By Natalie Craig on Jan 2, 2019
Keep an Eye on Schneider
Schneider Packaging Equipment Co. Inc., a Brewerton, N.Y.-based end of line equipment manufacturer doubled its revenue over the past two years, and still achieves a 96 percent on time delivery rate. According to Schneider’s president Bob Brotzki, this type of exponential growth is very rarely seen and delivered upon.
The 48-year-old family-owned manufacturer—that started out as a case packing company and evolved to also offer palletizers, system integration and other ancillary equipment—recently underwent a corporate restructuring. The business was founded in 1970 by Dick Schneider and eventually passed down to his son Rick Schneider. In June of 2018, the Schneider family transitioned ownership of the organization to the executive management team including Brotzki, as well as executive vice president Greg Masingill and senior vice president Mike Smith. Rick Schneider remains involved as a consultant to the engineering department.
The OEM has big plans to ramp up future sales as a result of new people, processes and technology that are now in place. To that end, while the new corporate structure was only recently announced, the succession and business plan created between Rick and the new ownership team had been well underway, resulting in a revenue growth of more than 90 percent.
Brotzki had only been at Schneider for two years before Masingill and Smith joined the company a year ago. Brotzki says the new ownership team brings a fresh perspective on how the company can evolve. Given the company’s record growth for the 2016 to 2018 period, the company predicts a 10 percent growth in 2019, which is a modest projection, but it’s all about keeping pace, meeting demand and implementing scalable processes.
“Not only are we building systems and processes for today, but everything we’re doing now is scalable, with the future in mind,” Brotzki says. And how does a company adapt to explosive growth in the midst of corporate restructuring? It leans on its employees. “We have some really great people here that are buying into the changes and the thought process of how we’re tackling this. We could not be successful without them.”
People-centric culture propels Schneider
Schneider uses a material requirements planning (MRP) system and vendor management inventory to streamline its supply chain, while automating certain systems within its facility, but it isn’t all that complex, according to Brotzki. What makes Schneider shine is its people.
Unlike other OEMs grappling with the shrinking talent pool, Brotzki says Schneider may have created a “secret sauce” when it comes to attaining and retaining its workforce, which has made the builder immune to workforce shortages.
“At one point, due to our growth, we were forced to go out and recruit people that didn’t have industry experience, and we taught them everything they needed to know,” Brotzki recalls. “At the time, it may have seemed like uncharted territory, but looking back, it worked out in our favor.”
Schneider prioritizes a candidate’s fit and character traits before they look at industry knowledge because it’s more important to have a high-quality person they can train who fits in with the Schneider culture than a skilled professional who doesn’t fit in, Brotzki says. While this approach has worked for Schneider, Brotzki knew the company couldn’t afford spending years getting new employees up to speed. So, the ownership team enabled department heads to create effective training programs, specifically tailored to each aspect of the company’s business.
“The senior members of our staff have been very welcoming to new employees, and we put together comprehensive training programs to get new hires acquainted very quickly so that they can truly make a difference at our company,” Brotzki says. “It used to take a year to get these folks up to speed, but now, they are ready to go in weeks or months.”
One testament to the OEM’s new training strategy is Tim Graham, a controls engineer who has been with the company for two years and already leads multi-million dollar projects. Graham was also recently recognized by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, as he was named one out of 10 Emerging Leaders On the Rise award recipients. The new award highlights young individuals who are making their mark in the packaging and processing industry.
“When I learned that Tim won the award, I called his parents,” Brotzki says. “His mom said she used to get calls when he was in school, and that his teachers weren’t as appreciative of his talents as I was. I had to laugh because, yeah, I bet he was a handful, but that’s the kind of person that we look for. And guys like Tim, there are a lot of them here. We all have a job to do, and it’s hard work, but we want to have some fun along the way too. We look for people who fit that mold.”
Perhaps Brotzki’s patience and willingness to mold employees—to not only fit into the industry, but become forward-thinkers—comes from his prior experience as a player in the National Football League (NFL) and more recently as the assistant athletic director of football player development at Syracuse University. He knows how to manage and groom talent, and that may be the key ingredient to Schneider’s secret sauce.
“We would not be afraid to hire you because you don’t know our industry,” Brotzki says. “We can’t teach intelligence, work ethic and trustworthiness. We put a big emphasis on going out and recruiting talent. The people we brought on, they love the direction we’re heading. And what’s happened now is they’re going out and recruiting their peers to come work here. We can’t have a better situation than that.”
Aside from the kind of talent Schneider recruits, a large factor in the OEM’s high employee retention rate is how much responsibility and freedom employees are given. While department heads and the management team delegate tasks and create processes, better ideas from employees – from the shop floor to sales - are solicited, encouraged and implemented.
“We have a lot of very intelligent, very high-energy people here. The worst thing that we could do is stifle them,” Brotzki says. “When an employee comes to us and says they may have a better solution to a problem than what we proposed, we say, ‘Awesome. Let’s go ahead and do it.’ If we dictate everything our employees are going to do, they are not going to be as invested. But if we go with their idea, guess what? They are going to make it work.”
This approach not only fuels Schneider’s workforce development strategy, but it has also resulted in the creation of innovative products that have served as major business drivers for the OEM.
New product development starts from the bottom
Over the years, Schneider has broadened its end-of-line product offering to add tools and software solutions that were necessitated by industry and partner challenges—such as the growing need for quick changeovers, more transparency into how equipment is running and pallet pattern formations.
In 2012, Schneider debuted its automated machine adjustment system, ProAdjust, which was created to allow end users to automatically changeover
their machine to various products and case sizes. In 2017, the OEM launched another tool, called Intelligent Illumination, which can help end users keep their equipment running. The technology uses visual cues and precise alerts to tell end users exactly how their equipment is running by turning the entire machine into a stack light. The machine detects when attention is needed and initiates LED technology to a specific location to illuminate in a particular color that alerts the operator where a problem exists without having to look at the HMI. But Schneider isn’t ignoring the HMI. In fact, its most recent innovation is OptiStak technology, which allows end users to build the best pattern for their pallet configurations directly from the machine’s HMI.
As another testament to Schneider’s on trend culture, OptiStak’s lead developer, Senior Controls Engineer Andrew Buyck, works remotely from suburban Philadelphia. Proving its commitment to enabling valued employees to contribute regardless of location, Schneider takes advantage of technology to maintain innovative team-building strategies.
“Those were all employee-driven,” Brotzki says. “Here, the ideas come from the bottom and trickle up. It’s awesome working with 25 different engineers because they all have interesting ideas about how we can solve problems. You have to give folks responsibility, you trust them, you cut them loose and let them be successful. People love to win.”
Most of the solutions Schneider creates are highly customized, necessitating a creative team with progressive minds who are willing to collaborate with partners across the country. And a lot of Schneider’s partners are Fortune 500 companies who are looking for leading-edge technology.
Recently, one pharmaceutical company approached Schneider wanting them to create a fully-automated case packer for a carton of syringes in a small footprint. Schneider’s engineering team came up with a system where one robot would send in the carton and pass it to another robot across from it, which would then put the carton—in the correct orientation—inside a case. Once the case was filled, it would be labeled with serialization and medical disclaimer information, and finally sealed and palletized.
Another partner-driven demand high on Schneider’s priority list is washdown-ready equipment for the food processing and beverage industries. With the company’s hygienically-designed Everest case packing machine, engineers started designing the orientation of the machine and decided to use a plate design instead of the common tube orientation. This format allowed for engineers to place the electrical cabinets overhead and out of the way of any pooling water or cleaning chemicals, making it suitable for washdown processes. The surfaces of the machine are slanted, allowing water to flow through the equipment, meaning that even if holes or cut outs are present, bacteria will not be harbored. Aside from having a sanitary design, Everest uses robotics to streamline changeovers, and servos handle products more precisely and make the equipment easier to maintain. On top of those features, Schneider also offers the line with its Intelligent Illumination technology, addressing the ease of maintenance demand, hygienic design and skills gap, all in one.
People close the deal
Just as much as Schneider leans on its people to come up with industry-leading ideas and designs, it relies on them to build relationships with partners. Schneider likes to bring potential partners into their facility very early on in the sales process because the OEM’s success ratio of closing the deal sky rockets—and it’s not solely because of the OEM’s aesthetically pleasing, blue-hued equipment.
“Everyone has nice equipment,” Brotzki says. “We love our machines, and we think they are top of the line. However, what is even better is our people. When our partners get to interface with the people that are going to design, build and service their projects, they develop that relationship, which results in a very high comfort level with Schneider.”
A fresh perspective
Brotzki claims that he still has a lot to learn. But his experience in building talent and trusting people will work in his favor as they reshape the company’s culture and create the next era of Schneider.
“I’m not afraid because I did not grow up in this industry,” Brotzki says. “We have to make sure that our infrastructure is in place and that everything is scalable. We are getting very close to being in that position where, when we have our infrastructure built up, we will really turn loose.”