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86 Janurary 08 manufacturing process was a top priority. “There has been an enormous effort to drive the entire footprint of the company towards lean manufacturing,” says chief executive offi cer Greg Bavington. “The company had grown organically, so it grew when and where space was available, without any grand plan guiding it forward. We ended up with a process that hopscotched from building to building, with a lot of forklifts, trucks and drivers involved and a lot of handling of material. This is a fairly bulky product we’re talking about. We’re not moving iPods here. There is a low value per cubic foot, so being effi cient can make an enormous difference.” The need to reduce the company’s footprint is exacerbated by its position in downtown Toronto, an urban location where real estate costs are high. “A big aim of the restructuring was rationalizing that footprint and doing away with unnecessary handling and moving,” Bavington adds. In doing so, National Rubber kept most of its product lines intact, though Bavington concedes that the company has allowed some of its noncore offerings to fade in favor of focusing on its core products. National Rubber recycles hundreds of thousands of used auto tires at its Toronto plant each year into a range of products for automakers and other original equipment manufacturers, making acoustic wall panels and fl oor underlayments as well as a range of custom molded rubber products. It produces 50 million pounds of rubber products annually, many of which are sold under the Symar brand name. The lean focus was helped by senior management having a background in the automotive industry. Many of the transfers between buildings were eliminated, enabling the company to reduce the total number of square feet used in production. All of the operations except the tire-grinding plant were combined under a single roof. “Having multiple buildings means that every one needs a supervisor or a mechanic or a security person 24 hours a day,” says Bavington. “A lot of labor is required and it’s not necessarily going into profi table production.” In addition to the overhaul of operations, National Rubber took a major step by acquiring the Koneta rubber accessories division from the Lancaster Colony company, obtaining customers in the large-truck business where it was not a major player, along with US manufacturing assets in Ohio, where Koneta had focused on recycling post-industrial scrap rubber rather than tires. “It was a classic dovetail in terms of capabilities and opportunities,” Bavington notes. That purchase and integration has gone as smoothly as could be hoped, he says. “It’s fairly rare when organizations are able to solidify all of the synergies that are talked about in an acquisition, but we have executed on all the savings we said we could execute on.” The recent surge of the Canadian dollar against the US greenback has also impacted the company’s bottom line, since much of its sourcing is still done in Canada. “That’s just a good healthy reminder that we can never take our eye off the cost base and supplier base. It’s been a wake-up call that you need to constantly “It’s fairly rare when organizations are able to solidify all of the synergies that are talked about in an acquisition, but we have executed on all the savings we said we could execute on”

January 08 87 NationalRubberTechnologies be in the market and make sure you are making the most cost-conscious decisions you can.” The North American auto industry’s woes have forced National to fi nd new opportunities, exploring new markets in the agricultural fi eld and with other types of OEMs. The business also has a strong environmental message. Over the years, National Rubber’s recycling plant has captured more than 22 million used tires, keeping an estimated 220 million pounds of tire rubber out of landfi lls, plus 35 million pounds per year of industrial waste rubber. In addition, products made with recycled rubber can typically be made with less greenhouse gas emissions than a comparable product made from new materials. Moving forward, National Rubber will likely continue to operate from its downtown Toronto location for the long-term, Bavington predicts. “A lot of manufacturers have fl ed from the challenge of operating in an urban environment. For us, it keeps us around a very loyal and hard-working workforce that we rely on.” Being in a city may mean more environmental scrutiny, but National Rubber welcomes that attention and also believes its workforce can enjoy a higher quality of life by having the opportunity to live and work in the same area. “Some describe it as a relic of the past, with the people who work here living all around the factory where they work, taking public transit to work instead of spending an hour in traffi c. We have 300 employees who are using environmentally friendly transportation every day and getting more time to spend with their families in an era when time is getting more precious. We see that as a thing of the future, not just the past.”