On March 22, dozens of Cayuga CC students, professors, and community members boarded an awaiting limo-bus and began a day-long manufacturing industry tour. The “Road Show” was the last, in a series of three, coordinated by Sheila Myers, Assistant Professor of Experiential Learning. Embracing the 80-degree day, slightly dryer and much warmer than the temperatures on our February Hospitality and Tourism trip, I was looking forward to the day and felt fortunate that I was able to attend all three.
Our first stop was at the newest Welch Allyn plant in Skaneateles. In 2008, this building was designated Corporate Headquarters. At the entrance, we were greeted by Kathy Garofalo, Customer Engagement Manager. Kathy, an experienced adult nurse practioner, began our guided tour in the Customer Experience Center, which is a large area containing photos, flatscreen monitors, and the company products as they were, and are today. She provided an in-depth look at the history and development of the Welch Allyn products.
We were given a complete history of the company, which was created 98 years ago by William Noah Allyn, a high school dropout, and his partner, Dr. Francis Welch. After having little success in gaining anyone’s interest in commercializing their ideas, they finally developed the first hand-held ophthalmoscope. Unfortunately, Dr. Welch passed away six months after its success. Borrowing money from family members and marketing his ophthalmoscope outside of men’s bathrooms at medical events, William Allyn would waver back and forth with success until World War II. My first full-time job was at Welch Allyn, back in 1978, and the corporate headquarter building was under construction at the time. Today, Welch Allyn employs more than 2,300 people, worldwide.
Gowned and goggled for the next part of our visit, Kathy gave us a guided tour through the manufacturing part of the facility. Welch Allyn has designed its later line of products with the elimination of contamination in mind. They manufacture disposable blood pressure cuffs and have designed many other products to work by sensor, eliminating the risk of spreading bacteria through touch. They have also worked very hard with their team of engineers to design equipment that will become outdated by medical breakthrough long before it ever breaks or malfunctions. I had not been at a WA building since I left to take a civil service position at Weedsport School in1980, and I could not believe the changes that have taken place over the past 32 years. For one thing, there was limited automation back then. Robotics did not even exist! Today, we walked through one entire room that appeared to have at least 30 large robotic machines operating on their own.
When asked who they are looking for when they hire, Kathy replied that it is engineers. Even their sales people must have at least a four-year degree, a couple of years of solid sales experience, and then undergo additional training at the plant. It is expected that sales people will have full knowledge of how the products work, as well as how much they sell for.
Our next stop on our tour today was Tessy Plastics, in Elbridge. Our guide there was actually the President/Owner Roland Beck. Roland welcomed us at the door and shook each of our hands, allowing us the opportunity to introduce ourselves, as well (and there were 35 of us!). He then brought our group into his conference room and explained the plant was started by his father in 1973 when Roland was 11 years old. Within the past 10 years, Tessy Plastics has quadrupled its sales, while doubling its employees. When the question was asked why the employee size didn’t also quadruple, Roland explained that it was primarily due to the use of robotic machinery.
One-half of the products manufactured at Tessy Plastics are medical tips (300 million per year) and are earmarked for Welch Allyn. The rest of the production at the facility, which specializes in customer injection mold prototypes, creates finished molded plastic products for companies like Proctor and Gamble and Johnson & Johnson; and it all starts with a truckload of pellets. Roland said that they use 400 different types of the raw material pellets. They melt them down, squirt them into the various molds, and then create the parts. With regard to their ISO sanction, which was high, Roland said that the industry is moving away from this standard. With no further questions being asked, he handed us our safety goggles and took us out into the manufacturing area.
We were taken to the very back of the room where we watched a robotic machine deliver a finished medical speculum case every 16 seconds. It was amazing to see the production in action. Next, we were taken to several Cordax measuring machines (CMMs). Roland explained that this final part of the assembly process takes place for almost every part produced. The machines analyzed the products with several probes, in every direction, both weighing and measuring. Again, they were automated robotic machines.
At the conclusion of our tour, we returned to the conference room where we had the opportunity to ask more questions. In particular, who they hire, and again, we were told a lot of engineers – mechanical and IT. They also run an apprentice program for new employees, which requires them to spend time working in each department in the entire plant. At the very end, we were given Tessy Plastic “Shaping Innovation Around the World” CDs, and again, Roland shook each of our hands as we exited, thanking us for coming.
After a re-energizing stop at the Sunset Restaurant for a little lunch and conversation, we headed to our third and final stop of the day, 4M Precision, which is located in Auburn. 4M Precision makes parts for trains, subways, military/defense, automobiles, the medical industry, aviation, telecommunication, retail furniture, plumbing, electronics, and more. They work with steel, nickel, brass, copper, and more. We were met at the door by two of the owners, Dan and Margaret Morin.
Margaret escorted us into the conference room where she pointed out the dozens of blueprints laid out on the table. Each one of them represented a pending “job” that they had to price-out and return with a job quote. Dan joined us in the conference room and the first thing he told us was that he had been working there since he was 12. He then rather casually informed us they had a 24-hour rush job to complete and a machine just went down. That meant that they were going to have to work around the clock to get the job out on time.
After setting the tone, Dan took us through the manufacturing part of the plant, and only had one request, “no photo taking, please.” In defending that, he added that if there was anything we saw that we wanted more information about or photos of, leave the request with him and he would provide it. Fair enough – and not too far into our tour – we learned the rationale behind his request for no photo taking. It was a HUGE precision-cutting water jet machine, which is used to cut stainless steel up to as much as 14 inches. No other manufacturer in the field has obtained this feat.
Dan took us through the design (IT) area, cutting, fabrication, laser and robotic welding, sandblasting, tool making, new and old, (manually operated), and then to a waiting area where he could address our questions. The big question on everybody’s mind today was “who do you hire?” Dan informed us that he typically hires laser operators and welders. This manufacturing plant seemed to have a lot more “hands-on” type of machinery to operate and that could most likely be attributed to the precision that is required to complete the final product.
I would summarize today by saying all three manufacturing companies have highly engineered and very sophisticated machinery and equipment. The operators have my deepest respect. Their jobs aren’t clean and thanks to automation, they’re also repetitious and monotonous. If they spend 30-plus years working, they can probably look forward to losing their hearing. If standing on their feet for 8- to 12-hour days while performing laborious machine work doesn’t happen to kill them, maybe the smells will.