Pressure Sensitive Adhesives Manufacturer Showing Resilience in Hard Times

GDI Adhesives
Written by Jen Hocken

GDI Adhesives is a manufacturer of hot-melt and water-based pressure-sensitive adhesives located in Germantown, Wisconsin just north of Milwaukee and specializes in acoustic and partition, automotive, electronics, laminating and converting, tape and label, product assembly, packaging, and a variety of niche industries such as filter assembly and foam assembly. One relatively unique industry that is growing in popularity these days and with which GDI is involved is insect adhesives.

“The business model that we take with our customers is really one of customization. We aim to dig deep into the problems that they have in their manufacturing application and projects and come to find a customized solution of adhesives for what their pains are,” says Oliver Ellsworth, President of GDI Adhesives.

GDI’s five divisions, including a consumer division that sells a product known as glue dots, serve its vast range of customers. In addition to manufacturing, GDI also innovates and converts adhesives like the glue dots. Glue dots are used in two vastly different markets: one is for industrial purposes, while the other is in the consumer field for scrapbooking within the craft and hobby sector. Since the beginning of the pandemic, crafting stores have seen a boost in sales as people are staying at home more, which has allowed them to discover creative outlets and has led to an increase in craft projects.

“We call our company a vertically integrated adhesive manufacturing company that not only manufactures the adhesives, but we also innovate and convert, so we really think of ourselves as an innovation hub,” says Ellsworth.

Oliver Ellsworth grew up alongside the family business, Ellsworth Adhesives, which is GDI’s parent company today. Ellsworth Adhesives is a distribution company that is likewise dedicated to finding customized adhesive solutions for customers, primarily in electronics, automotive, and product assembly.

“I was born with the company, and I grew up with it, and as I fondly like to refer to the boardroom, which was my parents’ basement when the company started, I was getting my diapers changed on the main road map table, so I’ve known nothing different,” says Ellsworth. The Ellsworth Adhesives Corporation has branched out globally, and now it has operations on five continents with over 1,100 employees in total.

At GDI Adhesives, a positive work environment has resulted in true commitment and reliability within the workforce. The average tenure of its sixty employees is between eight to ten years, and the company attributes this achievement to its internal culture. A vital part of the culture at GDI involves group collaboration. The leadership encourages all teamwork efforts including team lunches and wearing GDI Adhesives logo wear.

“As far as my leadership style, I think the employees that are hired are capable of making the decisions to do their own job. We largely provide them with an autonomous leadership style that lets them run their divisions and departments with their own choices, along with guidance that we provide ahead of time as a vision for the company,” says Ellsworth.

The pandemic was a real challenge, although the company proved its resiliency throughout the tough year. As a manufacturing facility, most of its employees have always worked within the facility itself to produce products. During the pandemic, when the company had to allow employees to work remotely, self-motivation skills were tested, and the trust between people was strengthened.

Since then, GDI has adapted by developing a hybrid style with a combination of working from home and coming into the office periodically to allow for collaboration. Now that the country is in a post-pandemic state, it has maintained this style because it improved the work-life balance of its employees. With the opportunity to work partially from home, the team is happier overall.

Despite the pandemic, 2020 was GDI’s most productive year to date. “I think that some of the biggest challenges in our lives and companies bring out the best traits in us. So COVID, although it was very challenging from many different pain points, we also were able to turn inward a little to improve.”

Ellsworth describes the beginning days of the pandemic as a retail apocalypse. Large stores including Walmart and Michaels, who are some of GDI’s foremost customers, stopped ordering altogether. The company found ways to adapt to the market and decided to take the time to work on its internal processes.

GDI built a 170,000-square-foot manufacturing facility during the pandemic and improved its overall operation in preparation for more growth. “It’s all about the capacity we see for the future. We built a facility dedicated to manufacturing industrial adhesives and pressure-sensitive adhesive applications, and we see that as the future of manufacturing in North America,” explains Ellsworth. Adjusting to the complications of such a large expansion under stressful conditions is quite an accomplishment.

Today, the market is full of supply chain challenges, labor shortages, and price increases due to inflation. Fortunately, GDI has prepared itself for anything after emerging from this pandemic and is already ahead of these new challenges. There is also a new hopeful mindset because no challenge seems to loom as large as the difficulties of last year. The only other event in recent history that the company can compare it to is the 2008 financial catastrophe. Any extreme circumstances like these will have a significant impact on a business, but GDI is proud of its team’s flexibility in hard times.

“We’re in great shape coming out of this, and it’s a tribute to our employees and their work habits. We’re just really dedicated to our jobs, and in the end, it’s all about our families, but our jobs help us ensure that our families have security, and I think that’s what it’s all about,” says Ellsworth.

Innovation is a central part of GDI’s vision, and it is constantly pushing itself to explore the future of adhesives. The company invests in its customers by taking on their manufacturing problems and finding efficient adhesive-based solutions for them.

Approachability is another important value at GDI. To be accessible for customers at any level, the company is proactive about communicating and providing a seamless partnership.

“We also are dedicated to commitment. We are committed to not only our customers but also their manufacturing applications, and we do whatever it takes to accomplish what they need,” says Ellsworth.

GDI follows through on its commitments because of the expertise within the team, according to Ellsworth. The company is made up of tenured people who understand pressure-sensitive adhesives better than anyone else in the entire industry. The staff is experienced, battle-tested, and highly dedicated to solving customers’ problems.

“It’s all about being very open-minded with our customers—new and existing customers—for what they are trying to manufacture in the industrial world. We don’t say that we will always come up with the ultimate solution, but we will use every resource possible to see that to the end, and that’s what we’re dedicated to,” says Ellsworth.

Through its connection with parent company Ellsworth Adhesives, GDI has global connections and can provide logistical solutions for any corporation across the world. Often, companies have multiple international locations, and GDI can provide its service while fully comprehending the issues that arise in international transportation.

As GDI continues to grow, the team anticipates that pressure-sensitive adhesives will become a key aspect of new manufacturing processes. Pressure-sensitive adhesives are quite simple; they have instant bonding and fewer VOCs; they are FDA approved, and they are safe to use in many situations. It is a product with a bright future in manufacturing.

Ellsworth expressed his hope for North American family businesses in the future. “North America, in general, is extremely resilient in terms of its workforce and family businesses specifically in adaptability. Through challenging times, it brings out the best things in us, and this is one of those times. We really see ourselves as a much more capable adhesive solution provider for customers because it has been so challenging.”

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