Injection Molder Dominates Industrial Battery Case Space
Richardson Molding, LLC is a very old company with a very modern outlook. The Indiana-based firm specializes in custom plastic injection molding and dominates the industrial battery jar and cover market. The company’s longevity can be attributed to old-fashioned principles of treating workers well combined with a keen appreciation for new technology and industry trends.
Richardson Molding’s headquarters are in Columbus, Indiana, and it has injection molding operations there and in Philadelphia, Mississippi. There is also a facility in Indianapolis, Indiana where research and development and engineering is centered.
Battery cases are one of the main products the company produces. At present, Richardson has over eighty percent of market share in the North American industrial lead-acid battery jar and cover sector. While industrial battery cases has been its “focus as an organization for many years,” the company is “branching out… We’re very proud to serve automotive, industrial and commercial clients with various products,” says President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Dyer.
In total, Richardson Molding has “over 90 injection molding machines that range from 30 up to 1100 tons of injection pressure.” The firm’s background is as impressive as its equipment.
According to a company history, Richardson can trace its origins to 1858 and the launch of a plant in Des Plaines, Illinois that made paper and lumber products. Skip forward a few decades, and the dawn of a new transportation medium sparked massive opportunities for the firm.
“When the first automobiles started hitting the market, the very first battery boxes were made out of wood, and they were made by the Richardson company,” states Dyer.
Eventually, the material used to make battery cases switched from wood to vulcanized rubber. At some point, Richardson’s operations moved to Indiana as the industry continued to change.
“As thermal plastics came onto scene in mid-to-late fifties and early sixties, the Richardson company was involved every step of the way the commercialization of that technology. We launched some of the first thermal plastic injection molding cases offered to the market,” says Dyer.
Today, the company does more than just industrial battery cases. Richardson also provides products for the more consumer-oriented starting, lighting and ignition (SLI) market. The SLI segment covers “batteries most people would recognize. This is the battery under the hood of your car,” explains Dyer.
The advent of electric and hybrid vehicles might result in new business prospects as these vehicles are heavily reliant on batteries, which in turn require cases. Dyer also senses opportunity in the field of ‘reshoring,’ that is, North American manufacturers bringing outsourced operations back home from offshore locales.
“We have a new North American customer that has for the better part of the last two decades outsourced all of its injection molding to Asia. With the rise of the middle class in China, Chinese manufacturing capacity [has become more focused] on servicing their own markets. So things aren’t always as cheap as they always appear to be in Asia,” says Dyer.
Manufacturers are also realizing that freight logistic costs and being an ocean away from their operations are not necessarily beneficial to their bottom line. If all goes to plan, Richardson will serve its newly reshored client at the company’s Philadelphia, Mississippi plant. Dyer hopes more manufacturers consider the reshoring option.
“We are in discussions with two other organizations that have had similar awakenings. They’re in the evaluation phase of those talks, and we’re helping them with that analysis and working to be as cost-competitive as we can be,” he states.
In addition to reshoring, Richardson is thinking about introducing some major technological innovations to its product line. “We are looking at incorporating technology into our battery containers and covers. We are prototyping with a technology partner a device about the size of a silver dollar that can be molded into our cover that can collect data about voltage of the battery, temperature the battery has been at over time, et cetera. This information could be transmitted via the Internet to the Cloud. A technician could access the data remotely, to make a decision about the condition of the battery to see if it needs to be serviced. We’re taking a dumb device and making it very, very smart,” says Dyer.
Asked if there is a secret to Richardson’s longevity, Dyer says, “If you drill down to the core, it’s a commitment to employees. Taking care of people. Our average length of tenure in this organization is over twelve years. People don’t put their entire lives and careers in one location if they’re not treated well. The second thing is value creation. When you’re driving innovation and trying to stay ahead of the technology curve and creating real value in the marketplace, that’s a recipe for longevity.”
The dedication of Richardson’s employees translates to a wealth of experience, which makes the company stand out from its competition. “We have an experienced workforce. We have some of the best toolmakers and tool technicians in the business. We have some of the best process engineers in the business. We have, without a doubt, some of the best tool designers in the business,” notes Dyer.
Richardson currently has a total of 224 employees and is always looking to grow. “In general, what we look for is energy and aptitude, because unless there’s a very specified trade, we can train people to do most of the things that we need them to do. We’re looking for an employee that wants to be part of something bigger than themselves, that understands this is the path of prosperity. One of our core values as an organization is to create family-sustaining jobs and be good stewards of the community in which we operate. So, energy is one part, plus aptitude and the ability and willingness to learn and continue to learn. We’re all about continuous learning because if we’re not getting better every day, we’re going to lose ground,” says Dyer.
Richardson’s corporate culture is centered on “transparency and trust. Communicating – helping people understand the challenges we’re facing. [Each day we publish] our key metrics, so everyone knows where we are. There’s also a daily publishing of our safety record. We have periodic all-employee meetings where we bring everyone together to talk about key metrics –where we are, where we’re going. The good, the bad, the ugly,” he continues.
Safety is maintained through rigorous training and procedures and monitored by use of a traffic signal, located where employees check in. “All our new hires go through orientation. New hires wear a different color vest, so everyone understands they are here. We work to teach and train them. We have pre-shift meetings where we talk about key things, and, certainly, one of those things is always safety and what’s going on for the day,” says Dyer.
“We have a full-sized stoplight when you come into our facility to clock in. If it’s green, everything is good for the day in safety. Yellow means we had a near miss. It might not have resulted in an accident or reportable injury. Red means we had a recordable accident. [We tell workers] this is what it is, what happened, how we’re going to correct things,” says Dyer. There is also a spotlight for quality and quality metrics to gauge standards.
Richardson wants suppliers that possess the same characteristics that “we look for in an employee – transparency and trust. Transparency comes from the fact we understand what’s going on in their business. We understand everyone has to make a profit [but want] transparency with respect to cost factors, production issues – are you having production issues so we can plan? We also trust you’re driving continuous improvement and delivering the product we specified, on-time and at the price we agreed to,” states Dyer.
Richardson Molding belongs to several trade organizations, as a way to give back to the industry, network and keep on top of new technology. “Richardson has been a leader and active for many, many years with the BCI – Battery Council International. We’re very proud to be part of that organization… We’re also very active in MAPP – Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors… [Our memberships helps us] find out the next level of innovation and technology coming down the pike and [gives us] exposure to potential customers,” says Dyer.
Having said that, much of the company’s success “boils down to the track record in your space. People find out your reputation,” he adds.
Dyer sees the company’s biggest challenge as “the attraction, retention and training of the next generation of our skilled workforce. Our maintenance technicians and our tool room technicians – guys who understand hydraulics and electricity and pneumatics. These [workers] are getting more scare… We’ve got to find a way to train the next generation of our skilled workforce.”
Over the next five years, Dyer envisions “continued organic growth, by offering new products and services and expanding our relationships. We also see an expanded [market] geography, through moves to support current customers and acquisitions.”