From manufacturing of electronic chips to server farms, operating rooms to paint spray booths, the requirements for air quality are becoming ever more stringent, and high-end filtration manufacturer CLARCOR Air Filtration Products is meeting the challenges.
Besides introducing new products – such as its line of residential air filters currently sold at Lowe’s elite home centers – the company has also been consolidating and streamlining its manufacturing operations. In order to leverage manufacturing efficiencies and improve product availability, the company has reduced the number of locations from 13 five years ago to five regional centers.
Ranging in size from the largest – approximately 600,000 square feet at its headquarters in Jeffersonville, Ind., to 70,000 square feet outside of Kansas City, Kan. – the company manufactures more than 10,000 SKUs of air filtration products with one of the most complete product offerings available from a single air filter manufacturer. CLARCOR Air products filter the air in all types of commercial and industrial facilities to improve air quality, remove odors, reduce energy requirements and improve equipment efficiency. The products are used in hospitals, office buildings, industrial plants, laboratories, pharmaceutical facilities, schools, museums and sports arenas.
Clean Rooms and Hospitals
Approximately 10 percent of the company’s business is in the healthcare sector, which includes hospitals, operating rooms, assisted living facilities and other facilities where air quality and odor are concerns.
“Within healthcare facilities, the full offering of air filtration products can be used. From pre-filters to capture dust particles and allergens, through high efficiency (HEPA) filters for operating rooms, to molecular or ‘gas-phase’ filters to help manage odors,” CLARCOR Air President Paul Marold points out. “CLARCOR Air is one of the only manufacturers that offer all of these options to the healthcare segment.”
Other CLARCOR Air filtration products are used in the clean rooms where electronic chips with microscopic patterns are manufactured, and in massive data centers where the servers can be compromised through contaminated air.
CLARCOR Air filters are also used in manufacturing plants, in paint spray booths and for the electronics that run digital billboards. Those filters have to outlast the elements for approximately one year before replacement. “Whether for biosafety, pharmaceutical manufacturing or even in Silicon Valley, you’ll see our filters utilized,” Marold summarizes.
“We sell exclusively through our distributor partners who are very regional in nature,” he continues. “If you have a concentration of a particular industry – for example, in the Dallas area, there might be a high level of data centers, so that would be a focus area for our partner in Dallas. In Houston, our distributor there is quite strong in petrochemical. In New York City, it’s more commercial buildings. Our business is truly regional in nature, and as a result of that, for a key market segment specific to one of our regional distributors, we will develop a product for them so they can be more competitive.”
Product development and modification is done at CLARCOR Air Filtration Products headquarters in Jeffersonville, but basic product research is performed at the CLARCOR Filtration Research Center (CFRC) in Cincinnati. CFRC provides discovery and development research for all of the CLARCOR companies as a means of leveraging new advancements in air or liquid filtration.
CLARCOR Air Filtration Products has been streamlining its manufacturing operations extensively. “We have updated and invested quite heavily in our company over the last five years with many automated operations,” Marold points out. “Although due to the very specific nature of some of our products, there is still a lot of manual labor involved.”
The company has also invested in new pleating operations. “We have a number of unique pleating technologies that are available only through us, giving our distributors an improved filter for their customers,” he says. “We’re also investing heavily in lean or continuous improvement throughout our organization. We are putting the lean principles of continuous improvement in place this year. We just started our journey, but we’re already seeing many dividends as a result of these efforts.”
Waste has been reduced in the manufacturing process – especially the waste of skill. “What we’ve seen by improvement of our ‘right first-time’ manufacturing is that we are reducing the amount of time we have to use skilled operators doing quality checks of materials that may be manufactured incorrectly,” Marold says. “We’d rather have those skilled laborers making filters instead of inspecting filters. So we’ve seen a lot of improvement there.”
Every aspect of the materials used and the manufacturing process is being scrutinized. “We are streamlining our manufacturing processes and challenging some of the heritage supply chains that were in place before,” Marold says. “We are working with our media partners as well as our adhesives suppliers to examine the best products for our filter applications and challenging them to provide materials to us that will help create differentiated products for our customers. Among the filter media in CLARCOR Air products are synthetics and nonwovens that combine microglass and cellulose.
“We have over 10,000 SKUs, many of them custom for specific applications,” Marold points out. “We have to have a lot of flexibility in our operations. We have quick changeovers, but they are not as quick as we’d like.”
Marold indicates his company’s average delivery time for standard products is five days. To maintain this, CLARCOR Air must have reliable and prompt suppliers. Among the material replenishment methods CLARCOR Air’s suppliers use are just-in-time, consignment agreements and vendor-managed inventory. “We really do have key partners as our suppliers and work closely to make sure our operations and needs are integrated with their capacity so we can shorten supply chains,” Marold says.
CLARCOR Air Filtration Products is working to standardize the sizes, forms, quality and efficiency of filters so it will not have as many SKUs. “Many of them overlap,” Marold declares. “We’re finding as many as 15 different products that could be used in the same application.” This education also is being extended through the sales force and distributor partners.
Ranked among the top five filter manufacturers in the United States, CLARCOR Air is also competing against a host of smaller, regional companies. “We have one of the broadest product offerings available in air filtration,” Marold maintains. Consequently, besides the other four major competitors – each of whom he estimates to have from 10 to 15 percent of the market – the company is competing against a number of suppliers on the low end, three to four competitors on the high end and one or two on specialty products, most of whom are different companies.
For the future, Marold anticipates CLARCOR Air Filtration Products expanding its sales of high-end products in China, Asia, India and South America. “We’re not satisfied in being one of the top five,” Marold asserts. “We want to be No. 1. To do that, we have to expand our offerings. I think it’s a very exciting industry as people are looking at indoor air quality. Providing improvement in air filtration certainly is going to be a big part of that. We’re looking at significantly greater growth for this company and capturing market share with our company’s technologies.”