The “P” in Our Initials Could Equally Stand for “Problem-Solving”

At PMI, we know a thing or two about fielding highly specific, technical questions from our customer base. When we learn of a client who is having trouble with a particular product, not only do we try to come up with the right corrective solution, but we also present the solution using the most cost-effective means we know how.Spraying Crops- Production Materials

An example of this occurred quite recently. Previously, we had supplied special screws to a client of ours. The screws were used to assemble commercial hose-reels that would in turn be placed on spray-trucks. These trucks would then drive across miles and miles of uneven farmland, spraying crops with chemical or water solution.
Everything looked good on paper. We supplied the screws per the specifications our customer had indicated in their blueprint. Yet something wasn’t entirely right. When the spray-trucks would advance across jaunty terrain, the screws in the hose-reels would rattle, and even sometimes come loose. Fearing that they might be looking at replacing an entire hose-reel system, our client came back to us, hoping for a possible solution.
Straightaway, we examined the screw samples our customer had presented us with. We quickly realized the client wouldn’t have to pay an exorbitant amount of money in order to redesign their entire hose-reel system. Instead, the only thing that needed doing was to provide a way for the very same screws not to come loose. To that end, we put thread-locking patch onto each screw, and sent them back to the client. After putting the screws through a vibration test, their engineers could attest that the screws would no longer come loose in the various applications.
This might be one of the reasons the same clients keep coming back to us for repeat jobs. It’s not just what we produce or assemble for them. It’s the reasoned, carefully-assessed solutions we provide.

More Flexible Options for Small- to Mid-Sized Businesses

Since we’ve established our presence online, we’ve noticed a number of interesting trends as far as our new customer base. Not only have we observed how the web has improved our ability to reach out to and supply the needs of businesses operating further away from us than ever before, but we’ve also increased our exposure to a growing number of small- to mid-sized businesses that want to work with us. Since many of these businesses don’t necessarily have the same commercial capital as some of our larger customers, we’ve decided to make our company’s services more accessible and affordable, by offering the option of making their purchases via credit card.

Additionally, we’ve decided to expand our sales force this April. We will be adding an experienced person in our industry, a consummate professional with business contacts domestically and overseas. With this new member of our staff, we’ll enhance our ability to provide a wider range of product and service requests (both interstate and overseas). We’ll be able to offer more options to better fit our customers’ changing needs for simpler, all the while retaining our capacity to take on the traditional tough assignments we’ve always taken on. Our exposure to both domestic and international supply opportunities will be greatly increased.

With these new resources in place, we continue to expand our ability to help our customers build their businesses through lower costs, shorter delivery times, and consistently excellent service and quality.

The Growth of Our Vendor Managed Inventory Program

It began several decades ago, when big box vendors such as Wal-Mart found themselves running into difficulty when it came to stocking their entire inventory, not on account of a lack of goods, but rather on account of there being simply too many. The solution they pioneered, the vendor management system, revolutionized the way a distributor sold consumer goods: the manufacturers who produced the excess number of goods would hold onto a certain number at their own facilities. If and when the distributor needed more of a certain item, all the distributor would have to do was notify the manufacturer to supply them with more of those products. That way floor-space was saved without disrupting the supply chain.
What once was considered to be a bold experiment in redefining the relationship between manufacturer and vendor has steadily become an accepted norm. Vendor management programs, where affiliated manufacturers are responsible for maintaining a certain previously agreed-upon number of parts or products for a particular distributor or higher-tier manufacturer, have become one of the chief models for doing business in this country.

At Production Materials, we offer vendor managed inventory programs tailored to our customers’ needs. For example, a valued client of ours, a leader in the grooming industry, wanted to cut down on some of the carrying-costs of the inventory we supplied them with, as well as improve their production efficiency. We performed a trial run for them where we supplied specific inventory parts for a robotic production system manufacturing cell. The initial program was a success, and now they’ve added an additional 15 parts to the program.
When our inventory is running low on a certain part, our own tracking software program alerts us to this fact. We are then able to replenish our stock in timing with future bin rotation. The “symbiotic relationship” between our two companies continues to grow; we’re now at a point where we are working with new potential clients to build vendor managed inventory programs.

Coming Soon to a Cornfield Near You – Electric Tractors

Diesel-electric powered machines have acquired, by now, a long history. Diesel-electric technology has been incorporated everywhere from locomotives (making them more fuel efficient) to submarines (making them quieter and harder to detect by sonar). But now it seems that diesel-electric power is coming to America’s heartland in the form of diesel-electric powered tractors.

Photo from Farm Industry News

Unlike the traditional gas-guzzling platforms that have threshed America’s farmlands for a century, the diesel-electric powered tractor offers a fuel-efficient, price-savvy alternative. Electrified tractors have generally more control over their subset components; a diesel-electric tractor’s coolant pump and fan can be utilized at speeds no longer dependent on the amount of fuel being consumed, thereby allowing them to perform more efficiently and with higher overall power. Furthermore, several new platforms are more accurate in their fertilizer delivery. Since their distribution mechanisms operate independently of the speed of the engine, they can apply themselves that much better to their actual task: sowing fertilizer across fields.

Several diesel-powered tractors are gaining a global presence and customer-base. Being that we supply custom components and perform packaging services for the agricultural industry of America, we at Production Materials are eagerly watching these latest industry trends to see whether diesel-electric power is here to stay.

IKEA and the Future of Electroless Plating for the Solar Industry

IKEA, the $29 billion-per-year home furnishings juggernaut, announced recently it would install a solar array on the rooftop of its Bloomington, MN location (see article). While industry experts estimate that the level of solar power generated by the new rooftop will be equivalent to the electricity requirements of a mere 112 homes, all the same, these same experts are willing to concede that IKEA’s new addition will increase Minnesota’s overall solar energy output by a whopping 20%.
 It’s true that solar energy has gotten off to a slow start, one of the foremost reasons being the sheer cost of metallization solutions for solar cell manufacturing. Since silver has been a key component in the solar cell panel fabrication process, the demand for the technology has necessarily been limited. But with new experiments underway in electroless plating tools, as well as chemical processes being developed that can replace the traditional silver paste grid line, not only is the price of massive sun-powered roofs expected to plummet, but the solar power that new solar cells can produce is expected to rise steadily.
Being that Production Materials has extensive experience in custom metal plating for power generation, and being that we offer high-quality electroless plating services to our customers, we follow these nascent developments in Midwestern solar power production eagerly and expansively. While IKEA can certainly afford to place any kind of solar paneling they wish on their store roofs, the time is fast approaching when homeowners, small businesses, and others can apply solar technology to their roofs as well. We at Production Materials will certainly be looking forward to offering our custom plating options to this ever-growing sector of the economy.

Cost-Effective Solutions to a High-Tech Problem

One of the strengths with Production Materials is our ability to find ways of doing specialized jobs cost-effectively; ones that other component suppliers might sense as too costly to present their clients. Case in point: a prominent company involved in the grooming industry approached us about five weeks ago, and presented us with a complex problem they were facing. A new robotic tool they’d been using to pick up individual parts (eventually assembling them into a finished product) had difficulty in completing its assigned tasks.

One of the robot’s main jobs is finding a required part from a feeder bowl, taking it in its grasp, and then placing it into the proper hole per specification. Once the robot locates the hole, it then screws the component into the mating part. The robot was having trouble locating a particular screw because the screw point was too wide in diameter to fit into the hole in question. We needed to find a way to make the point smaller without compromising the other dimensions or adding a costly secondary operation.

It seemed at first like a difficult task ahead of us. The obstacles were many. But by collaborating with our supplier partner, and strategizing some innovative approaches using various software tools, we were able to come up with a new screw design at no additional cost.

We’re still working with our client, but the feedback thus far has been immensely positive. The trial run – some 25,000 pieces and counting – continues to run great. We look forward to completing the task and getting the job done right. All’s well that ends well, and so far, so good.

A Look at Farm Industry News and its Holiday Farm Photo Contest

Whoever said Santa has to ride around on a sleigh? Folks, this is the Midwest. The way we see things out here, he’d probably feel more comfortable driving a red-nosed John Deere through a field of scraggly corn. As December keeps wagging along, and that prairie wind we’ve all grown to love starts gearing into overdrive, and as we all brave the elements to buy gifts on Main Street, or the mall, or at Wal-Mart, or online for our loved ones, we here at Production Materials wanted to alert you to some holiday cheer in the form of a recent contest. No, it didn’t involve downing a quart of eggnog every time someone sang “Frosty, the Snowman.” Actually, it was a contest to demonstrate prairie pride and Christmas spirit all in one (industrial) package.

Up through this December 12th, folks have been submitting their photographs of how they celebrate the holidays out on their farms to Farm Industry News thought it would be fun to actually take a photographic peek at how people were celebrating the holidays out on their farms, whether that meant photographs of their home, their farm equipment, or their outdoor decorations. Those who took photos of their festive decorations were then asked to post their entries on Farm Industry News’ Facebook page. Photographers with the most “likes” won The Ultimate Guide to Tractors by Jim Glastonbury for first place and The Farm Tractor by Ralph W. Sanders for second place.

All in all, we’re placing our bets that there was some pretty heavy competition and some pretty festive entries from all across the nation. Competition and good cheer are what keep our country running at its best. We were pleased to see Farm Industry News getting this contest going. Next year, we want to see photos of reindeer pulling tractors.

Production Materials: We're like a detective agency that thrives on difficult assignments.

People who’ve done business with us oftentimes call us a “resourceful” company; it’s become kind of a word that gets thrown our way. “Resourceful.” Hey, sounds good to us, we’ll take it, thank you for the nice word; but really all we’re trying to do here is just be really good problem-solvers for our customers. We try to look at our customers’ needs and find very specific means of resolving them. We work hard to turn that specific need into the button-down details we think our client will appreciate. Call our methods resourceful, call our services unique, and tell us that we think “outside the box.” When it comes to finding creative sourcing, all we can say to that is we’re just doing what we do best.    

For example, a well-heeled manufacturer of consumer products (who shall remain anonymous) approached us about constructing them a new gauge. OK, so we sat down and met with them and they presented us with a fairly rough sketch of what they needed – how many psi they wanted, the approximate size of the gauge, a good general sense of all the components they wanted attached, etc. Nothing completely specific, but something we were excited to tackle.

Taking up the good fight, we went back to our shop and drew out a detailed blueprint of what we felt they wanted. So much of the initial process on our end is intuitive. Well, so we handed it back to them and – lo and behold – it was exactly what they’d been looking for. Good stuff. Time to get cranking.

It didn’t take too long for us to work up a quote and find the right suppliers (yes, we have our secret sources). Then it took about 3 weeks’ time for us to assemble the in-house prototypes and have our engineer to seal the threads of the gauge to comply with test standards. When we presented it to the client, they ran the gauge through every test they could think of, and our gauge passed with flying colors. Next thing we know, our big-league client is giving us an order to custom build 250 of these gauges, and we’ve been getting repeat orders from them ever since.

I guess you could say the moral of this story is that we’re a company that relishes opportunities to use brainpower before it gets working hard with its hands. I guess that’s being “resourceful.” Our clients seem to think so. Thank you, clients.

Anyway, got to get back to work.