Beyond the Mains
I am part of a fourth-generation, family-owned manufacturer, fortunate enough to have supplied products to the industry for 68 years. Although I am an engineer by profession, I wear a lot of hats in our manufacturing business and within the industry.
Fourteen years after my grandfather started the Smith Pump Co. in 1938, I was born. At that time, my father, who recently had been discharged from the Navy at the end of World War II, had graduated from Caltech. He then went to work for the familys fledgling company, which was manufacturing pumps for an industry just getting to know itself, much like many other industries and the country as well in that post-war era.
In hindsight, I was very fortunate to be around my father when he would discuss issues with my mother or entertain business associates at our house. Little did I know, as a child not paying much if any attention, the importance that some of those visitors would play in forming the future of our industry and in influencing my life.
The post-war era was largely a quantifying period for the propane industry. Many new products were developed, but that development was in large part a result of a better understanding of how to effectively move the product from point A to point B...and once it got there, how to economically market it. Understanding propane and its properties was key to the development of new products back then. There was little regulatory interference.
Some manufacturers took off on all fours as a result, and many of those companies are still in operation. Today, we have quite a thorough understanding of this very special liquefied gas, but there are other significant challenges that certain manufacturers now face that have little, if anything, to do with understanding the properties of propane to effectively design good products.
Todays Manufacturing Challenges
Notice the word certain is in italics. For certain manufacturers, unique product development occurs because of a deep understanding of the properties of propane and how the product will be used in the field. These companies spend an inordinate amount of time and meticulous effort in the design and testing of the product AND an even greater effort looking at field performancethis process is ongoing. These companies also deal with various global regulations pertaining to the specific product to make sure it can be used in other countries (which in itself can be quite a challenge). They volunteer countless hours on various committees within the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) and other trade associations in the U.S. and other countries.
These certain manufacturers offer training. These certain manufacturers operate within the confines of a certified quality management system. These certain manufacturers invest in their employees and infrastructure. These certain manufacturers offer exceptional customer service. In short, these certain manufacturers are going above and beyond, which is standard operating procedure for them.
A company of any size can be a certain manufacturer…if it wants to be. Size is not a prerequisite for exemplary standard operating procedures.
Once the successful product is offered to the industry, the copycat products will follow. In general, the manufacturers that produce them can do so at less cost. They may not have a deep understanding of field failures that necessitated a design change by the original manufacturer. They may substitute materials or cut corners. Standard operating procedure for these manufacturers may not be the same. The bottom line is products produced by these companies may lack the heart and soul that certain manufacturers pay dearly for.
I am honored to know quite a few dedicated individuals working for certain manufacturers. And, the industry is fortunate that many of them are involved with NPGA and continue to participate in a positive direction. Some may think this is because they want to sell products. They do, but not at the expense of being just another manufacturer. Most companies supplying products to the industry are certain manufacturers.
My message to the industry, and one I am grateful to have the opportunity to publish, is to ask industry members to understand what those certain manufacturers have going for them, as opposed to a manufacturer. Ask questions as to how a product was developed and why. Find out something about North American approvals, but don't stop thereask about other approvals the product may have overseas.
Find out if the company participates within NPGA or other trade associations. Ascertain if the product is a copycat coming from a manufacturer that claims the product is the same as someone elses, but at a much cheaper price. Make it a part of your standard operating procedure to track the quality of customer service you receive either from the manufacturer or its distributors.
Consider supporting certain manufacturers products despite bottom line concerns. Consider the investment that certain manufacturers have made to develop, support, improve, and maintain a particular product. These are the companies helping our industry to do it safer and in a more cost-effective way.
Certain manufacturers care about our industry and continue to work in a positive way to help it thrive. This becomes ever so important as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the National Propane Gas Association and face the unique challenges that a global economy brings to the manufacturing sector.
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