Modernizing Manufacturing with Georgia Tech Assistance

EI2 worked with Savannah-based Delta Metals to provide objective marketing research to validate a decision to purchase a new piece of equipment. The company has already realized savings from the investment, increased productivity and improved the flow of materials throughout the plant.

When managers at Delta Metals, a Savannah manufacturer of commercial and industrial sheet metal products, were thinking of ways to modernize their business and increase productivity, they had a pretty good idea of what would work. But since their idea involved purchasing half a million dollars worth of equipment, they needed to be certain it would work. To assist, they called on experts from Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2).

“Over the years, Delta has participated in many seminars offered by Georgia Tech, and we have always had the highest regard for their innovation and research capabilities,” said Ben Wells, the company’s president. “Orjan Isacson, region manager for coastal Georgia, has been very helpful in keeping our management team aware of Georgia Tech’s assistance capabilities for small business.”

In 2007, EI2 began offering growth services assistance through the U.S. Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) to help Georgia companies develop new strategies for growth. The seminar helped to confirm that Delta needed to expand its existing processes by modernizing a sheet metal production facility that, for the most part, had not been updated for more than 30 years. Wells and other Delta staff attended a seminar on growth strategies for manufacturing companies.

“We had already researched a piece of equipment that’s been around a while, but it is continually improved with new software. That really made it more do-able,” Wells explained. “Scott Rasplicka, vice president of Delta Metals, suggested we hire Georgia Tech to examine our numbers to convince our board of directors to get the project going.”

Isacson and EI2 project managers provided Wells and Rasplicka with market research to substantiate a need for the product beyond Delta’s then-existing market area. They also confirmed that the new process would result in substantial cost savings through an increase in productivity.

“Bringing in Georgia Tech to conduct this research gave management much greater insight into both the company’s customers and competitors,” said Ann O’Neill, an EI2 project manager. “This really increased confidence in making the decision to invest in new equipment and a new business model.”

The management team took Georgia Tech’s report to its board of directors meeting, along with a marketing survey that identified potential new customers. According to Wells, the Georgia Tech team verified the predicted cost savings and return on investment, prompting the board to approve the project.

The Pro-Fabriduct coil line that Delta Metals purchased has modernized and automated the duct fabrication process. Wells estimates the company has already realized savings from the investment and has increased productivity. Not only have the automation processes improved, but there is also a better flow of materials throughout the plant.

“This piece of equipment actually reduces the number of people you need for labor. Typically when that happens, people think there are going to be layoffs,” Rasplicka explained. “But because our product is labor-intensive, the new equipment freed those employees up to go to other jobs and bring more work in. Last year at this time, we had 68 employees and now we have 93.”

Both Wells and Rasplicka credit Georgia Tech with providing objective marketing research, thereby validating their decision to purchase the piece of equipment.

“Sometimes when you’re that close to a project, you can be myopic,” said Rasplicka. “Georgia Tech provides a valuable resource to businesses wanting to expand or change product lines. Now we are much better positioned to be competitive on future projects.”

Photo caption: Jamie Sullivan, shop foreman, and Ben Wells, president and CEO of Delta Metals, stand in front of the company’s new equipment that has modernized and automated the duct fabrication process.

About Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.

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Writer: Nancy Fullbright