The manufacturing industry in the United States is in a constant state of transition, largely influenced by innovative, real-time technologies that are enabling every aspect of manufacturing to become smarter, faster, and more streamlined. The companies that have made the right choices in the face of this shift have come to outshine the rest.
As part of strategic decision making, many manufacturers resort to technical service providers that can take care of their business while the manufacturers focus on their productivity, growth, and achieving desired goals. Choosing the right manufacturing service provider is essential.
This manufacturing service provider must have substantial experience, established customer relations, and the qualified personnel to cover every facet of operations within a facility. Leadec Industrial Services is that provider, serving its customers since 1962.
With its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, the company employs approximately 20,000 at 250 locations on four continents. In the United States, Leadec has established over forty locations, nine of which opened within the past two years. The oldest site was established approximately thirty years ago in Springhill, Tennessee and is currently a General Motors plant.
A diverse customer base
“The automotive industry is the foundation of our customers,” Vice President of Sales for the Americas Heath Barnett says. “It’s probably seventy-five percent of our business.”
Other industries Leadec serves include aerospace, white goods and appliances, fabricated metal products, heavy trucks and buses, and distribution and logistics. “These are non-automobile, and that’s just about twenty-five percent of our business today.”
There are plans for expansion into electrification for vehicles such as battery plants and electric vehicle startups. “That’s a customer base we’re interested in, related to auto, but kind of a new market for us.”
Globally, Leadec has established food and beverage customers, and the company also “plans to soon expand into this manufacturing industry in the United States as well,” continues Barnett.
The company provides a number of manufacturing support services which are “mostly within the plant. We do some in-bound logistics such as warehousing,” says Barnett, adding that the largest portion of the business in the United States is technical cleaning, which is a supporting service along with facility maintenance, or production equipment maintenance. “We sell quite a bit of maintenance today.”
Also offered are some outbound logistics for automotive manufacturers. “We manage and track the vehicles as they leave the plant, sort them in the yard, and load, rail, and truck as well.” Other services Leadec provides include engineering and installation.
Powered by people
Leadec’s skilled and knowledgeable employees are equipped to address any aspect of a given project. “I would suggest that eighty percent of your product, if you’re a service company [like Leadec], is the people you employ,” Barnett says, noting that this depends on a market’s economic condition. “It’s a constant competition to hire, retain, and develop the greatest people in the market. It’s really about the quality of the people, so you have to be the employer of choice.”
He says that a couple of years ago, the company brought the role of recruiting in-house. “We found we were actually better at recruiting the best people for what we do than… external recruiting resources. We saw that in the supply base in the market that was specific to finding people, there was a lot of parity out there; they were all the same,” and customers were not getting the employees they wanted – or getting them fast enough.
Learning and Development Manager Sonya Overstreet states that Leadec is continuing to enhance the learning and development department to “take in-house that responsibility of making sure that our employees are well-trained and we’re developing them in both technical and leadership skills.”
She explains that it is quite difficult to retain employees with the competition also seeking the best. “So, when we hire people, we want to make sure we’re able to retain them and be the place where they’re experiencing that ongoing development, to really create a solid career with us.”
In 2020, the company will leverage its years of expertise and training, “using that internal knowledge that we have to educate new employees,” says Overstreet. What she has found in the technical industry is that it can be a challenge to “find those younger people who really want to be in the industry and want to stay in the industry.” But there is in fact a huge opportunity to “have a professional, long-term career in the manufacturing space and here with Leadec.”
Partnering with customers
For any business, in any industry, securing long-term, strategic partnerships can expand the customer base and help uncover new markets. Meanwhile, acquiring new products, securing exclusive contracts, and demonstrating proven company performance builds customer loyalty and trust.
It is not only important for Leadec to connect with its customers “but be partners with them,” since each customer has their own process. Overstreet’s department works closely with facility managers, employees, and management teams, “connecting with and making sure that we’re excelling in the customer’s way of doing things – their procedures, their processes.”
Delivering that knowledge and providing solutions can happen in several ways, like on-site instructor-led training. Leadec ensures that employees have the right documentation, job aids, and work instructions to perform tasks correctly. “Different solutions can be developed to meet that need after we do that initial needs analysis. There could be a lot of creativity around that to make sure that we have that strong learning partnership with our customer,” says Overstreet.
Barnett adds that in the service industry, certain elements are key. “Having interpersonal relationships is one of them,” he says. “That’s the most important thing in leadership, with our employees and with our customers.”
He explains that the challenge is to “make our employees a part of our culture, but then also have the flexibility and give them the freedom to integrate themselves into the culture of our customer.” With this approach, Leadec can predict customer needs as well as react quickly and adapt when needed.
“You have to execute,” says Barnett. “As a service provider, we have to do that. We get into plants where there’s a varying degree of data that they have and sometimes none… We come in and take over the maintenance of their equipment and their plant and start collecting data. We can use that data to make macro and micro-decisions,” he explains.
“In these times, when we think of maintenance contracts with customers, we come with capabilities, training, and leadership, and have a history and experience in maintenance. We’re able to find better people faster than our customer. In many cases, they’re willing to outsource their maintenance to us.”
For example, Barnett mentions a white goods customer with which the company launched a service contract last year. That customer was noted as saying that Leadec had completed in three months what the company could not achieve in two years. “We need to be competitive, and in order to be competitive, you have to be constantly changing your game, so to speak, or reinventing yourself.”
Safety is paramount, as evidenced by Leadec’s numerous safety awards from customers such as Honda, CAT, and Bosch. “To be operationally a strong company, you have to do many things very well. I would suggest that ninety percent of those things are a part of being a good company when it comes to safety,” Barnett says.
Leadec is a company that firmly believes in keeping its employees safe. “You certainly don’t want to add to a lack of safety for your customer.” As a service provider in a manufacturing environment, there are many safety concerns, such as those related to high-pressure water blasting or robotics.
“We want to be an employer of choice, so we have to be a company where people come here to work and know they’re going to be safe,” states Barnett, adding that Leadec has to have employees who work safely in any customer environment “so that we’re not a detriment to them.” Working unsafely does not win or keep contracts, and this holds true, “with most modern-day manufacturers of any size.”
Marketing Manager Priscilla Shinn agrees, noting that Leadec has its own initiative: ‘Safety – It’s your Life.’ This is “a process where our sites are audited to make sure that they’re at the correct level in regards to our safety criteria. We do take safety seriously.” These safety measures are addressed with both the company’s customers and at internal and external meetings. “It’s huge in our industry and in our personal business,” she says.
Advancing with the industry
In an industry that is always evolving, it is crucial to stay abreast of the latest technology. Leadec has leading-edge software that can be used for aspects “like the vehicle processing service line,” says Barnett. “We developed our own software with a partner that was able to perform analytics that some of the traditional software was unable to do.”
Shinn explains that the company is also investing heavily in digitizing its processes. “We can review all of our data by site,” she says, to ensure that Leadec is aligning with its customers’ key performance indicators. She mentions that in Germany, drones are being used for roof inspections and three-dimensional mapping of plants, as are virtual reality glasses. “We can train our employees more effectively… I’m hopeful that we will soon adopt these same technologies in the United States.”
“We’re really leveraging and connecting with the speed of business,” says Overstreet. “We want to make sure that we have a full array of solutions that meet the needs of business. We have the agility and flexibility to continue to meet the changes in the manufacturing space.”
And, of course, the culture created at Leadec is an appealing one, one which makes the company stand apart from the rest. “We do have a collaborative environment and culture here. We want Leadec to be the company of choice,” concludes Overstreet.