April 16, 2018
Focus on Manufacturing Excellence

IPAC became a global leader with a superior workforce

Industrial Polymers & Chemicals must compete with lower-cost abrasives providers throughout the world.

When Industrial Polymers & Chemicals got its start in Shrewsbury in 1959, it was surrounded by farms, not by retailers lining Route 9 as it is today.

While much has changed around IPAC, not so much has changed inside the nearly 50,000-square-foot space hidden at the back of a commercial building. In fact, the machines coating IPAC's fiberglass in a resin are the same used nearly six decades ago.

IPAC produces hundreds of millions of fiberglass products each year, often as abrasives in machinery used by companies including Worcester's Saint-Gobain. All the while, it has kept competitive with cheaper imports that in other cases can put companies in turmoil.

"We compete with China," said Robert Murner, IPAC president and CEO, who joined the firm in October 2016. "The challenge is how we compete on price."

In fact, for such a seemingly small operation – the company has just under 50 workers – it is North America's largest supplier of fiberglass reinforcements.

IPAC balances its price difference with customer service overseas firms can't compete with. The company can provide a superior level of customer services thanks to a long-term, loyal workforce.

"They've been a terrific supplier. They're very customer-conscious," said Arthur Robinson, purchaser for Bullard Abrasives of Lincoln, R.I., who has worked with IPAC for three decades.

Creating that superior workforce starts with better wages and benefits, said Susan Dacey, who served as IPAC CEO from 1996-2006 after taking over from her father, co-founder Ralph Dacey.

"We're not always the lowest-cost suppliers, so we have to balance that," Susan Dacey said.

Employees are cross-trained to be familiar with other aspects of the operations and allow workers more variety. Turnover at the company has slowed, and workers are given incentives to keep their certifications up-to-date.

Murner has held Kaizen events, business-improvement techniques in which managers and workers give a detailed review of operations to find new efficiencies. A Kaizen event at IPAC brought a 40-percent improvement in checklist scores and a 35-percent reduction in distance traveled by personnel.

IPAC works with the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership to find the best way to perform operations.

Murner is IPAC's first leader from outside the founding family. He said he enjoys strong support from the Daceys and invested in renovations and planned machinery replacements at the facility.

"Quality is a big part of this because abrasive wheels are dangerous," Robinson said. "You have to have a safe product."

Read about the other Excellence in Manufacturing Awards winners

Green Manufacturing Award: Fourstar Connections

Product Design and Innovation Award: Curtis Industries

Rising Star Award: ThinkLite

Collaboration in Manufacturing Award: Wormtown Brewery

Manufacturing Excellence Award, Small Company: Optim

Manufacturing Excellence Award, Large Company: Jeffco Fibres

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