Dorner employees work overtime to fill order surge

Dorner Mfg. Corp. chief operating officer Rich Ryan expects 2011 to be the best-performing year in the history of the company, which manufactures conveyor systems.

The Hartland firm’s 145 employees have been working a lot of overtime on Saturdays as they fulfill a sudden influx of orders.

The company is flourishing with pent-up demand from customers who resisted replacing conveyors during the Great Recession. Other companies are implementing automation in their production processes to cut costs, Ryan said.

“Companies are reluctant to hire more people if they can automate,” he said. “In lots of places our conveyors are the solution that allows them to increase their capacity without hiring back a lot more people.”

In addition, Dorner has expanded into international markets during the last five years and has experienced growing demand from emerging economies. Two new salespeople were recently hired in India.

“Our business in Mexico has grown 100 percent for the last two years,” Ryan said. “Right now our goal is to be the leading unit handling conveyor in the Americas and we are aggressively looking to hire folks in Canada and Mexico and also develop South America.”

Most of the staff completed quarterly voluntary week-long layoffs during the recession, except for the research and development department, Ryan said. Research and development efforts continued at full pace, which allowed Dorner to differentiate itself with the release of several key products during the recession.

“People were doing voluntary layoffs so we didn’t have to let go of a lot of the talent we had in the organization, so that ramping back up would be difficult,” Ryan said.

Dorner, which was founded in 1965, makes about 8,000 pre-engineered products that comprise 80 percent of its business. The other 20 percent is custom-designed and takes a little longer to engineer and build.

“One of the things we’re very good at is making a wide range of products on a made-to-order basis,” Ryan said.

The company played to that strength and also was able to continue building and shipping pre-engineered products within 48 to 72 hours.

Learning from the fluctuating orders it saw during the recession and because of lingering market uncertainty, Dorner management has implemented an on-call workforce. Part-time workers are pre-trained in the manufacturing process and are alerted about two weeks ahead of time if they are needed to complete upcoming orders. The system has proven more effective than hiring new temporary employees each time the company gets a large number of orders and it also means employees don’t have to go through a lot of layoffs and rehires, Ryan said.

“It lets us flex our workforce but keep a skilled workforce,” he said.

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