Making things go
Our recent interview with Fenner Precision Polymers offers a key takeaway: a strong, well-built supply chain management team can truly weather any storm – and it just might learn a few vital lessons for the business in the process
We are as much a manufacturer of products as we are a solution provider for our customers,” says Donny Lombardi, Director of Supply Chain at Fenner Precision Polymers (Fenner). “There is so much in our product portfolio; the easiest way to think about Fenner is this: we make things go. You just have to think about motion.”
Acquired by Michelin in 2018 as part of the wider group’s diversification efforts, Fenner is a world leader in reinforced polymer technology for performance-critical applications. The company has facilities throughout both North America, China, and Europe, and has carved out a strong global reputation for its curation of engineers and industry experts across its plethora of individual teams. By harnessing advanced technology and state-of-the-art equipment, Fenner is pushing the limits of what is possible with elastomeric solutions.
Like Donny has mentioned, Fenner is making things go: flat belts, precision timing belts, calibration hoses, technical textiles, commercial belting, seals, diaphragms, silicone materials and more are manufactured in factories using best-in-class practices to create a bespoke and ideal solution for every project the company is involved in.
The sectors that Fenner works in are just as varied. Imaging, medical, infrastructure, transportation, power, motional control, and industrial – just to name a few. With such a diverse range of commercial interests, the company also investigates the application of high-technology materials in 3D printing, document handling, aerospace, keyless locking devices, and food processing.
“We service so many niche markets – our products are, naturally, very niche themselves,” explains Donny. “But that is what really sets us apart from all the competition. We can go to a customer, who may have already purchased or ordered a product from us, and help them find another application from our vast portfolio of elastomeric or other solutions to aid them in overcoming any issues that they are currently facing. We pride ourselves on always providing another solution, which is often in a completely different area; for instance, we may have previously worked together on a conveyor belt, and are now offering a keyless locking system.”
The conversation then turns to Donny’s own field of expertise: supply chain management. The robust model that he has spearheaded is surely another reason why Fenner proudly stands out from its competitors.
“When I joined the company four years ago, we did not have a structured and professional supply chain,” he remembers. “Therefore, one of the first things I was tasked with doing was to really look at Fenner and the structure of its operations. Through that process, I was able to help define what the company wanted to be from a supply chain perspective, and consequently I helped build out our 18-strong team.
“In that team, we work around four key function pillars: demand planning, supply planning, procurement, and distribution logistics,” he goes on. “Each pillar has its own smaller team, and all of them report to me. By building that unit and accumulating those skill sets, we have been able to add a lot of new processes and disciplines, as well as further accountability and collaboration, to Fenner’s already wide-ranging functions.”
Soon after joining Fenner, however, the pandemic shocked global supply chains with an almost unprecedented power. “Without a doubt, managing the supply chain during Covid-19 has been the most challenging part of my career so far,” admits Donny. “Nevertheless, I remain incredibly proud of what the team at Fenner was able to achieve throughout such a difficult time. Indeed, during the pandemic, we were still able to make three dynamic acquisitions: two domestic and one international and integrate
them into our business. Under normal circumstances, that is a difficult task. During Covid-19, then, we had to pivot and work remotely the best we could. We onboarded a third-party logistics team in the Netherlands as well as a key supplier in China – all through the power of online communication.
“Inflation has hit us hard. However, we still had exceptional results last year and are on track to do so again in 2022,” he continues. “We have had to adapt and do things we had never thought of doing in the past. It has proved to be a time for conducting research on suppliers, preparation, and due diligence to make sure we are working with good partners that share our philosophy and outlook. One thing we have found from this introspection is this: digitalization is the future. We need more transparency and visibility in the supply chain. How do we do this? Well, that is what we are currently investigating.”
Despite the inherent challenges of the pandemic, the examples highlighted by Donny indicate that a robust supply chain management team can truly weather any storm; in fact, it can also find new ways of doing business. Indeed, one aspect of its operations that Fenner is also investigating is sustainability.
“Our parent company, Michelin, has very aggressive sustainability goals,” reveals Donny. “It has three pillars that underpin the operations of the entire company: people, planet, and profit. Obviously, planet refers to sustainability, and we share that philosophy. Though we are in the infancy stage, we care about sustainability, and we are developing aggressive plans to align ourselves with Michelin’s targets. Part of that is also working with our suppliers to make sure that they, too, share our beliefs and targets when it comes to the environment.”
Another plan currently being investigated at Fenner is the consolidation of its physical footprint. As Donny informs us, by the end of the year, the company intends to condense its currently widespread leadership and support functions into a new corporate location, and also hopes to break ground in early 2023 on a state-of-the-art new manufacturing facility, which would put the majority of its eight Pennsylvania buildings under one roof.
Other than that, it appears to be business as usual. “The rest of the year looks similar to what has already come to pass,” explains Donny. “Therefore, I would say: continued growth. Everyone – and that includes us – is expecting things to level off and soften a little bit. However, that only puts more pressure on us as a business to continue to drive costs and make sure we are working with the best suppliers and partners to consistently deliver what our customers expect from us.
“Looking further ahead, we plan to be extremely aggressive and continue to expand through strategic mergers and acquisitions,” he concludes. “We have strong plans to double or even triple the company over the next few years, and a lot of that will come from organic growth as we do have new products, which we look forward to releasing. However, the majority is going to come through aggressive acquisitions and an ebullient approach to the possibilities that the future holds.”
Fenner Precision Polymers
Products: Precision-engineering parts and solutions