Issue Jan Feb 15
Eagle Manufacturing has been successful at manufacturing industrial safety and material-handling products over the past 120 years because of its ability to evolve. “It’s not only that we are able to, it is that we are willing and eager to change and make it a part of our footprint and how we go to market and manufacture,” President and CEO Joe Eddy says.
The Wellsburg, W. Va.-based company was innovating products in safety long before the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) requirements went into effect in 1970. Eagle Manufacturing began in 1894 as a decorative glass factory that evolved into producing metal lids for glass jars and metal supply cans for the railroad industry in 1907. These cans led to its current safety container line. Eagle Manufacturing also became well-known for its pump oilers.
As the need for products that met federal OSHA safety regulations grew, the company expanded production to include storage cabinets for flammables. In the late 1980s, Eagle Manufacturing diversified its product line to include a line of Haz-Mat containment products and in 2000, it added a complete range of guards and protectors.
Today, Eagle Manufacturing remains a family owned business and a prime manufacturer of more than 1,000 products, operating in three plant locations in Wellsburg. The company takes the product from design development through to manufacturing and to market. “We outsource as little of that manufacturing and design process as possible and are a fairly fully integrated company,” Eddy explains.
Known for Innovation
Throughout its history, Eagle Manufacturing has been recognized as a leader in providing innovative products and processes. “We are looked at as a small company, but one that innovates quite quickly,” Eddy says. “When we talk about innovation, it is product and process innovation. It’s as important to develop new and improved processes as it is to offer new products to the market.”
Eagle Manufacturing recently implemented 3-D printing technology at its facilities, which has increased its ability to go to market with new design concepts and helped it redesign existing products. “We have utilized this technology to help us redesign components within existing products that can be manufactured more efficiently and improve the product while saving cost and manufacturing time,” Eddy explains.
Eddy believes that every challenge has an opportunity attached to it that can improve a product or process. For example, Eddy asked the company’s engineers four years ago to look at the safety cabinet line it has been making for 45 years and improve the quality of the product while cutting 30 percent of the cost. By reviewing the design and process, the company’s engineers were able to achieve that challenge two years later by incorporating more automation and developing outsourced components in-house.
“Any new product concept or innovation in products we look to do, we first make sure they mold around our mission statement of protecting people, property and the planet,” Eddy says. “Our new products are not going to be too far off from where our current manufacturing capacities and technologies are or what our markets are willing to accept as new products.”
Eagle Manufacturing’s product growth has been brisk over the past 10 to 15 years, Eddy says. “A lot of our products are required purchases because they are required by OSHA, EPA or DOT, so it can be hard to differentiate your product when they all have to be made to the same specification,” he adds. “We try to differentiate ourselves by making sure we offer broader product lines and that our products are all made in the USA.”
The company recently announced new products that include flexible and metal spill containment products, poly acid safety and consumer cabinets, additional security products and wheeled industrial waste containers.
The other point of differentiation for Eagle Manufacturing products is that the company can make changes, redesign or innovate a new product quickly because everything is managed in-house. “We take the product from beginning to end, whereas many of our competitors outsource their design and/or manufacturing processes,” Eddy notes.
Because Eagle Manufacturing has been in business for more than a century, it uses older manufacturing equipment to its advantage rather than looking at it as a hindrance. “Synergy is the common thread that binds our new business to the old,” Eddy says. “Synergy between existing products and processes and new ones allows us to attack from a position of strength in technology, manufacturing and marketing. Instead of looking at old stamping or deep-draw processes as a liability, we integrated a lot of automation and PLC controllers to work in conjunction with the old equipment and it works well. It’s very efficient.”
Although combining both old and new processes is efficient, it can be a challenge to find laborers with experience on the old machinery. “Fortunately, we are in an area where workers have stamping and welding experience from working in the coal and steel industry,” Eddy says. “We have a very experienced workforce here.”
Eagle Manufacturing has about 25 employees with more than 40 years of service who the company can call upon to work on older machinery or train new hires. Job turnover is almost non-existent, Eddy says, because we offer good jobs with fair pay and benefits, and once they start, they plan to retire with the company.
“It’s great to have a lot of seniority, but it also means that about 50 percent of our staff is 55 years or older, so we work closely with the middle and high schools, and community and technical colleges to make sure kids are interested in STEM education and in manufacturing,” Eddy adds. “I feel comfortable that we are helping people understand that manufacturing has changed. The advanced technologies of today’s manufacturing offer a lot of new opportunities for kids starting their careers where they can use computer technology, robotics and automation. Manufacturing is not the same old dirty job they know from their grandparents.”
Eagle Manufacturing acts as a master distributor by stocking a significant amount of inventory in its 750,000-square-foot warehouse and manufacturing facility. The company’s goal is to ship orders within one to three days because customers demand the fast turnaround. “We have large products and a large inventory of more than 1,000 different products,” Eddy notes. “For example, we make 23 sizes of safety cabinets in seven colors and three door styles, requiring us to stock up to 4,000 at a time, and that takes a lot of warehousing space.”
To prepare for future growth, Eagle Manufacturing will increase its plastics manufacturing capacity by 30 percent this year and will add 50,000 square feet to its main distribution center beginning in January.
Moving forward, Eagle Manufacturing plans to double its export business in the next three years. “I think that our strategic plan objectives are being met and we look to see up to eight percent sales growth this year. I would like to see our business grow 50 to 75 percent in the next 10 years.”