Syntron Material Handling is on the move
That glass jar filled with high-grade artisanal honey in your pantry started as little more than a handful of sand. It’s a certainty that sand was carried on a bulk materials conveyor, and a fair bet that the conveyance was designed and built by Syntron Material Handling.
They’ve been revolutionizing the way industries move what matters most since 1880, developing innovative conveyor belts and feeders to carry virtually any kind of bulk materials imaginable, from coal to candy, and from potash to potato chips.
Based in Tupelo, Mississippi, today’s Syntron Material Handling is the result of a 2014 union of legacy equipment giants Link-Belt and Syntron. The company’s 250 employees bring a wealth of industry knowledge to the cutting-edge creation of high-performance units engineered to meet every material’s handling conveyance need, from light to heavy duty and everything in between.
“You don't think about it, but when you grab that bag of WonderfulⓇ pistachios or Lay'sⓇ potato chips or M&M'sⓇ, Syntron Material Handling’s equipment was used to put the right amount of that food product in those bags. Our Syntron ‘Food & Packaging’ product line is what many companies out there use to make that happen,” revealed company president and CEO Andy Blanchard.
Syntron serves a host of diverse markets including mining, aggregates, chemicals, food and packaging, helping producers and processors boost their bottom line through increased bulk material handling productivity.
Their equipment line includes Link-BeltⓇ conveyor idlers, underground mining and terminal equipment, screw conveyors, and bucket elevators. SyntronⓇ branded machinery includes vibrating feeders, screens, bin vibrators, flow aids, paper joggers, and shaft seals. As a true collaborator, the firm designs and manufactures custom engineered products and systems for a variety of unique applications.
Most people outside the industry believe that material handling consists of workers driving forklifts and moving goods using readily available tools. The reality is that majority of the bulk handling industry is complex, requiring custom solutions designed with precision engineering.
“We help our customers carry raw materials from one processing to the next on the way to becoming a finished product,” he stated. “Material may be loaded out in a truck, a super sack, or into a rail car, and then that is usually carried to a manufacturer that’s going to make something out of that material for consumer use.”
In addition to their U.S.-based factory, the company serves the Asian market with a manufacturing operation in Changshu, just outside of Shanghai, China. In a handful of years, the firm has invested $6 million in high-tech manufacturing equipment.
“We've invested heavily in Continuous Improvement activities in the last four years, implementing kanban, 5S, visual management and total productive maintenance (TPM) on equipment” recounted the company’s Global VP of Operations, Rob Drew.
“Every week when you walk through the factory it looks different. So much so that we have a television inside the factory with before and after pictures that get changed every week,” he continued. “Lean teaches us continuous improvement is a journey. Let's just be better tomorrow than today and involve all the team members. It can't be a one-man show. If you’ve got 250 people, we have 250 people who know their job better than anybody else and want to get rid of any pain points, and that’s what the heart of continuous improvement is.”
“I’ve been in industrial manufacturing for over 35 years or so, and I've read the books and been through lean training and I've got some certifications. I thought I knew lean until I met Rob Drew,” Blanchard enthused. “I learned that I was truly a neophyte. It has been such an incredible treat and pleasure over the last four years to watch Rob provide the leadership to our manufacturing operation to literally transform an old, stodgy facility that had been neglected for many years even though people attempted to make it lean. If you looked at the facility back in 2014 versus today you would say, ‘No way is that the same facility.’”
The Tupelo facility was built in 1974, and prior to the leadership shift that put Blanchard and Drew in their current roles, Syntron’s most recent capex investments had been made from 2006 to 2009. “We have put technology on steroids,” Drew noted. “We have electronic dashboards for how we run the business, for sales, inventory, planning, balanced scorecards for the business, visual management in the shop—all of our equipment is computer numerical controlled. We put in pick-and-place robots with sensors; engraving machines carve information about when a part is made. … We took the robots one step further and developed their own PLC controller, a digital display to show real-time uptime on our robotic welders. You can see whether they're being programmed, set up, and run with our target of 90% uptime.”
Serving and Supporting People and Processes
Because Syntron’s equipment is designed to perform with minimal downtime over a life cycle, total cost of ownership is a key concern, said Blanchard, “A lot of the products we make are truly one-of-a-kind engineered products, whether it’s a heavy feeder or heavy screen, or unique idlers for mining environments in the tar sands as opposed to a high-speed underground idler for transferring coal. It's all about being value-added. We’re an engineering company that listens to the customer, and we try to bring all that technical and general business acumen to bear as technical resources.” A robust field service team supports customers on-site.
Management takes a servant leadership approach within the company, from succession planning to the humblest of gestures—such as who gets to eat first at company town halls. (Spoiler: Upper management eats last.)
“We consider the leaders at the bottom supporting the organization as opposed to being at the top of the organization to stroke our egos,” Blanchard confessed. “We put service leadership in practice.” Syntron is involved in the Dallas-based Leadership Worth Following program, which Blanchard described as pretty intense. “It helps to shore up and build leadership skills and assessment in people that will run the business and make them more effective leaders,” he said. “At the end of the day, 250 people may not sound like a big headcount, but with the span of control at some point you can start to lose a sense of family. We work really hard here to break bread together and provide family camaraderie because as leaders, we’re supporting our brothers and sisters—especially during this COVID issue. We look after our people and make sure that they're doing well and their families are OK.”
It should come as no surprise that workers come for a job and stay for a lifetime. Blanchard considers four essential questions in his workforce decision making: Is this a safe place to work? Is this a fun place to work? Are we investing in people? Are we giving people opportunities to contribute?
“We are a company on the move,” he said. “Our plans are built around both organic growth and through acquisitions. We are extremely proud of our employees because they are the heart of our business. They are the magic behind Syntron Material Handling and we're very proud of those employees and the value they generate.”
Not even the pandemic can keep Syntron Material Handling from conveying what is most important to workers and customers. “We haven't missed a single day of work. We have a deep sense of patriotic pride to be contributing to the critical infrastructure that has allowed America to continue to operate, and we will continue to operate, grow, and rebound our economy.”
Syntron Material Handling, a subsidiary of Kadant Inc. (NYSE-KAI), is a global manufacture of Link-Belt and Syntron equipment offering solutions for conveying, feeding, screening, elevating, vibratory flow aids, and mining controls of bulk product.