engineering services. “Obviously we’re excited about that, because it indicates that our employees feel we’re doing something right.” With data going back three years, management can track trends in employee satisfaction and see year-to-year results of improvement efforts. Perhaps more importantly, so can employees – a level of transparency not often found in the workplace.

Dymotek employs 70 people over five shifts that run seven days a week. Adopted from the shift schedule of Lego Group, which had a manufacturing plant in the area, Dymotek runs a standard three-shift day from Monday through Friday, with the 3rd shift starting the week on Sunday night and working until Thursday night. Friday night at 11 p.m., the 4th and 5th shifts begin working two 12-hour shifts for a total of 24 hours. The weekend employees are paid time and a half with full benefits and can pick up more hours through the other shifts. Those employees are dedicated to weekends and also work holidays, which gives Dymotek the opportunity to be open roughly 360 days a year. While some criticize the shift model for taking away time from families, Dymotek employees have embraced the schedule. “We believe our weekend shifts can lead to a good quality of life for our employees,” explained Morando. “Because the weekend hours are filled with dedicated shifts, our employees always have a set schedule, which allows them to manage their personal responsibilities. We have some college students who are funding college by working weekends and we have parents with daycare issues. It works out well for all of us and is highly regarded by our employees. In fact, some of our best operators are working the weekend shifts.”

Finding the highest quality of people and developing their skills is a priority at Dymotek. “We encourage and challenge people to grow,” said Morando. Many of the technical and supervisory staff started in direct labor positions, and moved to higher level positions with education and experience. “We pay for college courses, but also have ongoing internal training as well,” explained Morando. “We have trained all of our technical people in systematic molding through RJG, Inc. We also have two master molders in-house because of training obtained through RJG.” Another training tool used for all employees is based on The Question Behind the Question by John Miller. This book deals with personal accountability and taking responsibility, instead of pointing fingers. Dymotek hired a consultant who then carried the message to every employee through a series of meetings and DVDs.

Although the company is sincere in its commitment to its employees and its customers, there is plenty of room for fun. In 2007 (the most recent survey year for which results are available), 98 percent of the employees said they liked working for Dymotek. “It’s a fun place to work,” explained Morando. With many of the employees having a long history with the company, a family atmosphere exists. A social committee plans events throughout the year to bring employees together outside of work hours. In fact, as Morando was preparing for an interview related to this article, he asked the members of the social committee to describe the atmosphere at Dymotek. “The first person who responded said ‘slapstick’,” laughed Morando. “We’re serious about being successful in business, but there’s no reason we can’t slap each other on the back at the end of the day.”

Through the annual survey and the investment in continuing education, Dymotek has proven to its employees that the company is committed to growing the business as a team effort. Dymotek’s employees have responded by investing their time and effort into doing an exceptional job, every time. “We are absolutely fanatical about customer service,” exclaimed Morando. Dymotek prides itself on aggressively solving its customers’ problems, whether it involves plastic or not. Sometimes the solution involves closing a gap in the customers’ systems by creating customized reports that are generated automatically, weekly or daily within its IQMS ERP software system. The solution may be as simple as a weekly inventory report for a customer to manage JIT releases or as complex as managing inventory levels for a customer’s distribution centers. Dymotek also monitors multiple Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to drive service improvement. “Performance and execution of the production schedule is a major component for customer satisfaction,” explained Forest. “We strive to become experts in our customers’ business. It is the best way for us to be a great resource to our customers. We can’t be just experts in plastics – we need to be experts in whatever it is our customer is producing.”

Long Term Planning Calms Stormy Economic Waters
Rising resin costs, increased transportation costs, and decreased order quantities have propelled many molders into rough waters but at Dymotek, October 2008 was a record sales month. Dymotek finds itself in this enviable position during the economic downturn through a combination of strategic planning, change in focus, and luck. With tongue firmly in cheek, Morando said, “We looked at what the recession was offering and we decided not to participate!”

Three years ago, Dymotek began a strategic planning process to determine its long-term business direction. First up was a look at the company’s market diversification mix. In early 2007, 50 percent of the molder’s business was in the automotive industry. “We had a long-term agreement with one of our primary customers, renewable each year, and we were concerned by the direction of the industry,” explained Morando. The concern was justified, as Dymotek was notified in January of 2008 that the automotive customer was taking all of its business in-house, comprising 40 percent of Dymotek’s business at the time. Because the company had already begun to shift its focus to future projects, the loss of an otherwise significant portion of its business was not a catastrophe. “You have to start to plan early enough to be ready for big changes,” said Morando.

With approximately 75 percent of its current business under long-term contract, Dymotek has invested close to $2.5 million in technology and equipment tied to that business in the last 16 months. “We don’t have to worry about where our significant sales volume is going to be for the next several years, and long-term agreements allow Dymotek to invest in the best technology,” said Morando. “This puts us in a position to look a year or so out, where other molders may be looking at the next quarter or two when planning for the future.”

Investing in Automation and a New Molding Process
When Dymotek peers through its looking glass, what does it see in the future? Big changes! The molder has two significant-sized programs involving new molds and automated assembly equipment that it is bringing up to full production over the next few months. Dymotek also has four new programs ready to launch in 2009, one of which involves two-component silicone molding.

Dymotek’s willingness to invest in its customers was key for the automated assembly project. An existing customer came to the molder with a one-way air valve that was proving difficult to manufacture. Dymotek worked with the customer to improve both the product and the manufacturing process, resulting in a change in both a membrane material and in the method of molding the membrane. Dymotek invested in robotic and automated assembly equipment, creating a custom work cell for the air valve. Testing was the next step, leading the engineers at Dymotek to create methods to test the valve during production, as well as develop a test lab for international certification testing. “In the process, we educated ourselves in this air valve performance so that we are experts in this type of valve,” said Morando. “Becoming experts in our customer’s business is a philosophy and a goal for us always.” In 2009, three additional sizes of that valve will be in production at Dymotek for both the domestic and international markets. The molder is in the process of transitioning from a single-cavity pilot mold to a four-cavity mold, and moving from manual assembly to automated assembly.

The second project on the horizon is a multi-component pump that involves two-component silicone molding and automated assembly. The part will be molded using thermoplastics for one shot and silicone for the second component, a tricky combination that Dymotek has spent three years researching and working with the technology. The customer has approved the mold to be produced on site at NPE in June of 2009. Dymotek has partnered with Arburg to build the press and the robot for it, and the mold will be running in the Arburg booth. Elmet (based in Austria) is building the mold and KiKi (a supplier to Arburg in Germany) is creating the assembly equipment.

Dymotek is prepared to navigate through the new year with invaluable employee resources, a stable product base under long-term contract, and a willingness to invest in the customers who make its molding business successful. With other molders in rough waters due to economic pressures, Dymotek has charted a path to success thanks to a strategic planning process that anticipated a need for product diversification. The company expects to meet its strategic goal of doubling the revenue of the company (based on 2007 annual sales) by 2012. Smooth sailing indeed!