Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.

EP 4 - 2021 and Beyond: The Future of Manufacturing | Pindel Global Precision, PRODx & Linetec | New Berlin & Wausau, Wisconsin

April 09, 2021 Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, Pindel Global Precision, PRODx, Linetec Episode 4
Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.
EP 4 - 2021 and Beyond: The Future of Manufacturing | Pindel Global Precision, PRODx & Linetec | New Berlin & Wausau, Wisconsin
Show Notes Transcript

"OEMs, original equipment manufacturers, starting to reconsider Asia sourcing, global supply chains, you know, where their products are coming from and that presents a huge opportunity for manufacturing in our country." - Bill Berrien | CEO | Pindel Global Precision | Founder | PRODx

In this week's episode of "Wisconsin Made. The Podcast." we highlight Pindel Global Precision and PRODx out of New Berlin and Linetec out of Wausau. These companies each experienced unique challenges in 2020 while also finding new business opportunities. Pindel Global Precision is a manufacturer of precision machined production parts and solutions. After witnessing the disrupted global supply chains and sudden increases in demand, Pindel Global Precision founded a separate owned company, Production Expediting Technologies LLC - PRODx for short. Linetec is a single-source solution for architectural finishing who continued to support their customers whose products help create and remodel critical buildings and structures throughout the pandemic.

Our guests joining us for this episode are Bill Berrien, CEO of Pindel Global Precision and Founder of PRODx and Jon Close, President of Linetec. Bill is an innovative leader who runs multiple manufacturing businesses in Wisconsin while Jon is a dynamic cross-functional business executive with experience in sales, marketing and operations. Tune in to this episode as we discuss on how they navigated 2020 and how the pandemic affected global supply chains and how that's a huge opportunity for manufacturers in Wisconsin.

In this episode we answer:

  • Tell us a little bit about Pindel Global Precision and how the pandemic impacted you. (2:19)
  • How did the disrupted global supply chains lead you to beginning a new company Production Expediting Technologies or PRODx? (5:10)
  • What do you see moving forward with the rest of 2021 and the future of the manufacturing industry? (9:15)
  • Tell us a little but about Linetec, what do you manufacture in Wausau? (13:45) 
  • What challenges do you anticipate still coming up as we try to navigate this new normal that we're in in the presence of COVID still? (16:35)
  • What do you see as one of the biggest things you learned over this past year that's going to help you succeed moving forward? (20:30)

In next week’s episode, we are going to be talking with Rick Ruzga, President of Power Test Dynamometers. We will learn about their ability to pivot to virtual trade shows to meet with customers, develop remote commissioning capabilities and still managed to give two percent of revenue to charity. The company also purchased meals from struggling local restaurants to donate them to hospital workers in the area.

If you found value in this episode or want to hear the stories from Wisconsin manufacturers, please hit that subscribe button and share it with your peers. We really want to showcase all the good news stories of how manufacturing was critical in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.” is brought to you by Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, a premier annual awards program celebrating excellence in manufacturing in the state of Wisconsin. Thank you to our program sponsors Baker Tilly, Michael Best and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC).

Bill Berrien | CEO | Pindel Global Precision | Founder | PRODx
OEMs, original equipment manufacturers, starting to reconsider Asia sourcing, global supply chains, you know, where their way their products are coming from and that presents a huge opportunity, I believe.

Voiceover
You’re listening to Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. brought to you by Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, a premier annual awards program celebrating excellence in manufacturing in the state of Wisconsin. Now here's your host, WMC Vice President of Communications and Marketing, Nick Novak.

Nick Novak (Host) | Vice President of Communications & Marketing | WMC
Hello and welcome to this week's episode of Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. The show that takes you inside the strength and resilience of Wisconsin's manufacturing community where we hear from Wisconsin's CEOs and executives to learn about their challenges, opportunities and success navigating their business throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m your host Nick Novak and today we're going to talk about Lintec out of Wausau in Pindel Global Precision and PRODx out of New Berlin, before we get started I’d like to thank our program partners Baker Tilly, Michael Best and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Together we remain committed to our mission of recognizing excellence in manufacturing in our state.

Our first guest joining us today is Bill Berrien, he's CEO at Pindel Global Precision and also the founder of a new company PRODx which we're going to learn a little bit more about during today's podcast. Bill thank you so much for joining us today.

Bill Berrien
Thank you, it is great to be here.

Nick Novak (Host)
Obviously the podcast that we're doing here Wisconsin Made., you know sponsored by the Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year program, we're talking about how manufacturers really responded in 2020 to the global COVID-19 pandemic and you have a really interesting story to tell and so I want to talk a little bit about how Pindel initially responded to COVID-19 and some of the some of the things that you had to implement rather quickly at your manufacturing facility to make sure that your employees could be safe, to make sure that you could continue production and moving forward throughout the year, so just tell me a little bit about Pindel to get started and how the pandemic impacted you.

Bill Berrien
Terrific, well to start, Pindel Global Precision, we were founded in 1947 in downtown Milwaukee as a contract machining company founded by a gentleman Anton S. Pindel, had all multi-spindle spring machines, moved out to New Berlin, Waukesha county in the mid-60s, got into CNC equipment across two facilities. I acquired the company in 2012 and so we are a contract manufacturer of precision machine parts, we make components for OEMs, original equipment manufacturers, across the country and that is our primary business. We are contract manufacturer for whatever our customers design.

Nick Novak (Host)
And what did you see in in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic was really kind of getting started in in March and April as we went through you know government shutdowns and other you know orders that kind of really hampered the manufacturing sector and also created some new opportunities for it? What did your company experience during that time?

Bill Berrien
Yeah well 2020 was certainly a journey you know for us and for everyone so coming into the pandemic our reaction was like most others, if you could work remotely you would, but we are manufacturing environments about 75-80 percent of our team are directly engaged in in manufacturing so not able to work remotely so that naturally necessitated removing the choke points. No meetings in person you know sort of blowing up the break room and spreading that across, we have two facilities so about 90,000 square feet and then any one shift you know 30 a little more than 30 employees so you know on average about 3,000 square feet a person you know and from there then it was reacting to emerging customer demands related to various aspects of PPE. You know more healthcare products.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well and I want to talk about kind of some of the innovation that took place from you in in your company, it seems like you really saw an opportunity to respond directly not only to the COVID-19 pandemic, but a broader problem of being able to access you know the production of needed supplies on a really fast basis and really be kind of a rapid response and that led you to beginning a new company Production Expediting Technologies or PRODx, tell me about how you how you came up with that idea and how you got to the point.

Bill Berrien
Where you said we need to start a new business that that really can respond to this in a fast way we went into 2020 not having a single ventilator OEM, but then with the surge you know building up the nationally, building out the stockpile, hospital needs all of that we raised our hand at you know early on to say we'll make ventilator part components at cost if need be and some other outreach efforts started to garner ventilator orders and these orders were coming in for parts that we had never seen before. They needed complex parts at volume right away and interestingly we participated in one effort when the Defense Production Act was asked of Ford Motor Company to make ventilators, well you know Ford's legacy supply base was making auto components and very dedicated facilities for that kind of volume well they reached out Ford reached out to our industry trade organization who and ask them to sort of quarterback which members have capabilities that can make these ventilator components. You know, again at volume and very rapidly, we were part of that effort and interestingly it was that insight that you know so the light bulb went off in my head of who do global OEMs normally turn to you know short of a Defense Production Act mandate, who do they turn to if supply chains get disrupted or you know spikes in demand occur or you know a supplier is not able to fulfill? And so I saw this opportunity to create you know PRODx which I position as global manufacturing 9-1-1 and you know here we are you know in the we're living in the age of Uber and Airbnb and you know in essence these organizations which leverage the shared economy you know Uber is about you know individuals cars you know started Uber black with limousines and professional drivers who had spare capacity, you know Airbnb the same for housing so the concept here with PRODx and again Production Expediting Technologies a little bit of a hat tip to SpaceX, Space Exploration Technologies, I sort of think anything with an x in it is pretty cool so we, you know, PRODx is at its heart we have put together a network across the country only of hyper-capable, hyper-qualified contract machining companies, you know much like Pindel with excess capacity you know at any time you know much like Uber black you know sometimes the professional driver of the limousine you know delivers the client and so you know these are peers of ours across the country who you know, we have positioned PRODx to respond as global manufacturing 9-1-1 to that hair on fire OEM mandate of we need production volumes you know a thousand pieces to 100,000 pieces right away.

Nick Novak (Host)
The story that you have here about you know how 2020 really forced manufacturers to innovate. The Manufacturer of the Year program is meant to highlight these you know top manufacturers across Wisconsin who are really doing you know the best being the best of the best and doing what they can to drive our economy forward and to respond to crises like we saw in 2020 and obviously that's why we're highlighting Pindel and PRODx as an honoree this year, through the Manufacture of the Year program. Obviously can't be in person celebrating like we normally would, but at least we have a chance to chat a little bit here so I want to kind of pick your brain on looking forward to the rest of 2021, kind of the future of the industry, clearly we had a massive shock wave that went through Wisconsin, through our country, through the world with COVID-19, what do you see moving forward? How does the industry change now that we've gone through this and hopefully are at the tail end of it?

Bill Berrien
At the heart of it, I am incredibly optimistic for the future of advanced manufacturing in this country and I think it provides you know a huge opportunity for business, but even more so for individuals who are interested in developing the skills, developing the critical thinking those elements of being part of advanced manufacturing and the thing that I have to the team is automation is not your enemy, automation is your friend because if you can program it, troubleshoot it, repair it, maintain it, that is your ticket to a higher wage to fulfilling professional life and you know one of the takeaways from 2020 and then looking forward is that automation you know advanced manufacturing technology combined with a highly skilled and highly paid workforce more than trump's low-cost labor. I think we started to see the various you know pivots and inflection points with OEMs, original equipment manufacturers, starting to reconsider Asia sourcing, global supply chains you know where their products are coming from and that presents a huge opportunity, I believe, to manufacturers within this country.

Nick Novak (Host)
I think you're exactly right on that, we have just about 15 seconds before we have to wrap up this segment and so just quickly you talked a lot about the opportunities, what challenges do you still see in the manufacturing industry?

Bill Berrien
The biggest challenge I see is that we still as a society are under a harbor the belief that a four-year college degree is the sole cradle of human dignity, we believe that the for what you learn in the first 25 years it will last you for the next 50 and that individuals don't take need to take ownership of their lifelong learning, so the single biggest opportunity is for us as a society to figure out how we are going to provide upskilling opportunities, lifelong for individuals who are you know long out of high school, but you know with shifting technologies if we can you know identify and provide those upskilling opportunities you know again I think our opportunity is limitless there.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well thank you very much Bill for taking the time to join us on the Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. Once again, Bill Berrien the CEO of Pindel Global Precision and the founder of PRODx, great story and we really appreciate you coming on and thank you for being an honoree for the Manufacturer of the Year awards and wish you the best of luck in the rest of 2021.

Bill Berrien
Awesome thank you for your time, this is great.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well that has been our conversation with Bill Berrien, CEO at Pindel Global Precision and the founder of PRODx in New Berlin, Wisconsin. In our upcoming segment, we're going to learn about another company Linetec out of Wausau and how they navigated through 2020, before we do, we're going to take a quick break to thank our program partners for Wisconsin Made. The Podcast., so stick with us.

Voiceover
Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. is brought to you by Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, a premier annual awards program celebrating excellence in manufacturing in the state of Wisconsin. Thank you to our program sponsors Baker Tilly, Michael Best and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

Nick Novak (Host)
Welcome back to Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. We're now going to transition to talking about our next company Linetec out of Wausau, our second guest joining us today is Jon Close, President of Linetec. Jon, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Jon Close | President | Linetec
Absolutely Nick, thanks for having me.

Nick Novak (Host)
So tell us a little bit about Linetec, what do you guys do in Wausau?

Jon Close
Sure, Linetec is a service manufacturer and we provide high performance coatings primarily on aluminum to various industries. Our largest industry would be commercial construction and through that we service health care, transportation, military, and food service, a little bit of everything.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well I’ve been to a few of the plants from you know up there in Wausau and you guys definitely do a great job and it's a fantastic company, so I’m glad that we have a chance to talk today. I do want to kind of start talking a little bit about the last year, obviously COVID-19 took a lot of us by surprise and it changed a lot, specifically in the manufacturing sector which is what we're talking about today, so just a kind of a broad overview of what Linetec's response was to COVID-19, can you walk us through some of those big changes that you made in the last year?

Jon Close
Sure absolutely, yeah you're right it was a big change and it required some immediate action. Linetec is a value-based managed company and one of our core values or our most important core value is safety so really the most important thing to us initially was to protect our employees. We were considered an essential employer so we weren't going to close down so we had to figure out how to create the best and most safe environment for our employees to work in, we had never been a work from home company, we never really had that as part of our program for our office employees so the first thing we did and very quick manner was move as many associates out of the office and into home offices. This required you know utilizing secure networks, getting people portals into the company to get that information and frankly a lot of those things were things we didn't think were even possible and in the period of two weeks we were able to deploy those things, get people out of the office and at home working and that continues still so that's been the majority of our workforce in the office. On the plant floor of protecting the employees obviously a lot of the specific things that were asked to be done later we did very early, we were very early adopters of social distancing, early adopters of the strong hygiene program internally making sure that our folks if they couldn't social distance were wearing masks, to try to prevent spread internally so you know as time went on we did other things, we automated, we used technology in places, but those things weren't out of the gate, those were learnings as time went on.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well and obviously we still have a lot of question marks about you know 2021, as we as we look into the future, what challenges do you anticipate still coming up as we try to navigate this new normal that we're in in in the presence of COVID still?

Jon Close
I think just continuing to maintain morale with employees. I think that's been a big challenge right, it's been a point of mine to communicate as regularly as I possibly can but I think there's still that COVID fatigue that's in the workforce and I think you know I certainly deal with it as well, we're all tired of the restrictive nature that goes along with some of these policies and things like that so I think maintaining that morale, keeping people in a good place, keeping them informed about what's going on and how they can help the business ongoing is going to be important, so beyond that I think as COVID goes away and hopefully we see the economy recover I think Wisconsin, we're going to deal with labor challenges again. Marathon County, I think is already well below five percent from an employment standpoint and it's still here, so you know when that goes away we know that the labor market's going to contract again and there's going to be less available folks and for those of us who could plan on growing that'll be a challenge.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well let's talk about that for a little bit because that's something that we hear from manufacturers all across Wisconsin and you know and that's in big cities small towns you know every corner of this state you know workforce is a challenge and I think some people kind of thought well no that went away because we had COVID, we had this recession we you know now there's people who are looking for work and you know unemployment's a little higher, but when you really look at the numbers as you just mentioned, unemployment is only a little bit higher than what it was pre-pandemic and we're still needing to fill a lot of those same positions that were open a year ago, so how do you know as a leader of a business, how do you how do you cope with adapting to that challenge and finding the right workers and getting them into those positions?

Jon Close
Well it was a challenge, I think Marathon County was as low as 2.6% prior to COVID so it was you know that's just not normal and so you know what we try to do as an employer is differentiate ourselves as an employer, right. Make us an employer that people want to work for, as I mentioned earlier, we're a value-based managed company, we have core values that we operate the company too, we pay a good starting wage, we are higher than market in this area so you know we try to create the environment where people like being here, where they feel appreciated, respected that word of mouth travels if you're doing the right things by your employees that word of mouth travels you pay a fair wage, they respect you for that and they want to work here so that's really how we attract talent and address the challenge of labor, but you know the reality is it still exists and no matter what you do, you're still competing and again prior to COVID, it was really a there wasn't a pool you were really getting it from other employers so you really weren't you know helping the overall environment you know somebody was hurting if you were getting somebody so that's the challenges we need to figure out how to get more people into the area and more people to stay in the area and so we can continue to grow our labor pool.

Nick Novak (Host)
Yeah you can't fight demographics and slow population growth, I mean it's going to require people moving into the state from other parts of the country, from other parts of the world. I think that that's all something that is going to be a long conversation that WMC and manufacturers are pushing along for some time here so as we wrap this up, we have just about 30 seconds left, kind of generally looking at manufacturing you know post COVID, what do you see as one of the biggest things you learned over this past year that's going to help you to succeed moving forward?

Jon Close
I would say one of the biggest lessons we learned from COVID is that we have to challenge the status quo, right. We went into this thing thinking that we knew a lot of things and having to respond very quickly and learn new things really proved that maybe we need to be looking at business you know holistically and entirely differently so I guess you know one of my things I’m looking at is to challenge our employees and continue to ask what else can we do in our house, can we do things and look at that really making some of those you know step changes so to say that we had to do in response to COVID if we can do it in response to COVID we can do it in response to just other challenges that are facing business so you know the employment or the labor or other things could be those types of challenges we're going to face, we're going to have to figure out other ways of doing things so I think COVID has taught us that we can do things that maybe we didn't think were possible.

Nick Novak (Host)
 Well it's been an interesting year to say the least and we're really glad at the Manufacturer of the Year awards and our partners at Baker Tilly and Michael Best and us here at WMC that were able to have these conversations and really showcase some of the good work that manufacturers have done over the past year so Jon Close, President with Linetec in Wausau, thanks for taking the time to join us.

Jon Close
Yeah, thanks again for having me Nick, take care.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well that has been our conversation with Bill Berrien, CEO of Pindel Global Precision and founder of PRODx in New Berlin and Jon Close, President of Linetec out of Wausau. Next week, we'll continue to share more stories from other manufacturers who face numerous challenges and found success throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and we will highlight Power Test Dynamometer from Sussex, Wisconsin. Plus, learn more about the future of the state of manufacturing here in Wisconsin. If you found value in this episode, please hit that subscribe button and share it with your peers. For now, this is Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. I’m your host Nick Novak, thank you for listening.

Voiceover
This is Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. The show that takes you inside the strength and resilience of Wisconsin's manufacturing community where we hear from Wisconsin's CEOs and executives to learn about their challenges, opportunities and success navigating their business throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you to our program sponsors Baker Tilly, Michael Best and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.