C&J Industries: Dedicated to Education. Molding the Future

C&J Industries: Dedicated to Education. Molding the Future

by Dianna Brodine

Profile   Fall  2008

For some companies, continuing education masquerades as an occasional training seminar or a refresher course in plant safety. For C&J Industries, Inc. of Meadville, Pa., education is a commitment – a pledge it makes to its employees. By creating individualized learning plans for each employee, C&J Industries is ensuring not only its own future, but also that of the plastics molding industry. Through support of local universities, the injection molder has created its own educational resource. And through its association with regional technical schools and universities, C&J Industries has assured itself access to trends, technical expertise, and the brightest of futures.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. – Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was a proponent of preparation. With the right tools, whether a well-sharpened axe or a well-trained employee, the scales can be tilted towards success. Dennis Frampton spent many years ‘sharpening the axe’ in his rise from an interim employee to president of C&J Industries.

Frampton’s father-in-law, Dick Johnston, was one of two partners who started a tool and die company in 1962, originally called Meadville Precision Tool and Mold. The business was strictly a tool and die shop with fewer than 10 employees during its first decade. The company was nonetheless successful, working primarily with two customers, Delphi and Talon, a zipper factory that had originated in Meadville. Frampton’s father was a tool and die maker for the company and in 1967, Frampton decided to follow in his footsteps, applying for a job as a tool and die apprentice.

In 1974, Meadville Precision Tool and Mold was presented the opportunity to get involved in plastics. The tale is recounted on the C&J Industries web site:

In the early 1970s (this is the stuff of legend) — one of our customers commented that they were very pleased with the injection molds that we produced, however, they wanted us to qualify the tools prior to shipment. We responded, “But how can we qualify the molds — we don’t have any injection molding presses?” Shortly thereafter a truck arrived at our loading dock and the truck driver had us sign for two slightly used injection molding presses. We were now in the molding business.

Frampton had completed his apprenticeship and continued to work full time for the molding company while attending universities to receive an associates degree and, eventually, a bachelors degree. In the meantime, he met his wife, Diann, who left art school to work for her father’s company. Frampton spent the next years raising a family and working 50-60 hours a week in the estimating department, taking on new responsibilities along the way and eventually becoming president in the late 1990s.

The business also expanded over the years, moving into the medical market in the 1980s. Soon after, Meadville Precision Tool and Mold became C&J Industries. Today, C&J Industries is a contract manufacturer of custom injection molded assemblies and component parts. The company also provides product design and development services, with products manufactured for the medical device, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, industrial, transportation, consumer product, and business machine market segments.

In February of 2007, Dick Johnston passed away. His partner had been bought out several years before, leaving C&J Industries in the care of Frampton and other family members. Olive B. Johnston, Dick’s wife, serves as chairman of the board. Johnston’s daughter, Sandy Hurban, is vice president of human resources and her husband, John, works in the IT department. Frampton’s son, Adam, is halfway through a tool and die apprenticeship program offered through Edinboro University. The ‘family’ had been expanded in 1990 to include every employee – currently numbered at 240 – when Johnston gave 49 percent of the company to the employees. “My father-in-law was always very grateful for what the employees have done for the company,” said Frampton. “Our growth and success have been, in a large part, because of the employees.”

The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live. – Mortimer Adler

Along with the growth in capabilities, the facility has grown significantly over the years. The location currently occupied by C&J Industries was once the second oldest Chevrolet dealership in the U.S. The complex was purchased in 1974 to house the molding operation, while the tool shop remained in the company’s original location three miles away until last winter, when the tool shop was moved and modernized. Equipment acquisitions have driven five expansions at the current location over the past 34 years, with the facility now containing 41 injection molding presses from 20 ton up to 720 ton and covering approximately 150,000 square feet of floor space. There are three separate molding areas – a Class 7 100,000-count clean room, a large tonnage press bay, and a general molding area. The company also has three engineering departments with responsibilities for tool engineering, process engineering, and manufacturing engineering.

Frampton envisions the company expanding its clean room capabilities and eventually phasing out general molding. “Whether you’re dealing with the medical or electronics businesses, the customers want cleaner products,” he explained. The facility runs 24/7 in plastics and contract management, with the tool shop running a second shift as needed. “With the cost of equipment that you have today – you don’t want it sitting there,” said Frampton. “You want it running as much as it can.”

The company operates Toshiba electric presses, except for the large 720 ton hydraulic press. The company became a believer in Toshiba when it monitored the maintenance on the Toshiba v. other presses and came back with a blank sheet of paper. C&J Industries is aggressive in its acquisition of new technologies. The company currently is executing a plan to replace all of its presses by 2015. Frampton explains, “Recently, we’ve been getting into a higher level of technology than ever before, accomplishing tolerances and finishes in plastics that we never thought were possible. The thermoplastic materials today are so much more sophisticated, requiring higher temperatures and pressures. Our whole molding philosophy is different, and we can’t accomplish it with the old presses.”

The presses aren’t the only machines keeping up with the times. C&J Industries replaces one-third of its computers every year and is installing IQMS software as well, to tie all of its processes together.

Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress implacably requires change. – Henry Steel Commager

In his 42 years with C&J Industries, Frampton has seen plenty of change. Great strides in technology and a globally-competitive marketplace have changed the face of injection molding. To keep pace, the company has become a strong advocate for industry education.

“My father-in-law was in the trade in the 1950s,” explained Frampton. “He often told the other local shops that, at one time, it was enough to be mechanically inclined, find a few customers, and start a business. Today, in the global marketplace, with the intense competition, and with the need to automate, if you’re going to be in management, you must have formal education.”

C&J Industries doesn’t just talk about education – it makes a solid financial commitment to it. The company budgets around $100,000 each year for educational opportunities that range from in-plant seminars to college tuition for employees. To make continuing education easy to access, the company stays heavily involved with local schools, including the Precision Manufacturing Institute (PMI) in Meadville, which is becoming known as one of the premier technical schools in the country. “I have been involved for 18 years,” said Frampton, “and my father-in-law was involved when it started 20 years ago.” Johnston, who served on the Edinboro University board for more than 25 years, was instrumental in the decision to create a satellite complex of the college in Meadville, which is less than 30 feet from PMI. Someday the two facilities will be connected, supporting the area’s tool and die trade and the plastics industry in an unprecedented fashion.

“We believe that to be competitive in a global marketplace, our employees need to be engaged in higher education of some form, from operator level to president,” explains Frampton. Acting on that belief requires a custom training plan for each employee. Supervisors sit down with employees to determine the level of training appropriate for each person’s position and potential. At the operator level, the training plan may include entry-level courses on how to run a molding machine. As the person progresses through the organization, the growth plans are reviewed. C&J Industries has paid for complete college educations for some of its employees, going so far as to create flexible work schedules to accommodate class schedules.

Frampton knows that the company’s level of commitment to education is unusual for the industry, but he’s not sure he understands why. “We have hired people from other shops and they’ve told me that the management wouldn’t pay for their education. It amazes me. But their refusal has enabled us to grow, because the word gets out. We are able to keep going, to keep expanding into new areas, and it’s a result of challenging ourselves.”

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government. – Thomas Jefferson

With a well-educated work force – and one that owns a significant portion of the company – Frampton admitted that his management style has had to change over the years. “Starting in the business in 1967, I came from an atmosphere where one person was the boss, you didn’t question him, and you were happy there was a paycheck,” he chuckled. Frampton has watched young people come up through the ranks, adding a new vision to what he had been doing for years. “What I’ve had to learn over the years is to let the employees do their jobs.”

The employees are empowered to work efficiently, making decisions on the shop floor and reporting back to Frampton through monthly management meetings. Key managers for each department develop an annual plan, describing how they’re going to improve and grow. The job of the higher level management is to make sure the departments are coordinated, helping them set priorities for overall company growth. “One of the most important words is ‘synergism’. I’ve seen many times when we’ve had a problem with a mold that an individual couldn’t solve, we get a bunch of people together and we come up with solutions. If I had to write a book on how to manage any kind of business, it would be centered around synergism,” said Frampton.

Frampton believes C&J Industries has been successful largely because of the level of commitment exhibited by its employees, and he’s passionate about giving the company’s employees a reason to maintain that commitment. “Everyone in our industry is looking for good employees, but they’re not creating them,” stated Frampton. “You have to take care of your employees, treat them as family, and share as much as you can. Then go out and take bright people from technical schools and be willing to invest in them.” At C&J Industries, the investment in education is made today, to ensure there are toolmakers for tomorrow.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. – Alan Kay

Educating today’s employees ensures a company’s growth. Educating tomorrow’s employees ensures the industry’s growth. Frampton is determined to succeed there as well. “In the tool and die association I’m in, we have been working since 2002 to convince the young people, their parents, and their guidance counselors that there is life in manufacturing,” said Frampton. A cooperative agreement between the local tool and die association and a manufacturers association in Erie, in which a motorcycle was built and is taken around to area schools, has proven successful in generating interest. A local version of the BattleBots robot competitions, with over 250 young students participating, was proof of that interest. To build a bridge from the excitement generated by BattleBots, PMI offered a free program for the top 20 BattleBots students – a 40-hour class in how to use real robots. By the end of the week, the students were each running a robot and directing it in a different task. “What’s encouraging is that we’re starting to see success from the efforts we put into recruiting,” enthused Frampton. “We need to continue to build that bridge between our schools and our technical schools and universities.”

Frampton is inspired in his quest to educate a future generation by the example of one of C&J Industries’ largest clients, Dean Kamen. Kamen is the founder of DEKA Research & Development Corporation, the inventor and manufacturer of the Segway personal transporter. Kamen started a national movement in grade schools, using Legos to teach kids to build and create with their hands, through his nonprofit organization, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

Frampton knows that today’s young people will have to maintain the educational process through their entire career, evolving as the technology evolves. C&J Industries will continue to empower its employees through education, in hopes that the employees will make a commitment to the company’s success in return. “People are afraid to invest in education,” said Frampton, “because what happens if that apprentice, toolmaker, or engineer decides they can make more money elsewhere? Well, it happens. But they often come back, and it’s a chance C&J Industries has been willing to take.”

George Peabody, a philanthropist concerned with educational opportunities for children after the Civil War, described education as ‘a debt due from present to future generations’. At C&J Industries, it’s a debt that the company has every intention of repaying.

Visit C&J Industries, Inc.’s website at www.cjindustries.com