Electro Chemical Engineering and Manufacturing is a custom manufacturing company that prepares industrial containers to store corrosive, abrasive and volatile chemicals.
The Emmaus-based company pioneered the first commercial fluoropolymer coatings and linings for corrosion protection systems in the early 1980s. Today, Electro Chemical offers its clients – primarily Fortune 500 chemical companies – a complete line of fluoropolymer coating and lining systems for pressure vessels, tanks, distribution equipment and internal components.
“MRC is an excellent source of ideas and networking,” Electro Chemical President and CEO Mike Bunner said. “They’ve helped point us to the right people and in the right direction. They’ve been a valuable resource for us.”
The firm, founded in 1949, is known internationally for the reliability and durability of its systems and its commitment to continuous innovation in the use of leading technologies, which provides an edge in solving customers’ most demanding corrosion protection problems.
“We manufacture any vessel – from the point of manufacture to the point of use – that is in contact with a chemical that can either by contaminated by its container, or can contaminate or corrode its container,” Electro Chemical President and CEO Mike Bunner said. “Everything we do is about handling corrosive chemicals safely.”
By the late 2000s, Electro Chemical was universally recognized as a leader in its field. But issues inherent to small and mid-sized manufacturers had begun to creep into the company’s business practices.
Electro Chemical’s Broad Street, Emmaus, corporate headquarters were located in an aging building. The company was increasingly feeling the sting of cheap foreign competition, primarily out of the Asia-Pacific region. And though most projects were still proving profitable, there was no efficient way of knowing how much had been invested in labor and materials until a job was finished.
Fortunately, Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC), a nonprofit organization partially funded by the NIST-MEP program and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development, had the access, expertise and scope to give Electro Chemical a helping hand and guiding presence.
MRC helped Electro Chemical address its need for a new headquarters building in 2006, aiding the company in securing a low-interest loan to kickstart construction.
Meanwhile, Electro Chemical focused on improving management quality and internal processes by obtaining ISO 9001:2008 certification and lean manufacturing training. MRC made both possible, first by helping Electro Chemical obtain funding that saved the firm thousands on ISO courses, and recommending a sustainable lean course of action.
“MRC came in as consultants, evaluated what we were doing and gave us recommendations on how to move forward,” Bunner said.
Electo Chemical formally obtained its ISO 9001:2008 certification in May 2008. Lean manufacturing training is ongoing, though benefits have already been realized.
Finally, MRC helped Electro Chemical level the playing field against foreign competitors by aiding the company in securing a significant matching-funds grant from the MidAtlantic Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (MATAAC). Electro Chemical has used the funds on a five-year strategic plan, marketing assistance and MOR/IOPT market research from MRC, as well as a joint R&D project with Lehigh University.
“The MATAAC grant has allowed us to make changes in how we operate in order to be more competitive with the countries and the companies that are competing with us on a cost basis,” Bunner said.
Electro Chemical’s relationship with MRC has proved remarkably fruitful.
The company’s now 6-year-old corporate headquarters features an expanded office area, impressive meeting space and more – a fitting home for a longtime global leader in the corrosion protection industry.
Likewise, Electro Chemical has enjoyed a “corporate and cultural transformation” as a result of its ISO certification and lean training. A new IT and computer system allows the company to strictly enforce the new techniques – and receive real-time updates on projects, 24/7/365.
“On any given day, as of this moment, we can see how many labor hours have been applied to a job and the cost of materials,” Bunner said. “Since we can see it in real time, if we’re off anywhere, we have that early warning to figure out what we’re doing wrong and how to fix it. Things like that have helped us tighten up and manage our products.
“It’s also allowed me to delegate work down to where I’m not the person who needs to call the shots. The information is at the fingertips of supervisors and even people on the shop floor; I delegate to them the ability to make decisions based on that.”
Electro Chemical has put its MATAAC grant money to good use, funding a full refresh of its website and overall marketing, putting an MRC-developed five-year plan into place and working on developing groundbreaking techniques and products through an R&D program.
MRC, Bunner said, has been integral in all of the improvements.
“MRC is an excellent source of ideas and networking,” Bunner said. “They’ve helped point us to the right people and in the right direction. They’ve been a valuable resource for us. As a small business, we can’t afford to hire corporate planners and strategic thinkers. Small business owners have to do that as one of the many hats we wear. Fortunately, MRC is available to us and we can get some of the same benefits as a larger corporation at a cost that is not nearly as high. They fill that incredibly useful niche for small businesses, and there’s value added there for us.”