The manufacturing management training programme at GE – where she met her husband Mike – led to an MBA at Harvard Business School, and after time at Cummins Engines and then Fleetguard Filters (now Cummins Filtration), they started a family and returned to Wisconsin, where her husband worked with her father for a time.
And a search for a company of her own to buy began – specifically a converter. One of PMA’s founders, Jay Meili, was looking to sell Molded Dimensions so he could retire, and in 2001 Katz became its owner and chief executive; her husband also works there. ‘I own 63% of the company, and the employees own the remaining 37%,’ she said. ‘Molded Dimensions is proud to be both woman-owned and employee-owned.’
Proud of diversity
There are about 90 employees at the facility in Port Washington, Wisconsin, where they make both cast polyurethane and rubber parts for about 350 different customers, Katz said. Two thirds of the staff are involved in hands-on production, and more than a third of these are women. ‘Our customers are spread out over industries including medical, marine, mining and motorcycles,’ she said. And a couple of years ago, they also bought KM Tooling, which makes some of the moulds they use for casting, and produces them for other companies, too.
She describes the business as stable, and many of the customers have been ordering the same parts for 20 or more years. They have also been putting a huge focus on improving efficiency in recent years [see page 32], by driving out variation, making production easier for workers, and getting rid of scrap.
‘We’re really proud of our new product introduction process,’ she said. ‘When someone comes to us with a print, we aim to roll it out first time.’ The timescale will vary on the part’s complexity, but 10-12 weeks is normal, and she said that 6–8 weeks can be possible. Reorders typically take four weeks, but for some companies they will hold inventory of cast parts so they are ready to ship.
With Molded Dimensions having been there at the start of PMA, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Katz soon got involved herself. ‘We feel really strongly that our industry is very collaborative,’ she said. This was evident at the Vancouver meeting. ‘On my table at breakfast, two companies were discussing a problem one of them was having with cleaning a particular type of mould – they were happy to flat-out share what they do.’
Take them on
Cast polyurethane is a very small niche part of the overall polyurethane industry. ‘When we look at other plastics and metals where cast urethane could be used instead, I think the opportunity to expand the pie is so much greater than trying to steal business from competitors,’ she said. ‘We are fairly open about sharing, and the PMA meeting is a great place to come for advice. People are really willing to give helpful hints.’
PMA is also very keen to encourage safe working practices, she said, with a self-certification programme for safe use of chemicals. It is now possible to get third-party verification of this, too. ‘As an industry, we are working hard to use our chemicals in the safest possible way,’ she said. ‘We also lobby to try and keep these chemicals available, and retain as wide array of options as possible for the industry.’
Katz will be president for the next two years, and during that time she wants ensure good contact is made with the moulders, as well as the suppliers that contribute so much technical expertise to the industry. ‘I want to make sure that, as a moulder, the board is listening to the moulders as well as the suppliers,’ she said. ‘I’m looking forward to getting to know more of them really well.’
More of an international focus is on the cards, too. PMA combined with its Canadian counterpart, CUMA, a few years ago, and she said the international connections that brings have been really beneficial. ‘It has really strengthened our organisation,’ she said. ‘But a lot of the regulations are coming from Europe, Australia, Japan and other places, and we are now starting to try and see how we can be of service, and interact with organisations in other locations.’
A subcommittee is looking at making connections with existing groups, and if there are none, she said they are looking at how PMA can provide resources, technology and inspiration. They also aim to build relationships that will help PMA members understand regulatory changes elsewhere in the world that may impact them.
‘It’s really important that we come together and understand what is happening in the regulatory arena, and how it might affect us,’ she said. ‘Although I don’t think there will be any major changes ahead for PMA, the changing regulatory landscape is a renewed reason for collaboration, as well as all the discussions about new technologies and technical issues.’