Creating airtight seals throughout a ductwork system is the premise upon which Ductmate Industries was founded more than 30 years ago. That one simple idea — and that one product that continues to be a part of an extensive Ductmate product lineup — helped build this company that in 2009 employed 250 people throughout the United States.
The Ductmate System is what started it all — a rectangular duct product consisting of roll-formed flanges, corner pieces, gasket and cleat that creates a leak-free connection between ducts. Developed by Peter Arnoldt, one of Ductmate's founders and its first president, this product changed how contractors and engineers viewed ductwork accessories — they were no longer just commodities but products that offered superior quality. Here was a product that could deliver real energy and material savings. In effect, Ductmate was a leader in the green movement before the catchphrase even came about. Buoyed by its early success, Ductmate quickly expanded its product line and its distribution network across the United States and around the world.
Today, Ductmate has 15 product lines. It is one of the largest HVACR accessory manufacturers in the world. Based in Charleroi, PA (about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh), its products are manufactured in nearby Forward Township as well as Lodi, CA. Its president and CEO, Raymond Yeager, joined the company in 1984 as a controller and, after moving up through the ranks, became president in 2006.
New and innovative products fueled Ductmate's growth, and it continues to set the standard in the HVACR industry. A supportive ownership group, strong management team and a hands-on board of directors have contributed to smart growth. The company guide is a series of five-year strategic plans, which it updates annually. Yeager says the company began the strategic planning process in the early 1990s. “We believed that in order for us to maintain long-term growth, it is exceptionally important to have plans and strategies in place,” he says.
The company has begun to embark on the planning for its new five-year strategic plan, called “DMI 2015,” Yeager says. “It's a fairly sophisticated process that we go through that gets us where we want to be over the next five years.” Each year's process includes the critical success factors and detailed action plans that fit with the overall five-year strategy.
Yeager also credits the company's board of directors for helping to move the company forward. “We have a very active board of directors; the majority are professionals who live in the Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania areas,” Yeager says. “That lends a lot of credibility to the process. We're a privately held company, and the owners have decided that they want to differentiate themselves — they want professional advisers, which is unique for a medium-sized company.”
After completing its recent Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) analysis as part of its strategic planning process, Yeager says Ductmate's strengths are clear. Its brand is highly regarded, its distributor network is very strong and it runs an efficient operation applying Lean manufacturing capabilities and sustainability philosophy. The intertwining of each part contributes to making Ductmate a stronger company. The strengths are fortified by the experience and expertise of Ductmate channel managers, product managers, inside sales staff, skilled workers as well as many engineers (“chemical, mechanical, material and architectural engineers, and we even have an energy engineer,” Yeager notes).
Aided by new products and enhanced by its reputation for quality and customer service, Ductmate is intent on keeping this status. The company works closely with its distributors and their customers. Its channel and product line managers often travel with distributors to job locations to see how contractors and engineers are using their products and to gauge their experiences with them. Yeager says they are trying to find the “pain points” of their distributors and the distributors' customers and how to best alleviate them.
A research and development department within Ductmate's engineering group works on new product development and updates. Their work ties closely to that of the company's new product committee, which is charged with bringing forward new opportunities — whether in the form of new products, enhancements to existing products or other ways in which Ductmate may better serve customers. A distributor advisory group provides the “Voice of the Customer” and helps keep the ideas moving, Yeager says. With Ductmate's pedigree in the industry, others often approach the company with ideas on new products, and Yeager says his staff will often collaborate with them. Yeager estimates that the company has about 40 to 50 patents on various products.
At Ductmate, new ideas from employees are encouraged, says Mark Smith, business development manager. “New product development is a responsibility of everybody in the company,” he says. Employees in the machine shop have ways of fine-tuning products, while the sales staff may come off the road with personal experiences that can help improve all facets of the operation. Meanwhile, the customer service department brings the perspective from distributors who may call with technical or logistical questions.
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The majority of Ductmate products are used in commercial applications, which means that the distributors often work with commercial contractors and engineers. Engineers have been specifying Ductmate products since the company came into existence, Yeager says. “Consequently, when we introduce new products that are energy savings items, they tend to take note and will often specify our products if they believe they are of value.” While engineers inherently understand energy savings, contractors and building owners want to see the results. “They're on-board when we get the opportunity to show them the money,” Yeager adds.
Today, energy savings is synonymous with “green practices.” While some companies have adopted this moniker as a marketing tool, this is how Ductmate came into being. The company continues to build on its pioneering role as an energy savings company, Yeager says. Ductmate started shortly after the second Arab oil embargo, when petroleum prices were sky high, he says. “One of our main concepts was the reduction of leakage, and since that time, we have always tried to engineer improved products that reduce duct leakage,” Yeager says.
The goal of reducing duct leakage led to the development of leak-free dampers and leak-free access doors. The next logical step, Yeager says, was its GreenSeam product line. The design of GreenSeam pipes and fittings are for high-efficient systems to conform to Leadership in Energy and Efficiency Design (LEED) and other green building initiatives. “I believe that we're a leader for sustainability within HVACR,” Yeager says. “We are at the forefront of energy savings.” In fact, Ductmate has three employees who are LEED-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Engineers who seek LEED certification for their projects — a much-coveted distinction that pays off in both energy savings and as a marketing tool — consistently specify Ductmate products to help them achieve their goals.
Distributors have been a part of the Ductmate sales strategy since the company's founding, Yeager notes, and that number has grown to more than 400 distribution points throughout the United States. In addition to the visits with distributors, Ductmate relies on HARDI as a vital tool to stay close to them. “That's where our customers are,” Yeager says of the value of HARDI membership. “HARDI gives us access to the best distributors in the industry, and many of our best distributors are members of HARDI.” With one of the best trade shows in the industry, Yeager says, it becomes an opportunity for both knowledge sharing and networking.
For Yeager, Ductmate's best distributors bring “professionalism and profitability” to the manufacturer-wholesaler relationship. (“That would be something the president of the company would say,” Yeager adds with a laugh.) Just as Ductmate is a company guided by strategy, he believes that HVACR distributors, regardless of their size, can benefit from becoming more strategic and thinking long-term. “They need to be very good at strategy as well as the tactical actions such as carrying inventory and customer service.”
The best distributors also have a strong presence in their markets and are always looking to grow, Smith says. “We want distributors who are hungry and focused on growth,” he says. Ductmate also encourages distributors to know the product line, encouraging and promoting distributor learning through training sessions and website tools. Ductmate University is in session four to six times a year at the Charleroi headquarters — a mixture of classroom instruction and hands-on training, Smith says. The Ductmate website (www.ductmate.com) also offers training videos.
Ductmate University also creates Ductmate “advocates,” adds Yeager. He finds that when people attend a three-day training session at Ductmate, they're excited about the products and the benefits that they offer customers. They'll take that knowledge — and that passion — and spread it through their organization.
Since 2005, Ductmate's adoption of Lean manufacturing has been a way to create greater efficiencies and drive costs out of the system. Yeager says its journey to Lean has become an easier path because of the ongoing training and education the company provides employees. They often refer to it as the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC) method of problem-solving, identifying root causes of problems and appropriate solutions. Employees also receive training on Lean Six Sigma tools through projects that help them make the best business decisions.
“Lean manufacturing has made us more efficient and a world-class manufacturer,” Yeager says. “Our costs are low; we've driven a tremendous amount of waste out of our system, but we're not done yet. Lean is designed to provide continuous improvement.”
With Lean principles now in place in manufacturing and a culture of continuous improvement taking root, Ductmate is extending Lean throughout the entire organization. “That was one of our 2009 initiatives, and our strategic plan was to make ourselves a Lean enterprise,” Yeager notes. “When we say we're a sustainable organization, Lean plays a critical role in that sustainability,” he says.
Michael Maynard is a business writer based in Providence, RI. He writes frequently on HVACR, construction and architecture issues. Contact him at [email protected].
Ductmate at a Glance
Ed Rafalski, director, sales and marketing
Doug Gudenburr, director of operations
Robyn Boor, director of human resources
Definition and Example: Being a sustainable organization means you strive to minimize the impact of your operations and products on the natural environment while maintaining a healthy, productive and comfortable work environment.
Significance: Organizations that strive toward improved sustainability often identify new technologies and processes for their existing operations. This forces the organization to focus on existing processes and improve the overall life cycle of its products.
Benefits: Benefits range from lower operating costs and improved product performance to higher employee productivity and innovation. Typically, an organization can expect to reduce the amount of raw materials and energy it consumes while also reducing the amount of waste it generates. Focusing on employee comfort will typically lower utility bills and employee turnover.
Make sure you have upper management buy-in.
Perform a walk-through of your facilities to identify low-cost initiatives that will provide energy and material savings.
Use the savings from those low-cost initiatives to help fund projects with longer ROI.
Discuss the organization's objectives with your vendors to help identify other alternatives to materials that your manufacturing process uses.
Engage the organization's employees on sustainability, why it is important to the long-term success of the organization and how they can help achieve the organization's goals.
Benchmark, track and continually improve your process.
People Involved: Once you have a sponsor from upper management, you will need to involve the heads of each department within the organization. Eventually, a good sustainability initiative should involve all of the organization's employees, vendors and customers. Dynamic sustainability initiatives should consider utilizing customer and vendor feedback loops to assure a constant in-flow of ideas.
Timing: Enhancing the organization's sustainability is an ongoing process of improvement. Innovation is often a long-term outcome of focusing on corporate sustainability as customers, vendors, engineers and sales come together to develop products that consume less energy and fewer resources.
Contact: Mark Smith, business development manager, Ductmate Industries Inc., 800/245-3188, [email protected].