Garlock Sealing Technologies
Issue Dec 16
Typically, when workers manufacture a product or test a component’s quality at most manufacturing plants, they think about fitting requirements and tolerance guidelines. What they may not think about is how that item will be used by the end-customer or its place in a larger system.
Garlock Sealing Technologies takes a different approach to quality. The company trains its production employees to understand where products are going, how they will be used and what a failure looks like. Having that knowledge stresses the impact of quality and places urgency on making sure a product placed into a nuclear power plant for example or other critical application won’t fail under pressure. “That drives home much more than any other strategy in terms of developing that pride in workmanship,” Director of Operations Tony Rounding says.
Employees are also encouraged to be mindful of issues in the production line itself. When a fault is found in production, workers are empowered to stop the line and make the necessary adjustments. “At no point does anything trump safety,” Rounding says. “I’m very proud that our employees have the ability to stop anything they don’t feel is safe.”
O.J. Garlock planted the seeds of what would become Garlock Sealing Technologies in 1883 when he was awarded a patent for packing rings made from cotton duck fabric. The patent led to the creation of his namesake company four years later in upstate New York. The Garlock name has been synonymous with innovation since those small beginnings.
The company, a division of EnPro Industries, is known today as a global leader in high performance sealing products such as gaskets, rubber expansion joints, compression packing, oil seals, sheet products, butterfly valves, and bearing isolators. The company has a global reach through a distributor network that covers 75 countries.
Garlock’s gaskets and other sealing products are used in nearly every industry. The company supplies customers in diverse industries such as chemical processing, oil and gas, construction, mining, marine, energy, pharmaceuticals, pulp and paper, nuclear and food and beverage. Many Garlock components end up in critical and demanding applications where safety, uptime and prevention of contamination are essential. Those essential operations face increasing environmental regulations and a perpetual need to operate safely and improve plant productivity. Garlock produces sealing products certified for use by the nuclear industry and other high-scrutiny applications, a testament to the high level of specifications and performance its products represent.
Garlock’s products are manufactured at 13 global locations. Each facility produces a range of components, and in some cases, like gaskets, multiple plants make the same parts. In those cases where a part is produced at one facility, Garlock’s worldwide distribution network can quickly get them to customers. Standardized items are kept in stock within the distribution channel and local plants can cut gaskets from sheets just before final delivery.
Rounding credits the company’s vendors and suppliers with enabling Garlock to quickly develop, manufacture and deliver products and solutions to their customers. One such vendor, AFS, provides logistical analytics to assist in determining the most efficient and effective methods to get products to their customers. “Our suppliers are critical,” he says. “In many cases we consider it a partnership. That really is what maintains our ability to be competitive in these integrations.”
While Garlock is known for its speed, efficiency and reliability, what truly sets the company apart is its engineering application expertise. The company’s experienced engineers are trained to quickly diagnose a customer’s unmet need and develop a solution from either an existing product or a customized component. “It’s not just providing what’s asked but understanding those needs and coming up with the best solution,” Vice President of Marketing Brian Howard explains.
“Our application expertise is one of the things that separates us from other sealing product manufacturers,” Rounding says. “I also believe our new lab and innovation facilities we are building will be second to none. Our responsiveness by our entire team provides solutions to our customers at the time they need them. Very frequently, customers are calling with immediate needs that have to be quickly addressed so response time is important.” Meeting those unmet needs is possible because of the company’s commitment to upholding its legacy of innovation. Garlock continuously adds to its R&D capabilities at its headquarters in Palmyra, N.Y., and at some of its other facilities around the globe. T
he R&D department has made several significant breakthroughs throughout the years. Five decades ago, Garlock was the first to go to market with high-performance PTFE gasketing materials when it introduced GYLON®. GYLON® uses a proprietary manufacturing process to create components suitable for severe chemical service. The gasket material’s superior sealability reduces fugitive emissions, creep and cold flow characteristics and can be made to fit any size flange.
That innovation continues today. The company recently introduced THERMa-Pur™, a gasket material for high temperature sealing applications, and EVSP®, the first low-emissions valve packing seal. Both products tie into custom requirements for components that satisfy increasing environmental and sustainability regulations.
Innovation helps Garlock penetrate new markets. The company is experiencing growth among food and beverage and pharmaceutical customers due to its new GYLON® Bio-Pro Plus™, a sanitary gasket for demanding applications that must guarantee industry compliance and prevent contamination of the production process. GYLON® Bio-Pro Plus™ delivers best in class performance across all critical factors and fulfills American Society of Mechanical Engineers Bioprocess Equipment (ASME-BPE) standards to ensure the material within the system stays clean and safe for consumption. The product was introduced in late 2015 but is already gaining a reputation as a class leader in performance characteristics. “Think about the cost of failure,” Howard says. “If you have contamination in food and pharmaceuticals it’s critical. It’s the entire batch that could be affected, in addition to the damage to the customers’ brand if any contaminated product gets out into the marketplace.”
As new products are developed, they must meet the company’s high performance standards. Garlock is investing in new infrastructure and capabilities for functional and non-destructive testing to further validate products in critical applications and maintain the company’s position as a quality leader.
The impact of the investment in testing capabilities goes beyond measurements and production perfection. When employees see dedication from upper management in the investments, they absorb those values into their own work. Rounding says the culture of quality at Garlock is beyond what he has seen at any other company in his career. “Anytime we have visitors to our facilities the overwhelming consistent comment I hear is that our employees have a clear pride in their workmanship,” he adds.
The investments in R&D and testing lead to new products and open up more markets. But Garlock is also growing in other ways. In April, Garlock acquired Rubber Fab Technologies, a supplier of high-performance sanitary gaskets, hoses and fittings for the pharmaceutical, bio-processing and food and beverage industries. The acquisition supplemented Garlock’s existing products and allowed it to offer a complete portfolio for those markets.
The company is changing from within as well. Instead of the traditional management structure, Garlock views the role of the leadership team as providing support for production. Workers have more access to management at all levels and are given information about customer trends and financial data. Having that knowledge enables employees to make improvements to the production process with the understanding of how those changes will impact the company as a whole.
Empowering the employees gave fresh voice to how Garlock can improve its production process. Employee led teams have identified areas where processes that were performed by outside vendors could be brought in-house to improve lead times, such as heat treatments and CNC milling. Garlock followed up on those recommendations by trusting in that perspective and making the necessary capital expenditures.
“I believe we have transformed into a servant leadership organization,” Rounding says. “Our employees who are closest to a situation with proper capabilities and perspective are best positioned to make decisions on their area.”