Celebrating its centennial this year, Kimble Glass Inc. has become one of the world’s most modern and creative manufacturers of glass tubing and fabricated glass products. Gene Newman reports on how the company has attained a reputation for precision and dependability.
Evan Ewan Kimble founded Kimble Glass in 1901 in a borrowed Chicago loft after two decades of employment in the glass industry. Due to its initial success and expansion, the company moved 10 years later to a larger facility in Vineland, N.J., the site of the firm’s present headquarters.
When World War I cut off the supply of German-produced laboratory and scientific glassware, Kimble responded by introducing its first volumetric laboratory products. The company later added other laboratory glassware and commercial items, including molded perfume and toiletry containers. During World War II, Kimble set up satellite operations to meet the greatly increased demand for blood plasma containers, delousing ampoules and proximity fuse parts.
About the same time, in 1942, and just down the street from the Kimble operation, the brothers Jim, Nontas and William Kontes opened Kontes Glass in rooms behind their family’s candy shop. The new company, which would eventually become an important part of the Kimble enterprise, soon gained recognition for technical excellence from its introduction of advanced products and technologies including semimicro-, macro- and microscale organic labware kits, and metabolic reaction flasks.
An Era Dawns
On a parallel course of reputation-enhancing progress, Kimble revolutionized the industry in the late 1950s with the introduction of its KIMAX brand heat-resistant borosilicate glassware. KIMAX proved to be a milestone, marking the beginning of an era of improved products for the expanding fields of glass packaging, clinical, industrial and educational research. It had been years since a product development of this sort had meant so much to the quality and availability of tubing and rod, pharmaceutical containers and reusable laboratory glassware. Kimble and Kontes continued to operate independently until 1982, when Kimble acquired the younger firm.
Today, the company provides science and industry with the most complete line of labware available through its ISO 9000-registered Science Products business unit. The unit supplies the world with more than 10,000 disposable and reusable glassware products, including specialty items for pharmaceutical, scientific and educational applications.
The Kimble Tubular business unit forms molten borosilicate glass into extruded, molded, hand-blown and pressed products for scientific, commercial, pharmaceutical, artistic and research applications. Another sector of the company, the Pharma business unit, produces glass containers using the superior technology and quality techniques that have become the benchmark of the pharmaceutical and health-care industries.
In 1997, Gerresheimer Glas AG of Dusseldorf, Germany, acquired Kimble Glass from Owens-Illinois, Inc., thereby linking Kimble to a global network of resources. The Gerresheimer organization includes 19 production sites in Europe and the United States, employing about 6,000 people around the world with approximate sales of DM1.2 billion, most originating outside Germany.
Founded in 1864, Gerresheimer has belonged to Investcorp and Chase Capital Partners since early in 2000. Beginning in the 1980s, it transformed itself from being one of the largest producers of standard container glass into a specialist with worldwide operations in tubing glass, specialty glass, container glass and plastic products for the pharmaceutical, labware, cosmetics and miniature-glass markets. Following numerous acquisitions in this field and the sale of its standard glass container holdings, Gerresheimer now consists entirely of companies acquired since 1987 in its pursuit of strategic specialization.
In 1998, a Gerresheimer capital investment of more than $20 million backed Kimble’s new state-of-the-art “T-Tank” furnace project at Vineland. The year-long design and construction effort involved an international team of seven engineering groups, with more than 300 employees. The furnace does the work of two older design units and will have a positive impact on all Kimble KG-33 borosilicate product lines, as well as providing environmental benefits. The parent company’s investment also covered the cost of new finishing equipment for Kimble’s pressed and blown glassware operations.
Kimble employs about 2,000 people, achieved sales of more than $225 million in 1999 and is recognized as a certified supplier by a distinguished list of customers including Bausch & Lomb, SmithKline Beecham, Abbott Laboratories and Becton Dickinson.
As a certified supplier, Kimble reached an agreement with Becton Dickinson in 1999 that brought about collaboration in marketing programs, customer incentives, supply-chain measures and joint contracting initiatives. Kimble President and Chief Executive Officer Donald Devine said of the pact, “Laboratory professionals will benefit greatly from this synergistic relationship by providing them with a broader range of products and services. As two major suppliers to the scientific community, this is just another example of our mutual commitment to improve the overall supply chain for our customers.”
The company has satisfied the four basic criteria required for certified-supplier status. The first calls for an ample supply of resources and facilities. Kimble more than qualifies with its plants in Vineland, Cajah’s Mountain and Morgantown, N.C., Warsaw, Ind., Chicago Heights, Ill., Hayward, Calif., and Queretaro, Mexico. It also has six affiliate plants located throughout Europe.
A total-quality-management system is the second requirement Kimble meets, with more than 40 quality programs that direct manufacturing as well as marketing efforts, and oversee operations from raw-materials selection to finished products. The quality-assurance programs extend both vertically and horizontally throughout the company. All departments including quality assurance, engineering, marketing and production are involved.
Statistical-process-control (SPC) techniques are the third requirement of certification. An SPC program has been in place at Kimble since 1987, when an outside consultant was engaged to begin implementation of the system as a manufacturing philosophy and a tool to define, evaluate and deliver product quality. The program has been in force at the Vineland, Warsaw and Chicago Heights facilities, with more than 1,000 employees fully trained and a corporate goal of 100 percent qualification.
The fourth requirement, a proven track record of excellence, has been evidenced by the 150 years of the combined experience and performance of Kimble/Kontes in providing solutions in technology through skillful engineering and prototyping.
Strong customer relations have led to progress in laser surgery, telecommunications and fiber optics. Customer citations like the Supplier of the Year and Outstanding Quality Supplier awards bestowed by the Fisher Scientific Company on Kimble’s Science Products business unit in January 2000 provide further evidence of the company’s superior performance.