KENT, Ohio—Change is rarely an easy process. It takes time and more often than not it's difficult to tell just when a company will see results from its continuous improvements.
But the second Kent Elastomer Products Inc. got a taste of that success in 2006, it never looked back. Its dedication to continuous improvement earned awards for sustainability at each of its locations: Kent; Mogadore, Ohio; and Winesburg, Ohio.
Its facilities in Kent and Winesburg received Encouraging Environmental Excellence Silver Awards from the Ohio EPA in 2014. Kent reduced refuse pickups by 63 percent and Winesburg by 90 percent, the firm said.
Mogadore was honored as a Summit of Sustainability award winner in 2013, given in conjunction with the City of Akron, Summit County, Keep Akron Beautiful, the Greater Akron Chamber and ReWorks. The firm said winners showcase the best examples of sustainability through commercial energy efficiency, waste reduction and employee engagement. Kent Elastomer won in the mid-size division, for companies with 25 to 249 employees.
“The awards are a result of everything we've really worked hard at in the past eight years as far as continuous improvement, lean, leadership training and communication,” President Bob Oborn said.
“We've really transformed our culture. It's a culture now to where the employees are making the change. They come up with a problem, and we get a group together, usually all employees. They're usually finding things that we instituted 20 years ago that didn't make sense then and certainly don't make sense now.”
Since 2006, Kent Elastomer has held 463 lean events in various stages of lean-type settings, including drive-bys, micro-kaizens or full-blown week-long kaizen events. Employees run each event, but that wasn't always the case. It took some time for management to give up the reins.
“It finally got to the point where we realized we didn't need (management supervision),” said Don Leeper, senior vice president of finance and administration. “The employees come up with the ideas, so we empowered them to come up with the solutions. One of the greatest things I get out of the events is how psyched they are.”
Kent Elastomer produces three main product lines: natural latex tubing, dip molding and extrusion with about a 50/50 split between latex and thermoplastic elastomers.
The Kent facility handles all the latex, both tubing and dip molding. Mogadore handles all the extrusion and works with TPEs. Its Winesburg facility does no manufacturing; it serves as a processing facility used to remove the mold from the tubing and inspect product.
Kent Elastomers' strongest industry is medical, followed by dental—it makes the rubber bands for braces worldwide. Oborn said the firm has been growing in food and beverage over the last five to 10 years.