BURR RIDGE, Ill.—U.S.A. Drives Inc. has a reputation of solving problems and producing belts that have a longer life cycle than most of the company's counterparts.
That has turned out to be a good and not-so-good thing for the polyurethane belt manufacturer.
It's great for the customer, said James Schmidt, vice president of manufacturing for the Burr Ridge-based company. “We try to make sure our belts fix whatever problems customers have,” he said. “We can solve their problems with superior belts.”
That's a good thing.
But because U.S.A. Drives' belts are a superior product and out-perform other belts, they last much longer, he said.
Which means they aren't replaced nearly as often as lower quality belts, creating gaps in the company's production schedule as it awaits new orders.
Some might call that a vicious circle, at least for the manufacturer.
On one hand, customers are happy and come back when it's necessary—just not nearly as often as in the past. On the other hand, U.S.A. Drives is pounding the pavement more often trying to drum up new business.
The result is business is constantly up and down, according to Schmidt. “We're not going under, and we can cover our costs. But we would like to build more business.”
Some customers also are only ordering one or two belts at a time, compared to five or six in the past.
In addition, a good number of customers now wait until they use their last belts before calling to place a new order, “and they want those orders filled immediately,” he said.
Obviously, that's not very realistic. “We try to anticipate, but that doesn't always work. For me to make something, and then put it on the shelf costs me money. And the question always is, do you start molding something because you think an order will come?”
Overall, lead time for some customers has become from one to 10 days, Schmidt said, whereas in the past the same companies gave U.S.A. Drives four weeks to produce and deliver the order.
Buyers also want cheaper products, he said, but they want the belts to last just as long as they did in the past.
To offset slower periods, the company will tackle most urethane molding projects, although it does not use MOCA in its urethane offerings.
“We also do some castable silicones, mostly high temperature or food grade products,” Schmidt said.
The firm isn't venturing too far out into new markets, he said, because it is a small company. “We're trying to do more food grade belts.”
Presently, its biggest markets are food, medical and robotics, but it is open to other sectors where it can mold products.
“We're pretty much open to anything,” Schmidt said.
Other lightweight belt makers have seen a loss of business over the last year, an official with a distribution company said.
But it's not necessarily superior products that helped cause a loss in business for those firms.
“Business has been slow,” the official said. “It's as simple as that.”