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Ames Rubber shows merits of diversifying

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``Adapt or die'' has been the unofficial motto for the rubber industry since Day 1. Ames Rubber Corp. is showing how it is possible for a moderately sized rubber product company to change and survive.

A short 11 years ago Ames was the toast of the rubber industry when it won the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge Award. It was a model for its peers and a proud employer of 425 staff members.

Ames remains a model for its peers today. It also has 200 fewer employees than in 1993, has embraced lean manufacturing and is serving markets that were untapped by Ames back then. The result: The company expects to show 50- to 100-percent growth in the next five years, according to Charles A. Roberts, its new president

Ames' forte in the past was rubber parts for business machines and automotive. It remains in those areas. However, while customers have pursued cheaper vendors, Ames didn't just sit back and watch the business disappear. The firm committed to lean manufacturing and diversified into bio-pharmaceutical, fuel cell, aerospace, water treatment and military goods.

One subsidiary alone-Amesil Inc., which makes silicone tubing, hose, molded components and assemblies-has been growing 25 percent annually for the past four or five years. When Ames won the Baldridge Award, the division didn't even exist.

Ames also has been using its technology for fuel cell prototype and aerospace applications and rubber components for gas masks.

In a time when companies declare their devotion to their ``core'' businesses and are quick to jettison anything that doesn't fit that definition, the Ames model of diversification is different and interesting. And successful.