Inside the Manufacturing Plant
Super Seal Combines Technology with the
Human Touch and Finds Success
by Bruce Levy
As 2001 approaches, many manufacturers are faced with the dilemma of how to keep up with the latest technology and improve production while also maintaining that personal human factor upon which most companies were founded. While many companies have had a difficult time achieving this goal, Super Seal Manufacturing Company Inc. in South Plainfield, N.J., has found a way to see through the window of the future and combine technology with the human touch.
The Human Touch
While the trend in recent years has been for family-owned facilities to sell out to large international conglomerates, Super Seal remains family-owned and operated. Founded by Joseph Vespa Sr. in 1960 in Brooklyn, N.Y., the company is now run by the second generationVespas sons Ron and Joe Jr.
In addition to the South Plainfield facility, Super Seal maintains warehouses at the original Brooklyn location, as well as in Lexington, N.C., and a customer service facility in Boston. The company services its customers through a distribution network of mostly smaller, multi-location chains from Canada to Georgia and as far west as Chicago. Over the years, the company has become a technology-driven facility, with computers guiding the manufacturing process.
The increased production volumes made possible by increased automation have kept the 540 employees working to produce 14 window lines.
An emphasis on people is all around. The companys mission statement, displayed prominently at the plant, puts people first. The mission statement says, At Super Seal Manufacturing Company Inc. we are dedicated from generation-to-generation to always have satisfied customers open Super Seal windows. The mission statement enumerates three basic values, number one being Peopleour employeesworking as teammates, are our most important resource. It is only by their performance, dedication and achievements that we will remain a successful company. Even the other two basic values reflect the companys employees: striving for dependable, friendly service from employees to anticipate and exceed customers expectations and a commitment to offer products of the highest quality and workmanship that represent the best value in the marketplace.
In addition to the mission statement, all employees are given a statement of the companys customer commitment policy, which also exemplifies the human touch. It states, Our customers are the reason we come to work. Their patronage provides us our livelihood, thus we are thankful for the opportunity to participate, produce and perform. Every Super Seal manufacturing employee must have an unyielding sense of urgency to satisfy our customers requirements in a prompt, thorough and professional manner. We must not take our customers for granted for they are our friends.
The companys emphasis on people pays off. Super Seal says it not only is able to maintain a core group of loyal, longtime workers, but is also able to produce more windows per employee than any other manufacturer on the East Coast, said sales and marketing manager Glen Paesano. Paesano adds that while most factory workers only stay at one company for two to three years, many Super Seal employees have been with the company for more than 20 years.
A tour of the plant shows a diverse employee basea mixture of young and old, male and female from all around the world. Employees even hang more than two dozen flags from their countries of national origin, taking pride not only in their own ethnicity, but the place where they work eight hours a day.
Super Seal says its employees are committed to serving the customer. In fact, the company says its staff produces more windows per employee than any manufacturer on the East Coast.
Focused on Efficiency
Among the benefits for the companys truck drivers are a company-owned and maintained fleet of modern drop body trucks, which not only ease the drivers work load, but also add to the companys efficiency. The trailer section of each truck can be dropped at the loading docks, where other employees do the work of packing the next shipment while the driver is off delivering another load. The drivers are paid for an eight-hour day even if they complete their shipment in less than eight hours, increasing productivity by encouraging the drivers to get the truck back to the manufacturing plant as quickly as possible for workers at the plant to begin loading for the next day. At many other companies, the drivers take their time returning to their home base for fear of either losing pay or receiving extra work for the day.
Super Seal uses technology from the first moment of customer contact. According to Paesano, from the moment a customer phones in an order, the companys computer system plans and tracks the entire manufacturing process. Once the order is entered into the system, the computer tells each department the most efficient way to cut and prepare each window. With the system, Super Seal is able to manufacture 12,000 windows in its 14 lines of windows in a 40-hour workweek. While the computer system has reduced the number of laborers needed in each portion of the process, the increased volume has actually increased the companys number of employees overall, adding 150 positions in the last eight years.
For example, before Super Seal initiated its computerization eight years ago, there were 17 people cutting glass at 72 percent efficiency. Today, five people are cutting 750 percent more glass with 98 percent efficiency.
At Super Seal, the manufacturing process is divided into 16 individual cells where the computer directs employees in each stage of the manufacturing process. Each cell is an autonomous unit, with its own employees, paper work and quality control system, and each is overseen by a central quality control department. In every stage of the manufacturing process, each window is bar coded, so at any time, an order can be looked up on the computer and a customer told exactly where the window is in the process. Also, each window is stamped with the companys name and the time and date of manufacturing. This way the company keeps a record of all the details for an individual window.
Due to the companys computerization, along with its reputation for high quantity and quality product, and Joe Vespa Jr.s reputation for research and development, many equipment manufacturers contact Super Seal to test their prototype machinery. Among the equipment currently used is a vacuum inversion welder. The welder actually sucks out the residue while welding all four corners of a window at one time. This not only makes the weld tighter and stronger but it eliminates any slight imperfections that the dust might have caused.
Super Seal also uses a robotic screen assembler, and a robotic frame assembler, which results in a high quality, consistent and perfectly-squared windows. Paesano says many competitors still use screw guns and mallets to assemble their windows, which he feels is more time consuming, more costly and less accurate in creating consistent 90-degree angles. The robotic screen assembly process also saves money, and results in a low amount of broken glass, low downtime, few callbacks and service calls and high customer satisfaction.
Paesano says the computerization also helps keep prices stable, while creating a great product with great delivery time at a good price. Paesano says Super Seals windows aim for middle of the market pricing. Super Seal does not attempt to undersell all competitors, but instead sells a better product with a saleable difference. The company also strives to increase the quantity of products currently sold to its distribution network of smaller multi-location chains of lumber yards and wholesalers, as opposed to some companies that he feels neglect their client base while attempting to expand into new areas with new clients.
Looking Toward 2001
As for the future, Paesano foresees Super Seal expanding into cellular vinyl in 2001. He says the company chose to go with almost exclusively vinyl windows nine years ago since vinyl is a thermally-efficient insulator and good for any installation. Paesano notes that vinyl can be made to fit any opening, whereas wood is generally only available in sizes that dont necessarily work in every application. Super Seal does own and maintain its aluminum lines and makes aluminum patio doors as a low cost alternative. Paesano says the company may introduce additional aluminum lines in the future.
Paesano also foresees changes due to the instability of national gas and crude oil prices. Manufacturers such as Super Seal are seeing price increases from its vinyl and glass dealers due to those companies increased costs. But while these rises in price may in turn cause the price of windows to go up, increasing their energy efficiency helps consumers save money. Paesano says that while only a few states require it, all of Super Seals windows are ENERGY STAR® approved and also bear the seal of approval of the National Fenestration Rating Council.
So, while Super Seal continues to make advances in its computer-driven company, it is through a mixture of the human touch and computer technology that the company strives for zero callbacks and customer satisfaction, in hopes that when customers look through a Super Seal window they will see a clear difference.
Bruce Levy is a freelance writer based in New York.
© Copyright Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.