An Established Business Sees – and Seizes – the Future

Greenwood Fabricating & Plating

Greenwood Fabricating & Plating is a leader in its field of metal manufacturing – not only in Greenwood, South Carolina, but also nationally and globally. Its strategy for the future, as we see, rests on two main columns – better communication with clients, and diffusing knowledge and effectiveness throughout the entire company.

First and foremost a highly versatile manufacturer and electroplater, Greenwood Fabricating & Plating offers both barrel and rack plating in manual and automatic. This versatility allows the company to manage small and large jobs with equal effectiveness, with automated lines capable of plating up to twelve-foot busbar. Further, Greenwood has the ability to electroplate in a variety of materials from zinc, tin, nickel, silver and copper to metals such as copper, aluminum, brass and steel.

Other processes include chromate conversion, passivation and phosphating using both manganese and zinc. Finally, Greenwood offers bright dipping on copper, hydrogen relief and chemical milling, among other advanced processes. This versatility and mastery of processes comes with Greenwood’s long expertise in the industry.

In addition to the electroplating services, Greenwood is an efficient and experienced metalworking firm. Using advanced CNC hydraulic press brakes for accurate bending, Greenwood is able to manufacture made-to-order parts with unprecedented speed and precision. Companion CMC punching equipment can accommodate metal up to 0.25 inches thick, and a 250-ton Stamtec press is capable of forming even the most complex of parts.

Military compliant

Greenwood has also achieved certification by the global body NSF-ISR, allowing the company to manufacture parts compliant with international and military regulations.

Founded in 1986, Greenwood was intended to service South Carolina’s nascent manufacturing sector, which sprouted in the wake of the regional textile industry’s collapse, with manufacturers such as Square D and Westinghouse moving into the area. Greenwood’s founding entrepreneurs, one of whom was a third-generation electroplater, realized this budding sector would need support.

“At the time that those industries were setting up in the Southeast, they quickly realized they did not have the local support base that they enjoyed in the larger northeast industrial cities like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and the like,” explains President Tim Fender, a former electroplater and 28-year company veteran.

Greenwood simply spotted the opportunity and took advantage of a trend that is still prevalent in many companies today; many of its client original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) were vertically integrated for in-house fabrication. As they re-tooled for this purpose, they outsourced many support processes such as electroplating, and Greenwood expanded to meet this growing need.

Perfectly placed
Although Greenwood’s original vision entailed 25 to 30 employees, the fledgling company grew more quickly than anticipated, and rapidly formed successful partnerships with many OEMs. Greenwood’s location played a part in bolstering its client base and service area. Centrally situated in northwestern South Carolina, the town is close to Savannah, Georgia, as well as the South Carolina towns of Spartanburg, Anderson and state capital Columbia.

Fender describes the serendipitous setting as a stroke of good luck: “In a 65-mile radius, there were five electrical OEMs present, so I think that was more good fortune than great planning, but you take it when you can get it,” he says.

With over 120 employees, Greenwood has a highly skilled staff working in a highly demanding industry. Many similar companies, as Fender notes, use a business model in which “a lot of the vital, process-specific knowledge is housed in a few people. We have put a lot of time and energy into training and hiring people from the outside and teaching them our business, because it’s relatively specialized, so we’re not entirely dependent on a handful of people.

Owning the expertise
“There’s not exactly a school I can send them to,” Fender comments wryly. “It’s very specific knowledge.” Many of Greenwood’s competitors have consolidated or gone out of business over the years, he says, due to this expertise not being passed to a new generation of workers.

Today, Greenwood operates two facilities and employs over 120 skilled workers. The company will be breaking ground soon on a new 40,000 square-foot facility in the nearby town of Hodges. A $17.1 million investment, the facility will create 31 new jobs in the region. When completed in early 2020, it will provide the company not only with room to grow but also the chance to experiment with new layouts and manufacturing techniques. “We were in a small building and were a little landlocked,” Fender says, “so we saw the opportunity to build a new facility.”

Building for the future
While Greenwood’s leadership is excited about this new expansion, it hasn’t been without its challenges. “While we are really great manufacturers,” Fender remarks, “we have a lot to learn about how long it takes from when you say you want to build to when you actually start building.” Now, with building permits being finalized, Greenwood’s expansion is now just around the corner.

Further, the building itself will be on a 23-acre plot, allowing for a building expansion from 40,000 to 140,000 square feet. In the future, the company may partner with client OEMs in house, or expand its own production and service capacity. “It’s a much bigger vision than just the 40,000 square feet,” Fender comments. While previously Greenwood was blocked by a lack of space and resources, the new facility provides untold opportunities for expansion and experimentation. “We’ll be able to take advantage of that going forward,” he says.

In addition to this, Greenwood is also expanding its value-added services. “Although we’re in the manufacturing sector, the core of our business really is service,” Fender explains. As a result, Greenwood has invested significant time and capital into customer service and communication. The expansion began in 2011 with the implementation of a new ERP system, switching from an outdated AS/400 system to the newer SAP-like one.

Despite the added challenges, with a larger tech support staff, Fender sees it as a necessary step in the company’s growth and, specifically, interaction with its customers. “This is the route our customers were going,” he says, “and we wanted to be able to communicate with them, and do the B2B transactions the same as they would internally. That was a big leap forward for us, because it forces you to do something that you didn’t have to do on an older, legacy system.”

Implementing automation
Some processes can even be automated. The company is currently looking to automate certain entry-level positions in material handling and assorted lower-end process operations. While Greenwood has implemented this “where it’s practical,” Fender believes the greatest growth in automation will be in customer communications. Automation, in his view, can help Greenwood have better communication with its customers. “Where we have the opportunity to automate that communication, we’ll try to take advantage of it.”

Even with the different processes and add-ons of the new system, the result has been highly positive. It has enhanced both communication with and services to customers, as a result of faster and easier interaction. Fender says: “Our major customers can log in through a portal to see their specific information,” like order/shipping information such as shipping status, “and all those things that used to be separate phone calls, not just for us, but for our customers, who don’t have any more extra time than we do.”

In addition to this enhanced customer interaction, the new system enables Greenwood to communicate better with multiple distribution centers, using what Fender calls “similar-order, multiple-destination shipping.” The result is that customers can focus on running their businesses, rather than on maintaining inventories and waiting for orders.

As many of Greenwood’s customers work on an engineered-to-order (ETO) business model, they typically do not maintain inventory. As a result, Fender says, “We have to be able to respond quickly, and it has to be right when we respond, and that too has been a big advantage for us.”

Links to the community
As a local flagship company in its industry, Greenwood is a key player in the Greenwood Partnership Alliance, a nonpartisan organization liaising between businesses and the local government on permit negotiation and business enticement. “Because what we offer is really more of a service than a product, when they are recruiting other business that may need our services, that’s an important link to have,” Fender says. “Greenwood shares a very diverse manufacturing base, and we work with the Partnership Alliance to promote that.”

Founded in 1986, the Alliance significantly helped the town sidestep the economic downturn, at that time, that followed the implosion of the southern textile industry, and has also bolstered Greenwood’s diversified business sector. Today, with its members working in concert, the Alliance helps make Greenwood a fertile center of business growth.

With its new facility underway and new methods of communication being further refined, Greenwood is poised to provide better products for more customers more quickly than ever before.

Following the vision that Fender describes, as the company expands into its new facility, it will continue to engage with large and small customers around the world to ensure quality products and services for all, while ensuring that its valuable body of knowledge is not confined to a small in-group but suffuses the entire company. This is the philosophy through which Greenwood sees – and seizes – the future.

Working Smarter

A key goal of any successful manufacturing operation is a continual drive toward improving the efficiency of the manufacturing process. Traditionally, this has been accomplished through the adoption of lean production principles, waste reduction using the Six Sigma approach, and similar productivity solutions. These systems have been widely incorporated throughout the manufacturing industry and have significantly improved product quality, production speeds, and perhaps most importantly, the safety of those working in manufacturing plants.

Past Issues

October 14, 2019, 6:19 AM EDT