So what's networking and observing how one manufacturer does the job worth to you? For people from two dozen or so companies in the rubber industry, members of the Association for Rubber Products Manufacturers and guests, plenty.
On Feb. 24 the newly created group—once the non-tire members of the now all-tire Rubber Manufacturers Association—held its first activity in line with one of its stated goals, executive development.
The event was a plant tour at Custom Rubber Corp. in Cleveland. Naw, it was more than a plant tour, way more. Ask anyone who attended.
Custom Rubber is typical of manufacturers in the rubber business, and, paradoxically, anything but typical. It's a single-plant company, does a lot of short runs, is privately held and has been operating more than 50 years. There are interesting things going on at the operation, but you won't read about them here because, similar to many of its peers, Custom Rubber's owners like to keep under the radar.
Yet Custom Rubber has some really interesting, practical and—from what some executives visiting the site told me—unique approaches to producing rubber goods and operating a plant.
For example Ã no, I'm not going to tell you. You should have been there. It was open to non-ARPM members—a one-shot deal, the visitors politely were informed at the end of the inaugural event.
If you'd been there, you would have heard some very sharp managers telling their cool secrets to success. You'd have seen how one company lays out its plant floor, adds or subtracts equipment, handles labor, and why and how it does that.
And you'd have seen an obviously proud and happy crew at work on the plant floor—although management quipped they were paid actors, and the real people were locked away somewhere.
Perhaps best of all, you'd have joined in with the exchange by ARPM members after the presentations and tour, as they discussed what they'd seen, what impressed them, what didn't, and offered suggestions for improvement.
Several of the participants told me they came away with a number of ideas after attending the event. My mission, as a journalist, is different from theirs, but just sitting in on this and talking to people, I left with several pages of ideas in my notebook. Ideas I wouldn't have had if I hadn't been there.
The ARPM is organizing other activities—for example, a Health, Safety and Environmental Conference is scheduled for May 19, and it has assumed international responsibility for the U.S. interests of hose and belt makers. It already has cost-savings programs in place for members for legal resources and complying with OSHA standards for material safety data sheets. That's just the start.
Nothing worthwhile in business is free, and a company has to decide if the cost of joining the ARPM is worth the benefits. You can start by visiting its website, www.arpminc.org.
At least take a look. That is free.
Noga is the editor of Rubber & Plastics News.