Given the task of building an apparatus to transport heavy cabinets that are used to house sophisticated data storage equipment, Sajar Plastics Inc. technician Albert Miller turned to his favorite material: wood.
Miller built a device that rotates so that Sajar workers can attach parts to cabinet panels that are assembled and shipped to Dayton, Ohio-based information technology company NCR Corp. For more than 30 years, Miller, who is Amish, has been supplying his particular brand of craftsmanship to Sajar, an injection molder in Middlefield.
Though he isn't much of a talker, Miller says a lot about the business model applied by Sajar - an amalgamation of modern engineering expertise, old-fashioned efficiency and injection molding know-how.
Inside Sajar's 187,000-square-foot headquarters and production plant, activity reveals a blue-collar operation that serves a bevy of white-collar customers. Besides NCR, Sajar provides injection molded parts to automated teller machine manufacturer Diebold Inc. of Green, Ohio, and copier giant Xerox Corp. of Stamford, Conn.
At the helm of Sajar is co-owner and President Joe Bergen, who sees a benefit in investing in Miller's wood fabrications and in a $2 million injection press the company installed last year.
Any decision to invest in automated equipment isn't made lightly.
Some newly acquired presses are put through strenuous testing to ensure ``do-overs,'' or flawed product output, is kept to a minimum.
Managing costs translates into a more economical price for customers, Bergen said.
``Everything today is, how can you get costs down,'' he said. ``If you don't have the value and price equation, there is no tally.''
Sajar had more than $20 million in sales in 2005 and is projecting a 7 percent increase in sales this year. The company is expanding its profit margins on those sales by adding services, Bergen said. For instance, a beverage distributor hired Sajar this year to produce beverage display racks. When that company lost its graphics supplier, Sajar created a manual silk-screen station at its Middlefield plant to do the customer's work in-house.
Performing that work means less production must be farmed out to another company, said Scott Simpson, Sajar co-owner and chief operating officer.
``Now the [distributor] takes the order, and we do the drop-ship to each customer,'' Simpson said.
However, even a company in rural Middlefield can't escape the shadow of global competition, Bergen said. To combat cheaper exports from China and other countries, Sajar relies increasingly on innovation to distinguish itself from the competition.
The company uses more computer-aided-design processes that, in turn, are improving the quality of custom molds for clients, he said. That kind of commitment apparently is paying off because Xerox last month added Sajar to a list of select suppliers in a move to streamline its base of plastics vendors nationwide.
Mark Zumerling, Sajar's vice president of sales and marketing, said Xerox plans to transfer to Sajar ``a major molding program'' from a competing manufacturer. Marty Maryan, Xerox commodity manager, was traveling last week and unable to comment on the arrangement.
To support its growing list of customers, Sajar has beefed up its engineering staff and is adding 10 production line workers this year. But even though the 146-employee company is showing incremental growth, Sajar often prefers to do more with less.
``We had 50 molding machines and 500 employees when we came here'' in 2000, Bergen said. ``Now we have 17 machines and a smaller workforce.''
Like most processors, Sajar has been hammered by rising raw materials costs caused by spiraling natural gas and oil prices. Simpson said the company was whacked by eight separate price increases during one 18-month stretch.
Those rising prices have entailed surcharges on products to customers, which is a challenge in itself.
``You have to go about re-educating the people you're dealing with, starting with the buyer and going up the chain,'' Bergen said.
Whether the company is using wood or the latest technology to keep competitive, Bergen said the elements that make up Sajar's day-to-day operation are enough to keep him in plastics for a long time to come.
``I wish I wasn't 66 years old,'' Bergen said.