INVESTING IN CERAMICS: A Rare Opportunity
PIDC originally distributed rare earth lanthanide series materials to the North American market. In 1999, the company purchased a manufacturing facility in the Shandong Province of China. “We decided to branch into manufacturing to further control product quality and consistency,” says Jeff Lachapelle, business manager. “It was a natural progression.” As the company’s product line grew to include a larger number of materials, so too did its geographic reach, with sales expanding to Europe and Asia.
The company credits its commitment to quality and customer service with helping it achieve such growth, and it was this commitment that last year led PIDC to build a new 30,000-square-foot facility to consolidate its North American office and warehousing functions into one location, while also adding pilot plant and R&D capabilities. “The new facility is the heart of all of our operations,” says Kimberly Lawrence, sales engineer. “It’s a single presence that our customers can rely on.”
Bringing it TogetherThroughout the ’90s, PIDC’s Michigan operations included two satellite warehouses and a separate headquarters facility. While the facilities were all effective, the company realized that many improvements in efficiency and processes could be made through consolidation. “PIDC’s quality mission is to continually create value for our customers, our investors and our employees,” explains Lachapelle. “We wanted to have streamlined operations to increase employee efficiencies and to provide more value-added services for our customers, which, in turn, would create more value for our investors.” The company anticipates that the new facility will enable it to improve customer service through shorter lead times, faster turnaround and increased flexibility.
Careful planning helped ensure that the project went smoothly. “We had been thinking about investing in a new building for years, and we have been planning it for quite a while, so we knew what we wanted to achieve going in,” says Lawrence. The company also enlisted the assistance of consultants and a local developer to facilitate planning and environmental compliance.
Added ServicesIn addition to providing for a more efficient operation, the new facility also houses a pilot plant and a research and development laboratory. “The pilot plant is modeled after our current rare earth technology, and it’s used to develop new, more advanced materials based on our customers’ anticipated needs,” explains Lachapelle. While the manufacturing and processing of all of the company’s materials are still handled at the Shandong facility, the pilot plant enables PIDC to develop new products in the U.S. and then share that technology with its facility in China. Equipment in the pilot plant includes chemical reactors, furnaces and filters, as well as units for various material characterization techniques. This new equipment enables PIDC to offer customers many new value-added products and services, such as chemical solutions processing.
PIDC’s new research and development lab has the capability to conduct a wide variety of physical and chemical tests on the company’s current and future materials. “The lab enables us to measure down to parts per billion levels on all our products,” says Lachapelle. “It enhances our quality control capabilities and assists in new materials development, allowing us to measure the materials’ properties so we know how they should perform in their intended applications.”
Quality CertificationIn July of 2002, PIDC achieved a quality milestone by earning its ISO 9001:2000 certification. “As a company, we already had a lot of quality measures in place,” says Onas Bolton, applications engineer. “To achieve our certification, we standardized our existing forms and policies, making sure we had all of the boxes checked against the ISO standard.” The company’s facility in China achieved ISO 9001:2000 certification in May 2001.
Attaining ISO certification has offered the company and its customers many benefits, including simplified communication. “Customers see the benefit in familiarity whenever there’s a crossover in quality systems,” explains Bolton. “We can talk on more familiar terms, which makes it easier to discuss details and to follow procedures.” Certification also provides the company with the opportunity to make continued improvements in both quality and customer service. “As a company, we’re always trying to improve ourselves,” adds Lachapelle. “Developing the quality system and targeting certification the way we did really enabled us to build a very strong system on which we can continually improve our internal operations, as well as the service, the quality and the products we supply our customers.”