Before you can help others, you first must be able to help yourself. As the adage is applied to the industrial world, no company seems to understand it better than Livingston & Haven (L&H). The Charlotte, N.C.-headquartered industrial technology provider engineered for itself a remarkable turnaround after enduring recent travails. Now, with the zeal and sense of mission of a spiritual convert, the company is setting out to help resurrect U.S. manufacturing to its previous levels of productivity.
“In 2001, we entered into a very tough time in our history,” recalls L&H Vice President Bruce McKay. “Although it seemed like we were selling a lot, we weren’t very profitable, and I think that we just didn’t have a good sense of direction.”
Before it descended to the depths of moribundity, L&H engaged in an internal restructuring that involved, among other elements, tightly integrating project management with its sales force and bringing in new technical expertise to focus on different technologies.
Today, L&H thrives as a leading industrial technology service provider in the southeastern United States (although it also serves customers throughout the country and around the world). The company now has five divisions – automation, pneumatics, hydraulics, lubrication and fluid connectors – wherein it offers components to develop custom productivity solutions for manufacturing facilities. It utilizes a broad collaboration of engineers and industry-focused specialists to innovate these solutions, along with various services such as manufacturing, engineering, installations, service and repairs, training and complete online account masnagement tools.
Challenge from the Chief
As part of the company’s revitalization, L&H Chief Executive Officer Clifton Vann III issued a challenge to all associates at every organizational level to do “whatever it takes to ensure the long-term health of U.S. manufacturing.” The efforts behind the project were labeled the “Driving Efficiency” program.
The success of the program enabled L&H to redefine its business, and the company is now becoming a vital partner for U.S. manufacturing entities. The company has expanded its technical expertise in new engineering disciplines. It concentrates on driving out inefficiency from every part of the manufacturing process by using their vast resources and partnerships, as well as providing scaleable, future-proof solutions from the plant floor to the top floor.
In the course of meeting the “Driving Efficiency” challenge, L&H determined why some U.S. businesses thrived while others disappeared. “We looked at studies that revealed that the majority of companies that continued to thrive, as opposed to those that went overseas or out of business, were the ones that reinvested in themselves, through elements such as automation, to become more productive,” explains McKay. “Those that were more aggressive in that direction were more likely to remain a viable part of the U.S. industrial environment.”
Now, L&H seeks to foster that aggressiveness in American companies and harness it toward increased productivity. “That mission is what spurs us on and gives everyone here a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” comments McKay. “After we first focused on ourselves, we began looking at other companies.”
That initial self-focus forced L&H to examine and implement 5S and lean manufacturing processes. According to the company, this produced dramatic results in its own efficiencies. In addition, L&H became better equipped to educate and impact vendors and customers. Essentially, it became a stimulus for identifying, providing and implementing high-value productivity opportunities.
Conversely, most competitors remain fixated in bottom-line profitability, says McKay. “But we get the productivity message out.” Serving as a successful example for its own message, L&H continued investing in its business at a time when most companies were cutting back due to the economy. Then, as the economy took an upswing in 2004, L&H was well positioned to help its customers ramp back up when they were ready. The approach has translated into substantial growth for L&H. Since 2004 it has grown from a $43 million to a $70 million company.
The new customers enjoy what the company calls the “L&H advantage,” a combination of the vision and commitment to the success of U.S. manufacturing with extensive resources, technical capabilities and value-added services. The advantage generates increased productivity, efficiency and profitability. “Simply stated, we help manufacturers improve their manufacturing capabilities,” says McKay. “A trend we’re seeing is that companies are turning away from the integrated suppliers and returning to organizations like L&H. They’re reawakening to the fact that manufacturing is their core competency.”
Awarded for Achievement
In meeting its mission, L&H not only has reaped increased revenue, it also has earned important recognition. In June, 2007, L&H was honored with the Progressive Manufacturer of the Year Award by Managing Automation, a Thomas Publishing Company, LLC publication. Managing Automation provides a complete set of decision-support informational tools for progressive manufacturers that use information and automation technologies to transform their businesses and create a sustainable competitive advantage.
Appropriately, the awards program recognizes manufacturers that are progressive in their business and operations management and in their use of advanced technologies. Each year the program recognizes 50 companies that have achieved distinction in at
least one of the eight core disciplines defined as critical to business success in upcoming years. These disciplines include:
business model mastery, customer mastery, supply network mastery, data and integration mastery, innovation mastery, training and education mastery, leadership and operational excellence. From the Progressive Manufacturing 50, the judges selected one high achiever in each discipline and one overall winner. Livingston & Haven received the highest honor as the overall Progressive Manufacturer of the Year. Specifically, L&H earned the award for its “Driving Efficiency” program. Nominated projects were scored on their scope, business impact, customer impact, technology use and scale.
60 Years of Service
L&H was established in 1947 when Malcolm D. Haven bought the controlling interest in a Charleston, S.C. firm involved in petroleum handling equipment. In 1952, L&H began to specialize in the sale and service of pneumatic components devices. Ten years later the company expanded again by specializing in hydraulics. In 1966, future chief executive officer Clifton Vann III joined L&H and in 1973, the company relocated its corporate office from Charleston to Charlotte, N.C.
Through the years, L&H developed partnerships that would advance the company. It became a distributor for Parker, Versa and Humphrey and has represented their products for 50 years. In 1972, L&H signed an agreement with Rexroth as a distributor in Georgia. At that time, Rexroth was not a large U.S. manufacturer and didn’t have English literature for their products. Today, as Bosch Rexroth, it is the world leader in motion control, and L&H is the premiere Bosch Rexroth distributor in the United States. In the early 1980s, L&H expanded into electronics/automation and began a partnership with Mitsubishi Electric, a move that would again advance the company into a new era. Mitsubishi was at the forefront of the PLC revolution, which drastically changed the automation industry worldwide.
The company also made important, strategic acquisitions. From 2002 to 2004 L&H purchased Andek and SDI, two lubrication companies based in Charlotte, N.C. Both acquisitions expanded L&H’s capabilities in lube services, which made the company the undisputed technology leader in automatic lubrication systems.
Also in 2004, L&H greatly expanded its automation division, bringing advanced PC, supervisory and remote diagnostic capabilities to customers in all markets. Further, throughout the first decade of the new century, L&H divested itself of unrelated businesses and concentrated completely on motion control.
L&H’s Charlotte facility includes 60,000 square feet, with 20,000 dedicated to manufacturing. “We build a great deal of hydraulic power units and electrical control panels, and we also develop turnkey integrated systems,” says McKay. “The manufacturing area includes several production bays and a repair center. Additionally, we have been instituting lean manufacturing processes which we are able to take to our customers.”
One such process is Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). “It’s like the new Six Sigma,” says McKay. Stated in basic terms, OEE compares how well a piece of equipment actually performs, compared to how well it’s supposed to perform. This is information that can lead to functional improvement. “For instance, you could have a vertical flow wrapper in a packaging environment that was designed to go 75 parts per minute, but it is only running 40 parts per minute. OEE helps determine the reasons why,” says McKay.
In 2007, L&H started construction on a new $5.3 million facility, located on six acres across the street from the original facility. The two-story, 55,000-square-foot building will serve as corporate headquarters and include a research and development center. Further, it will complement the original facility and not replace it, says McKay.
“It will include a state-of-the-art training center. We’re strong advocates of training and, with the new building, we’re extending that into automation and lubrication,” he says.
The 8,500-square-foot R&D center will enable on-site servicing for customers’ equipment. “We can bring the equipment here, rather than going out and trying to do retrofits on their factory floors. It will be so much easier than developing prototypes while the customers are trying to run their production,” says McKay. “We’ll be able to place different technologies onto their machines and engage in experimentation to help them develop their next-generation machines.”
L&H has many resources to put toward its ongoing efforts and more than 190 associates spread across nine satellite offices in six states (Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia). The associate roster includes more than 50 certified hydraulic specialists, more than 30 certified pneumatic specialists and more than 25 certified connector specialists. Customers include companies within a wide range of industries including mobile, tire and rubber, automotive, food and packaging, pulp and paper, heavy industry, plastics, machine tool, printing and converting, material handling and textile/chemical.
L&H is fully committed to its customers’ success. In making this commitment, the company focuses on a larger picture and a comprehensive and highly ambitious mission: to ensure U.S. manufacturing always remains a vital force on a global scale.