Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.

EP 5 - 2020: The Year of Re-Envisioning Operations in Manufacturing | Power Test Dynamometers | Sussex, Wisconsin

April 16, 2021 Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, Power Test Dynamometers Episode 5
Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.
EP 5 - 2020: The Year of Re-Envisioning Operations in Manufacturing | Power Test Dynamometers | Sussex, Wisconsin
Show Notes Transcript

“Again, something we never would have considered in the past, but clearly something that is going to be part of a consideration going forward, so technology is a great thing and when you’re faced with still having to provide a result, we get kind of creative on how to get there.” – Rick Ruzga | President | Power Test Dynamometers

In this week’s episode of “Wisconsin Made. The Podcast.” we highlight Power Test Dynamometers out of Sussex, Wisconsin. They began 2020 with momentum that was created the previous year and maintained it throughout. The company completed two acquisitions, expanded its manufacturing footprint and increased its workforce while exhibiting 5% revenue growth and a 30% growth in profit. In addition, Power Test again contributed 2% of revenue to charity and supported COVID relief in other ways. Employees organized supply drives to support local organizations, continued blood drives onsite and donated meals to local hospital workers.

Our guest joining us in this episode is Rick Ruzga, President of Power Test Dynamometers. Rick has a proven track record of operational excellence with the ability to synthesize engineering, quality, manufacturing, finance and customer operations in a growing business. Tune in to this episode as we learn more about the successes and challenges that the team at Power Test faced in 2020 and learn more about Rick’s thoughts on the manufacturing industry in Wisconsin moving forward.

In this episode we answer:

  • Tell us a little bit about Power Test. (1:45)
  • Can you tell us a little bit about the revenue growth and the growth of the company over the last year? (3:05)
  • What kind of technologies and processes did Power Test put in place to communicate internally and also to communicate externally to customers? (6:00)
  • What were some of the initiatives Power Test took in 2020 to support the community during the pandemic? (13:00)
  • What are you seeing for the rest of 2021? Do you see manufacturing really coming back strong following the pandemic? (15: 30)
  • What is something you learned in 2020 that will really help drive the company forward for the next year and beyond? (18:30)

In next week’s episode, we are going to be joined by Robyn Buss, Executive Vice President of Food Packaging & Technical Solutions at Ahlstrom-Munksjo. We will learn more about how they responded to COVID-19 and specifically about shifting their production processes to meet the demand for the medical industry throughout 2020 and beyond. Plus, we will gain a little insight about the type of products they have been manufacturing to help in the fight against COVID-19.

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).

Rick Ruzga | President | Power Test Dynamometers
And again, something we never would have considered in the past, but clearly something that is going to be part of a consideration going forward, so technology is a great thing and when you're faced with still having to provide a result, you get kind of creative on how to get there.

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 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 Power Test Dynamometer out of Sussex, Wisconsin, but 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.

Well our guest joining us today is Rick Ruzga, President of Power Test and Rick first of all thank you for joining us. I know that Power Test has a great story to tell over the last year and it's one of the reasons that we wanted to talk with you as an honoree of the Manufacturer of the Year awards and on the Wisconsin Made. Podcast, so thanks for joining us. To get started, tell us a little bit about Power Test.

Rick Ruzga
Well first of all, thanks for having us, Power Test really focuses on heavy industrial equipment really across several different testing platforms like engine dynos, transmission dynos and chassis dynos and we have a variety of end users from the really large vehicle manufacturers like a Caterpillar or Cummins or Oshkosh Trucks then into like the performance industry which would be more of your car tuners, race teams, things of that nature and then we do a fair amount of military work, but we're in mining, oil and gas, power gen, rail, so anything that really rotates we have the ability to create test platforms to let people know how those engines or transmissions are performing. Over the 43 years we've expanded a global footprint and we're in like 90 different countries and so we get this global presence and you know from a supply-based standpoint we get a lot of components from across the world as well and then just finally we've had tremendous growth in the history. We've always had positive growth over those 43 years and 2020 was no different.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well and I’d like to talk about that specifically because I mean COVID-19 was devastating to a lot of companies you know there's a lot of businesses that are no longer around that started 2020 in a pretty good spot you know because of COVID-19 that's definitely not the case with Power Test. In fact, you kind of took these challenges head-on and came out the other side a lot better and so can you tell us a little bit about that revenue growth and the growth of the company over the last year?

Rick Ruzga
Sure, we were fortunate going into 2020 having a record backlog and so you know we had two sides of the challenge. One, was to get the customers the equipment that they had ordered you know prior to COVID and then the second one was to manage through the growth piece of it and as a leadership team we talked a lot about the difference between risk and uncertainty and you know there's there always be uncertainty, but you're as a team you're able to come up with plans to manage risk. So for going into 2020 right at the beginning of the year actually, just prior to that in December we started to notice what was happening out in Asia and because we get components for a lot of our big equipment that comes out of that region we started talking about it as early as January just about like what would happen if this actually started to affect our supply chain so the conversation started pretty early on and again we had no ability to predict where this was actually going at the time, but we started to put plans in place and as we saw the continuation of you know the severity in the reach that was when we started to make changes to the organization in terms of ensuring that we had the ability to keep a workforce and getting you know a lot of these orders to the customers that we needed to so you know probably no different than a lot of companies we divided into two different shifts which we had never done before and then we divided the building and so we were very very conservative in terms of following all of the guidance that you know whether it was distancing or masking or temperature taking and so we did that in so in earnest and on the end of March the company went forward on this plan of split shifts five-week rotations and like I said that was very new for the workforce, but again it was focused just on dealing with the things that you can deal with and you know that was sort of our plan going forward and then again probably no different than a lot of people listening just having to take away some of those creature comforts: our fitness center, our lunchrooms, you know, water coffee machines, everything that was high touch and then as employees we actually focused on cleaning things up ourselves and so we gave ourselves half an hour breaks to ensure that we cleaned up for you know the shift that came after us. So I have to say, really proud of the whole organization stepping up again doing things that they hadn't been asked to do before, but again focusing on the task we had in front of us which was making sure that we were able to get things out the door for the customers.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well and one of the things that a lot of folks started doing was obviously you know figuring out how to run things virtually you know I mean everyone went over to Microsoft Teams and Zoom and all these platforms that allowed us to work from different places and one of the things you know in the application that you guys put in for this year's MOTY awards was the fact that you did a lot of trade shows prior to COVID-19. You had folks traveling you know that's how you know a lot of your business was developed, it couldn't do that you know anymore and you had to move over to doing things virtually. How did you come to get that put together and how did your customers react to it?

Rick Ruzga
Sure so I have three different scenarios or like ways of breaking that question up, so I’ll take the first one which was um internal so how did our workforce communicate? So it's really almost laughable, but almost this time last year we would have our regular department meetings and getting onto a GoToMeeting would be clunky and you would forget the password and things like that.

Nick Novak (Host)
You’d be on mute you know trying to talk. 

Rick Ruzga
Absolutely.

Nick Novak (Host)
It’s never fun.

Rick Ruzga
No and we realized because we're very heavily engineered to order focused that communication was going to be absolutely critical for us and so we you know we were on GoToMeetings and WebX and join these and we finally established the MS Teams platform because it gave us a nice backbone you know for how we could communicate and so every non-production person and person that didn't support production directly actually then was left to work remote, so we had to scramble to get laptops, get people's established including like our CAD department so that wasn't an easy task necessarily to get people you know out of the building, but what we found was we needed that consistent communication to the shop floor and so we got some iPads and we got MS Teams loaded onto iPads and then we trained the team leaders on how to utilize that so they and then we created a policy basically you know you had to be available a certain time of the day on either shift and so when our assemblers were building something, they had a question, they could just get the iPad out basically communicate directly to the engineer and they could go a step further, they could actually show them the video of what they were asking about you know in real time.

Nick Novak (Host)
So basically the equivalent of walking over to someone's desk and asking a question, you could just do it virtually.

Rick Ruzga
And almost one better because you didn't have to page them, you weren't trying them on the cell phone, you know, they were pretty much online so you know that's something that we implemented, we won't go away from that and we just have a you know established a lot of our operating mechanisms in the Team's platform. Now then, direct question you asked was about trade shows, so in the performance market there are two really big trade shows that basically the World would attend. One is called Sema which is in Las Vegas and the other one is Pri which is down in Indianapolis and you know we kept our eye close on how those regions were doing with COVID and when Sema decided that they no longer were going to have a face-to-face trade show you know that I don't know what the total number of people that would attend, but you know it's in the tens of thousands and 25 or better come from Asia and in Europe. You know, we knew that was going to be a significant impact for us so we actually created in the background a virtual trade show concept where we created technical content we had, we created the ability in the infrastructure to do live video streaming and the day that the performance racing industry announced that they were not going to have a face-to-face trade show, that day we sent out an email saying join a Power Test virtual trade show and we had the web page live already, we you know showed the speakers the content we put in there the ability to win some you know things that you would normally get from a trade show and fantastic learning experience. It went better than we expected, clearly not to the same level that you would after a few years of doing that, but I’ll tell you that it definitely makes you question the face-to-face trade show return on investment because you know the world is very social media oriented and you know this is one-to-one these guys are in the chat, they're chatting live with the field service person asking about technical issues you know it was it was really neat so that's something that's here to stay. And then the third one, real quick, and I’ll finish up this idea because we have to commission and train the equipment once it gets to an end user's site we basically put a travel ban in place I think it was maybe April time frame so that meant our sales staff was not traveling and our field service staff was not traveling; however, if you were somebody that bought a piece of equipment and you still wanted to run it, you would expect that somehow we would get you the information on how to be able to commission and run it so we did two things there. One, we created a back end customer portal on our website which allowed us to create training materials and documents and then provide that link directly to you where you could get things in real time from us so kind of having a video or something that would allow people to walk you through step by step on setting up exactly and the nice thing about that is the content is reusable you know, so it was somewhat generic so we can reuse it. The second thing was we had some pretty big orders at installations, one was in South Korea, we had one in Kaliningrad, Russia, so we had to be very creative and so we were doing actual commissioning’s via iPhones and iPads so there was a three-week period between 11 p.m and two in the morning when our engineers actually were working with people in South Korea to get them the equipment running and again something we never would have considered in the past but clearly something that is going to be you know part of a consideration going forward, so technology is a great thing and you know when you're when you're faced with still having to provide a result you get kind of creative on how to get there.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well I think you know Power Test and your whole team have clearly done a lot to respond to COVID and you know done so in some really innovative ways. I want to keep talking with you Rick here, but we are going to just take a short break to hear from our program sponsors and when we come back want to hear a little bit about what Power Test was doing in the community over the last year and then we'll talk about the future of manufacturing 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)
Well welcome back to Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. We're joined here by Rick Ruzga, the President at Power Test and we are talking a lot about what happened in 2020 you know a lot of the innovative ideas and programs that you put into place at Power Test, but I want to shift the focus a little bit because your team not only focused on how to keep the company going and really grow the company, but you were making sure that the community around you was also taken care of. I know that you worked with employees and you know to help provide meals for medical workers and in a variety of other stuff, can you talk about some of the stuff that you did to support the community over the last year?

Rick Ruzga
Yeah absolutely, so at the heart of Power Test is the value of being charitable and having you know a worldview bigger than just ourselves and so we give a percentage of our top line every year to charities. We have some really big partners that we will interface with every year, so we'll do things with Discovery World, Milwaukee Rescue Missions, Zac Acres Rogers and then locally here in in Sussex and global leadership summit, if you can remember it's hard to put ourselves back into that feeling of let's say April of last year, but there's this feeling of you know we want to contribute to the greater good. We heard about don't overrun the hospitals, hospitals are busy and so we combined this idea I created this program called Meals for Healers and the idea was basically we're going to go to the company, we're going to ask for donations and then with the donations, we are going to buy meals from local restaurants to support them so they can continue you know to try to survive during this and then we will give the meals to Waukesha Memorial Hospital and so we were able to very quickly you know get several thousands of dollars donated and provide several hundred meals to them and we worked out a plan so we could intermittently get them meals from our local restaurant so that was you know fantastic again that's just sort of our nature that's a value we hold in high regard and then as we started to look at some of the other charities that we would normally be doing things live with, we found ways to just continue to support them however they wanted from a virtual standpoint. So you know I’m really proud to be a part of an organization that looks beyond you know themselves when we did the reach out to the organization it just felt like a natural thing to do to find a way to help others.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well I mean that's just a great story and you know really inspiring that you know not only were you helping you know health care workers who were just on the front lines of this, but you know we have you know the hospitality sector which was just devastated by COVID-19 and you know government closures and so being able to help support them is you know you it's kind of you know killing two birds with one stone and really helping a lot of people. I want to talk a little bit about the future now, manufacturing is the biggest industry in Wisconsin and it really helps to drive our economy forward. What are you seeing for you know the rest of 2021? Do you see manufacturing really coming back strong following the pandemic?

Rick Ruzga
When I look at industry changes in general, one of the things I think a lot of companies are dealing with are just like supply chain assumptions or supply chain approaches they used to have you know so I was in the trained in the whole lean mentality of just in time and keep everything at a razor thin margin. Well it doesn't take a whole lot to upset that equilibrium and we found that and I’m sure a lot of companies did as well so a lot of our local vendors are smaller machine shops or smaller distributors and you know if one or two of their employees ended up with COVID that could be like 10% of their workforce, 15-20% of the workforce, so better focus on supply chain and I would say re-shoring a lot of that you know I was reading an article yesterday about this kind of coalition of machine shops being able to share excess capacity amongst themselves which is a really cool idea. One of the things we saw in 2020 was just increasing cost of both labor and materials and if you're not really paying attention to that pretty quickly your margins are out of whack your prices are out of whack, you're not as profitable as a company as you need to be so I think better cost management and then one thing that we've had here in the past is this idea of like apprenticeship programs and what I see encouraging is you know in the in the world of secondary education maybe there's a little bit of a doubt now just whether I should go to college and whether college is face-to-face and what program I’m going to be in. I think there's a huge opportunity for programs like at a WCTC or Gateway or other places that have these real world skills that students that may be uncertain what they want to do can get into and I think as you know Wisconsin manufacturers every way possible that we can bring some of those younger students in or you know early in their career the better because we have to keep growing our workforce in Wisconsin because Wisconsin will always be kind of the heartbeat of heavy industrial manufacturing and that's our next labor force and so whatever we can do to keep them interested and help them move into jobs I think the better.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well I think you're spot on there with the fact that workforces is going to be a driving force in in growing the economy over in the coming years and it's going to be something we're going to have to really focus on to make sure that we do have those folks skilled in the positions that we're going to need to fill in the coming decades and so I do want to just quickly wrap up here, we have a about 30 seconds left and I just want to ask you, looking back at the last year you know reflecting upon everything that Power Test went through with COVID-19 and all the challenges that came with it you know what's one thing that you can really point to, to say that you know, this was a you know this is something I learned, this is something that is going to help me to really drive the company forward for the next year and beyond?

Rick Ruzga
Power Test has a great set of values you know Allen Petelinsek, CEO, owner of the company basically that's a non-negotiable so sometimes you walk into a company and you see values on the wall and you think sure you know maybe one of our values is great isn't good enough and last year the one thing that I would say we all learned and again the entire workforce really stepped up and had this idea of great isn't good enough because at any point we could have really decided to sit it out or check the box or use COVID as an excuse for something like sorry we couldn't ship, COVID you know hit our workforce, but that's not who we are and so you know companies that have strong cultures and strong values, I really believe can weather a lot and that's when I reflect back I you know I think because we have a workforce that really emulates that embodies those values that's really what brought us through and I mean we'll have uncertainty in the future and that's what will bring us through the other side of whatever's in front of us.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well Rick, thanks for taking the time to join us today on Wisconsin Made. The Podcast. we appreciate it.

Rick Ruzga
Thanks Nick for having us and it's been it's been a pleasure.

Nick Novak (Host)
Well that has been our conversation with Rick Ruzga, President of Power Test in Sussex. Next week, we'll continue to share stories from other manufacturers adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic and we will highlight Ahlstrom-Munksjo from Kaukauna and shed light into some of the business challenges they faced, some of their opportunities and successes. Plus, we'll learn more about the future state of manufacturing in Wisconsin post-pandemic. 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.