In less than ten years, from the late nineties to 2006, Kent Elastomer Products went from a small, pilot dipping operation with little room to grow, to arguably the largest batch dipping operation in the United States. Sales in this product line have multiplied six-fold and now are a prominent portion of our business. This was made possible by realizing our limitations – and working to overcome them. First, we worked to expand our processes and size through acquisition. Then, through a dedication to continuous improvement, we worked to make our new processes more efficient.
Where We Started
Kent Elastomer Products started dip molding back in the late 1980s dipping a product used as an alternative to a colostomy. These were low volume, high margin business. We continued to grow this business into the 1990s dipping ultrasound sheath covers and other low volume parts. During this time, we also designed and purchased a dipping machine that would automatically dip a plate of forms measuring 26” x 26”. This was a niche business but a profitable one.
Precision Latex Acquisition
As the dipping business grew during the late 1990s, we began to lose business to other companies with larger batch operations. We determined that an acquisition could help us solve this issue. We found a company in Ashland, Ohio; Precision Latex, which was a larger batch dipping operation. The business was struggling, the equipment was in poor shape, employee turnover was high, and it was losing money. The owner was looking to sell the operations. In 2001, Kent Elastomer Products acquired Precision Latex. Their main product was anesthesia breather bags used in all surgeries. We saw the possibilities of capturing much more market share with this type of dipping. It was dipped using a double-sided 48” x 48” form carrier.
The first year we had to infuse a lot of money into the business to make it efficient and profitable. We designed and purchased an indexing oven that would allow a set of forms to be dried and cured every seven minutes. We built an inspection room as parts were currently being inspected in the factory atmosphere. Most importantly, we raised the wages and benefits of the people working. Within three months, we were making money and had transferred some of our dipping machines product onto the much larger platform in Ashland. We were able to lower prices and capture more business.
Facing Growing Pains
Unfortunately, in 2003, Precision’s largest anesthesia bag customer began making bags internally and Precision lost 70% of the bag sales. Without the anesthesia bags, it did not make sense to keep the Ashland operation open, as we had plenty of room for production at the Kent Facility and inspection at the Winesburg facility. We offered Ashland employees positions at these facilities.
We designed the dipping lines in Kent to be the most efficient with a great product flow. We moved the large indexing oven as well and it proved to be more efficient in the Kent location. With the knowledge we learned on large batch dipping combined with our dipping knowledge, we were able to transfer most of our business to the larger format while reducing costs and maximizing profits.
Lessons Learned & Opportunities Gained
KEP’s venture into Precision Latex, although painful with losing a large customer and moving the business to Kent, proved to be a monumental opportunity in 2006. A global pharmaceutical and medical device company was interested in divesting their dipping operations which was also in Ashland – and they chose Kent Elastomer due to our great reputation and attention to detail. This aquisition allowed us to incorporate this new business with KEP and Precision Latex. Acquiring these new dipping operations also expanded us into other materials such as synthetic polyisoprene and Neoprene dipping.
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