Quality should be a given in the rubber industry, according to Mike Moran, general manager of Kent, Wash.-based Cascade, a custom manufacturer of molded rubber and foam products, die cut gaskets, sheet packing and metal shims for the aerospace, construction and other industries. “Poor quality will get you a hefty penalty, usually much, much more than the original cost of the product,” he said. That’s especially true in the aerospace industry where suppliers “are hyper-focused on quality.”
Price and responsiveness, Moran said, also stand out to customers.
He said Cascade has focused on trimming costs since 2004, and that has transformed the firm’s culture. A company that is very cost effective and nimble has emerged. He said “the business battlefield is changing as more global competition becomes engaged from countries that have not typically been in the aerospace side of the rubber market.” Fortunately, he said, Cascade has learned to do more with less and remain focused on its customers needs.
Competitors have doubled in volume since 2007, and the competition now includes global pricing considerations. Many customers have become accurate at understanding what a part should cost to produce, Moran said. Krames agreed about the industry’s changing landscape, noting that small manufacturers today are faced with substantial challenges, and pricing has become very competitive, to the extent that it’s difficult to achieve a decent margin.
The recession impacted polyurethane product maker U.S.A. Drives, which had to downsize and reduce its work force during the worst part “because the replacement of products was not as fast as it was previously,” according to Vice President of Manufacturing James Schmidt. “But we did not lose customers.”
The firm provides customers with “the ability to change with the needs of the product and the customer,” he said. “Varying the products in hardness, color, elasticity, wear and compression of any of the properties that make urethane a fantastic product allows us to move quickly to meet the needs of our customers.” He said “consistent quality, great response to needs and great delivery have been our trademark since we began in the late “80s.”
Products made by the Burr Ridge, Ill.-headquartered company are unique, Schmidt said, and the areas it serves are not ones that attract firms in foreign countries. “Food, robotics, dairy and packaging are going to be here in good times and bad, not in large quantities but specific niches that need to be filled.”
Schmidt said that through the recession, the company continued to make its specialty belts that help convey, move, package or grab products that need the qualities and resilience that urethanes provide. “Colors, static capabilities, good wear, great flexibility and consistency of materials” are qualities many of its customers are looking for in belting.
He said over the last two years things seem to be moving in a better direction, and the firm has hired a couple of employees to help handle new business and production increases in the products it produces.