Ice equipment maker eyes innovative growth
By Brian Pedersen | LVB.com
April 15. 2013 8:00AM
Improvements that come fast are never simple. As companies grow and become successful, the challenge comes in staying in the game, planning for long-term growth while making sure employees gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in an efficient manner.Enter Manufacturers Resource Center, which has shown its support for a wide range of companies in the region, including Follett Corp. in Forks Township.
“We put a high value in making sure everyone has a development plan,” said Steven Follett, president and chief executive officer of Follett. “I think the biggest thing we can do as a manufacturer is not to be complacent. Never take anything for granted.”
The company designs and manufacturers ice making and dispensing equipment, ice storage bins and refrigerators for commercial and indusgtrial use and has been doing so since 1948.
Follett ships its products around the world, and major Valley clients include St. Luke’s, Wegmans and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs stadium at Coca Cola Park. Follett’s ice-making machines can also be found in the employee cafeterias of corporate clients that include IBM, AT&T and Goldman Sachs.
What the company has discovered over the years is that MRC has proved valuable for supporting the company’s growth through training and lean manufacturing techniques.
The MRC participated in some of the company’s “Kaizens” (improvement projects), which emphasize how to boost productivity by eliminating waste.
Follett said one of his employees completed the “black belt” certification process and followed that with a “lean masters” certification process coordinated through MRC. The black belt certification provides skills in measuring and minimizing defects and how to eliminate waste but improve quality.
The company also has hosted sessions sponsored by MRC when speakers such as Pascal Dennis, a nationally recognized expert, consulted with Follett and about 10-12 other manufacturers on lean manufacturing processes in a two-day seminar.
In addition, Follett participates in an MRC-sponsored Lean Manufacturing Consortium, comprised of 10-15 manufacturers in the Lehigh Valley. The group meets once a quarter to discuss best practices as they relate to the lean “journey.”
While MRC has been helpful mainly with training and promoting lean manufacturing initiatives, the organization also has supported Follett in the company’s efforts to identify partners it could use for various projects related to improvements in information systems and data management.
It’s the continued emphasis on improvement which has appeared to serve Follett well as it marks another expansion of its facility later this month.
The company is adding 25,000 square feet to its existing warehouse and manufacturing space and is planning to break ground on the project by the end of April. Follett said Alvin H. Butz Inc. of Allentown is doing the construction and Spillman Farmer Architects of Bethlehem is the architect, the same firm that did the work for several previous expansions.
“We’ve had a lot of growth in the past three years,” Follett said. “We have ideas about new product development.”
The company built a plant in Gdansk, Poland, that nearly doubled in size with a 20,000-square foot addition. As its international business continues to grow, the plant will continue to service its European customers with delivery and cost, Follett said.
Follett is also adding employees to its workforce. Overall, it will have close to 400 employees worldwide by the end of the year with more than 300 employees in the U.S. The company hired nearly 90 employees over the past three years in the U.S. Worldwide, including its manufacturing facility in Poland, the company hired about 120 employees.
While the company has seen a lot of growth, Follett said, it takes time to integrate new employees and counts the MRC as a strong resource to support them in this goal.
“Overall, I think it’s nice to have the resource there if you want to network with them or engage in some training,” said Follett.
EMPLOYEES HAVE A STAKE
As one of the owners, Follett said 20 percent of the company is owned by the employees and there are some shareholders.
“All of our growth has been organic,” he said, noting that there have not been any mergers or acquisitions in the company’s history.
With a central location in the Valley in close proximity to shipping points and a strong workforce to pull from, the company plans for future growth while meeting the demands of intense, growing foreign competition and the challenges of integrating and cross-training new employees, Follett said.
The company does all metal assembly and fabrication in the manufacturing and warehouse space in the Forks site and strives to recycle as many of its materials as possible.
Not only are the equipment and processes now more efficient, but the company also strengthened its efforts at reducing the amount of bottled water in the environment.
“We push very hard to get people to not buy bottled water,” said Follett.
Note: This is the seventh of 25 stories we’ll publish this year to highlight manufacturing companies in the Greater Lehigh Valley that have been helped by Manufacturers Resource Center, a nonprofit organization celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2013.