Genius in a Bottle: Solving Problems Sustainably

RD Industries, Inc.
Written by Allison Dempsey

Operating successfully for more than four decades, as RD Industries has, is quite an achievement for any company – but it still takes a bit of genius to become the world’s leader in bottle inserts that create superior closed-loop chemical containment and dispensing systems.

“Forty years in business is a great success story,” says President Barbara S. Laible. “Looking back, we’ve come a long way. Our first bottle inserts and products were simple, then became complicated, and now we return to simple. We continuously review our products for excellence. The same goes for our leadership. When I first took over as COO, I spent time analyzing the company’s past performance and the leadership team’s decision-making that were responsible for the success or failures each year. We are now able to utilize this data to replicate great decisions and avoid those which may produce undesirable results,” she shares.

“We’re in an unprecedented time in our 40th year in that we’re still at war with the pandemic, now adding difficulty in labor and supply chain shortages. We’ve had to be so incredibly agile in company leadership and decision-making.”

Laible’s dedication to providing quality leadership stems from a lifelong passion for helping others, either through having been a foster parent for over 25 children, teaching at a local university, or learning leadership skills while working in diverse industries.

“I have a great interest in the correlation between different leadership dynamics and the successful performance of any group or company,” she says. “I have begun working on my Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership at Regent University, and my focus is strategic leadership driven by a strong lean toward growth orientation.”

Involved in RD Industries since 2014, Laible served as Chief Strategy Officer in a consulting role while also acting as Chief Operating Officer of a sister company, RD Innovations, Inc. before becoming Chief Operating Officer at RDI, and then President this last year.

Started by Laible’s husband Rod, RD Industries has manufactured everything from medical devices to safety athletic equipment, but its mainstay has been products invented to solve challenges in closed-loop chemical containment and dispensing.

“Every product we’ve ever made, Rod has invented,” says Laible. “He’s done so by solving a problem or challenge. He’s not the type of inventor who would normally come up with random creative things—although he’s done that too—he prefers to solve a problem.”

Those problems include anything from a doctor looking to create a new medical device like the Sharps® containers or centrifuge vials, to inventing a 100-mph helmet face guard developed for the baseball industry.

However, the company’s main focus has always been SaFTFlo, the world’s first and best choice for chemical containment and dispensing. Recently RD Industries added a new line of products called OneFlo.

“We manufacture everything here in the USA and ship to customers in over 60 countries,” Laible says of the ship caps, dispensers, and inserts which go in chemical bottles, containers, and bags. “They’ve said about our inserts, this is the ‘genius in the bottle’ because they accurately dose and vent the chemical according to the chemical company’s specification. Then, when connected to our cap adapter or a dispenser, the chemical flows through a closed-loop system, protecting the user from open exposure or over/under dosed applications.”

Rod came up with this “genius” first SaFTFlo® solution called Vent-A Cap® years ago when he was asked to tackle the problem of inoculating sheep in the mountains, where vets were having trouble getting the dilution correct. This drove the patented concept of automatic self-venting, which is the foundation of everything the company does, now and in the future.

From this modest start in a vet’s backpack, the SaFTFlo® insert became highly customizable and the company sells more than 20 million units globally each year.

RD Industries partners with numerous different chemical companies, each one requiring customized products and inserts of a different specification.

The company’s two brands—SafTFlo®and OneFlo®—are manufactured in the U.S., an important factor for Laible, along with recyclability and sustainability goals.

“SafTflo® has been our flagship line of products. However, with the 2020 introduction of a full line of recyclable and sustainably manufactured products called OneFlo®, that is changing,” said Laible.

“There’s a lot of talk in the industry about what’s really recyclable. A chemical bottle used in a closed-loop system is only recyclable if you take the insert out, rinse the bottle or bag, throw the insert/tube away and finally recycle the bottle,” she says. “Most companies still just throw it all in the trash and there isn’t much recycling going on. For a complete product to be truly recyclable, it has to be able to be thrown into a grinder, ground up, and made into something else. Our new OneFlo® line of inserts is made so bottle or bag plus the insert and tube can be recycled together.”

It began as a concept that led to a bottle insert originally branded as SaFTGreen™, which has since grown into a full line of products and was re-branded to OneFlo®.

There’s also no other company that has been awarded a UL-certification for container inserts. RD Industries has the only inserts under the ECOLOGO, a point of pride for the company.

“So, OneFlo® solves a problem for customers interested in having a recyclable and sustainably manufactured end product,” restates Laible, who enthuses about how successful testing has been to date. “For those customers that have had chemical compatibility concerns, we have made further modifications to meet their individual requirements,” she explains.

“Due to metal spring shortages which arose in 2021, we required most of our customers to move to our OneFlo insert line. OneFlo is an amazing innovation that has no metal and was right on time,” says Laible. “About four years ago I suggested we needed to enter into this market because as leaders in the industry, it was our responsibility to design the products that fulfilled our customers’ goals. I had no idea that a pandemic would happen and this line of inserts has proven to not only save our business, but every single one of our customers’ businesses who depend on the inserts to complete their own packaging process.

“We pride ourselves on listening to our customers’ product challenges and innovating the perfect solution,” says Laible.

COVID has continued to create difficult challenges, including the current supply chain issues primarily affecting the company’s non-recyclable SafTFlo line of products that require metal springs, now impossible to obtain.

“When metal springs used in the SaFTFlo® products couldn’t be found we were able to replace it with our two-year-old patented technology GreenSpring®,” she says. “While OneFlo® is our best insert, SaFTFLO® is tried and true, and many companies must test a new product before adoption, but most testing was put on hold during COVID. For some companies, this meant the transition to OneFlo® could not happen right away. Instead, we swapped the metal spring for Greenspring®, which we manufacture out of plastic.

“GreenSpring® has caused a lot of automation challenges, but we have our own automation design team and we’re working every day to modernize automation and solve those challenges,” says Laible.

“We as innovation-driven plastic manufacturers have to be paying attention to meeting customers’ needs every day, and creating products that don’t just boast recyclability, they are recyclable,” Laible says. “We need to continue to modify and change, be agile, and help educate the end-user who often has no idea what’s inside their insert. We’re looking at everything we possibly can to be a sustainable company.”

Those goals include driving efficiencies and shortening the manufacturing cycle as much as possible, she adds, which includes putting robotics in place because labor is in short supply, and making new automation out of old machinery by reusing the pieces. “I’m also looking into ways that we can begin to manufacture with recycled material. That’s something we’re doing testing on internally. Maybe we’ll come out with different products made from 100 percent recycled plastic.”

To that end, RD Industries has also added 25 percent regrind—recycled plastic—into some of their products, resulting in less waste in landfills and oceans. The Green Seal in the company’s advertising is its certification of a sustainably manufactured or recyclable product.

“The Seal came about from all our early studies on plastic waste in the ocean and the marine life that’s dying because of it,” says Laible. “Plastic does break down, but it takes a long time, and it’s very harmful to our marine life. We need to be doing our part to solve those problems,” she stresses.

“One of my initiatives during 2020 to continue to make our plant as efficient as possible was looking into some of the older traditional ways of mold and prototype making. I noticed we had a great expense in certain areas, and we had a lot of time delay in getting our products to market. We invested more than a million dollars last year in additive manufacturing, new prototyping equipment, and new 3D printers. These are now available to our customers.”

RD Industries is now the only company in its class of product able to provide its own prototypes in a matter of weeks instead of months. Recently they were able to produce a prototype for a new concept in 15 days at $100, compared to the standard six months and $15,000.

“This is going to give us an incredible competitive advantage in working with our customers and allowing them to work with us to get prototypes on all sorts of different products in dispensing or otherwise.”

While the company strives to keep its prices low, even throughout ongoing supply chain challenges, it experienced its first price increase in 15 years due to increases needed to keep up with labor, and to the fact that resin, metal springs, and other key raw materials have gone through the roof.

“We’re just going to keep moving in different directions of innovation,” says Laible. “I’m out there every day asking employees, ‘do you have an idea? How do you think it could be more efficient?’ And many times it’s the women coming forward with great ideas. With the different leaders we’ve had in the past, they haven’t had a much of a voice. I think that’s amazing!”

Laible strives to provide opportunities for all employees looking to embrace change and growth, and as a woman in a leadership position, she understands the challenges women can face. From a young age, she had a natural tendency to lead and was “very entrepreneurial” as a teen. One of her first jobs was as a cashier at a print manufacturing facility.

“Within a year I was the front office manager and then the production manager, so I worked my way up,” she says. “It was just hard work and dedication. I had a lot of ideas and I could implement them. I was also always interested in efficiency; how can I do this better and faster?”

Laible believes leadership skills are something you’re born with, and while anyone can lead their family, department, group, or discussion, could they, or do they actually want to, lead a business?

“Leadership isn’t easy, but it’s just been natural for me,” she says. “For some reason, we have this stigma that if you’re the president or vice president of a company, and you’re a female, then you’ve achieved something unbelievable. And it is! But whether you’re male or female, I think if you have leadership abilities and you desire and work toward that, it’s a great goal to achieve, but it also comes with a lot of hard work. A lot of hard decisions have to be made.”

To that end, she appreciates the myriad difficulties women face in any industry, and particularly one traditionally dominated by men.

“It’s tough being a woman who wants to lead out there. I’ve experienced different jobs where I wasn’t considered for leadership roles even though I was more educated, or had the ability, but a man was selected. I’ve been there. For many women, it becomes just the way it is and you learn to maybe work a little harder or do whatever you have to.”

Knowing and experiencing those challenges has helped her encourage and elevate women at RD Industries whenever possible.

“We have more women in leadership and supervisor roles in the plant than ever before in our history; we currently have a whole team of women salespeople and have had women in leadership directors’ roles inside the sales department,” she says. “We employ several women engineers, a woman controller, and women in department supervisory roles in the plant, not to mention the many women from all cultures who come to work every day making our products. They are all amazing! It’s a great opportunity at RD Industries for a female wanting to get into this industry.

“I would love to help other women get to where they want to go. If they work here and express a desire to be in leadership, I’m going to create a customized training program to help them get to where they want to go.”

All this is a testament to a company that prides itself on innovation, change, sustainability, and encouraging employees to be the best they can be. And Laible fully appreciates the important role she plays. “I am in complete servitude to our team,” she says.

“Sometimes, as a woman, it’s hard to get where you want to go because of different people’s belief systems. You have to keep focused on your goal, keep putting yourself out there and keep delivering quality work,” she says.

“I always want to make sure I have integrity in what I say and do. All the women here are watching me. When I walk through the offices or plant, they’re watching me. Maybe they would like to achieve something different in their life or career, so I hope I can be an inspiring female leader.”

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