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Robco Engineered Rubber Products withstands recession, now investing

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COLUMBIA CITY, Ind.—It's been a long road over the last 15-plus years for Robco Engineered Rubber Products Inc. in Indiana, a small molded rubber manufacturer co-owned by Mark and Gwen Roberts.

The firm survived the brutal recession that began in 2008, and continues to find new customers and ways to afford critical capital investments.

Today Robco Engineered Products is a $1.5 million manufacturer that molds rubber to metal to make vibration control mounts in more than 250 shapes and sizes. The parts are produced in a wide variety of colors for easy identification.

Eventually, these control mounts are used in everything from exercise equipment and outdoor power tools to furnaces, generators and even airplanes and motorcycles.

In 2013, Robco Engineered Products will make a significant investment in a closed-loop system for hydraulic units, said Mark Roberts, who also serves as president of the firm. The capital investment includes a chiller that must be kept at a certain temperature. Since it helps to conserve water, and thereby save costs for the company, it can be considered as an “environmentally friendly” or “green” investment.

A year ago, Robco Engineered Rubber Products made another capital investment through one of its largest clients that allowed it to evolve from a compression mold set to an injection molding process, Roberts said.

“Now we just lay one piece of rubber to inject down in the cavity,” he said. “That eliminates weighing and cutting and advances the (manufacturing) process. It improves efficiency and lowers the cost so we can sell it at a lower price. It's important for us to find ways to improve our manufacturing processes and efficiencies so we can stay competitive.”

Survival strategy

Staying competitive is exactly what the company has been able to do despite some difficult years, Roberts said. The manufacturer nearly has returned to the revenue figures of 2002-05.

Robco Engineered Rubber employs eight press and spray room operators and a shop supervisor. Since all its metals are coated with two different types of cement as part of the bonding process, there also are professionals that handle that role.

The Roberts' son Darin runs the quality control and shipping departments for the firm. He also is charged with finding new opportunities for business development, Mark Roberts said. The company secures revenue through the sales teams of its direct clients who often are comprised of major distributors.

Tech Products Corp. in Dayton and Strataflo Products Inc. of Fort Wayne, Ind., are two of Robco's largest customers, and many sales will come from those organizations.

“If I had one thing I could go back and do over again, I would look to build an inside and/or outside sales force earlier on,” Roberts said.

“It's still something we'll consider as we continue to grow because we know how important it is to find new business,” he said.

Much of the company's current sales have come from referrals and word-of-mouth, Roberts said. Robco is a third-generation family business that evolved out of other companies that Mark and Gwen Roberts started in 1996.

Diverse product line

Robco offers a wide range of applications, including motors, compressors, pumps, generators, control panels, outdoor power equipment, health and fitness equipment, snowmobiles, ATVs, and motorcycles. The company also manufactures standard and metric stud sizes and rubber compounds in neoprene, natural and nitrile.

Robco's main facility in Columbia City, Ind., measures about 6,000 square feet. Machinery used at the site includes two 150-ton Erie presses and four 300-ton Erie presses.

Each press can run two molds simultaneously. Mold sizes range from 16 x 16 inches to 30 x 30 inches, and cavity sizes range from 36 to 100. The higher the cavity size, the smaller a part that can be made.

Two of the most notable end users of Robco's products are Cessna airplanes, which are serviced directly from Tech Products, and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, serviced by Longwood Elastomers. Having such highly visible end clients serves Robco well as it searches for other business.

“If I can reach 2-3 percent growth per year I am pretty happy,” Roberts said. “A lot of our competitors didn't make it through the last few years.”