An Interview with President Craig Alderson
Willoughby Industries designs and manufactures stainless steel and solid surface plumbing fixture products and accessories for the commercial, health care, recreation, and security industries. Recently, Correctional News visited with Willoughby President Craig Alderson to learn more about this third-generation family-owned business.
Q: Willoughby is a family-owned company. What’s the ownership history?
A: Willoughby Sheet Metal and Heating Company was established in 1947 in Indianapolis by Raymond Willoughby. In 1983, the company name was changed to Willoughby Industries to better reflect the change in products manufactured. Raymond’s son Tim Willoughby, who worked here over 40 years, purchased the company in 1986. In 2004, my wife and I became the third generation owners.
Q: So Willoughby hasn’t always made plumbing fixtures?
A: No. In the early days, Willoughby focused on residential and commercial sheet metal fabrication and repair. The company then expanded its offering to include manufacturing and installation of food service equipment for the commercial and hospitality markets. From the mid 1970s through the early 1980s, the company again expanded its product line to include toilets for use on Amtrak passenger train coaches. In 1981, Willoughby manufactured its first stainless steel security plumbing fixture for use in an Indiana correctional facility. Today, Willoughby is the leading manufacturer of security plumbing products and detention accessories in the country, with a broad product offering of both stainless steel and solid surface products for the commercial, security, recreation, and health care markets.
Q: What are some examples of your products and where might I see them?
A: Examples include lavatories or showers in schools, scrub sinks or bariatric toilets in health care facilities, outdoor drinking fountains or urinals/toilets in recreational settings, and combination lav/toilet units, cabinet showers, mirrors, and shelves in correctional facilities.
Q: Where do you manufacture your products?
A: We are located in Indianapolis, Ind. In March of 2012 we merged two smaller plants and opened a new 250,000-square-foot plant.
Q: Does your new facility bring significant advantages over the previous locations?
A: Yes, in many ways. We were able to start with a clean sheet of paper from plant and office layout standpoints.
In the plant, a systematic manufacturing facility design process was employed to achieve both process and labor efficiencies. We focused on high cost impact areas including in-process material flow patterns, versatile manufacturing cell layouts and activity relationship-based floor planning. We sought to blend our time-proven manufacturing practices with textbook plant layout principles. The end goal was a workplace able to efficiently produce a broad variety of high quality finished products. A very talented plant staff made this happen.
In the office areas, thoughtful workspace layout for all phases of product design and development activities was very important to us. Too often, engineering departments end up remotely located from actual product development and manufacturing activities. Our engineering spaces are directly adjacent to electronics assembly, valve assembly, product test cells, and our wet test lab. The idea was to put engineering resources in a position to foster new product development while providing ongoing oversight of critical manufacturing functions: boots-on-the-ground engineering, if you will.
Q: What are some things about Willoughby that might surprise me?
A: With very few exceptions, we produce all aspects of our products. It has long been our company’s focus to internally manufacture as much of our product as possible. This includes items such as tight-tolerance valve parts, molded solid surface components, electronic piezoelectric switches, and stainless fixture components. Our industry requires quality products and the ability to quickly respond to our customer’s needs. Manufacturing internally allows us to control that quality and respond quickly, while employing American workers.
Something else that we are excited about is our success in growing our correctional export business as developing countries seek to improve their ability to provide safe and secure correctional facilities. Stainless steel fixtures are the premium offering for these markets, who may still be using porcelain or pit toilets, and their use is growing as individual country’s budgets permit.
Q: What are some emerging trends in your market and how are you reacting to them?
A: Specific to the correctional market, reduced new facility construction levels over the past few years have driven a need for existing facility renovations. While there has long been a need for replacement fixtures in existing facilities, the re-purposing of facilities to accommodate different security levels of an inmate population often dictates changes in their cell and/or dormitory area fixtures. We work to insure our replacement style fixture designs are current with ongoing re-purposing needs. Our most recent high efficiency replacement style toilet fixtures feature 1.28 gallon per flush water usage.
Electronic fixture controls for the purpose of reducing lavatory, shower and toilet water usage and associated sewer costs have become quite popular for us as well. When you couple the need to control excessive water usage with the ever present need to reduce facility operating costs, our electronic water management systems are increasingly being specified for use.
Another trend has been the expanded use of suicide-resistant fixtures. We made the first suicide-resistant fixtures in the mid 1990s for the New Jersey Department of Juvenile Justice. The use of this style of fixture has increased dramatically in juvenile, psychiatric, and segregation holding facilities across the country. In some cases today, entire housing units are being built with this family of fixture and accessory products.
Q: Does Willoughby accept custom orders or will you customize a product in your catalog?
A: We have a comprehensive selection of standard fixtures for a wide variety of applications. Having said that, we will often develop specific non-standard fixtures as well as modify existing products to satisfy the unique needs of our customers.
Q: Can you talk about Willoughby’s quality control processes?
A: Quality is always at the forefront of our design and manufacturing practices. As it specifically relates to our correctional products, we are firm believers in 100 percent testing of fixtures. For all combination toilet/lavatory units commonly used in a cell, the welded toilet assembly is water tested at multiple pressures both as a subassembly and as a finished fixture. All lavatory valves and toilet overflow preventers are 100 percent tested for functionality immediately after assembly. We go to great lengths to ensure the fixture and associated accessories meet or exceed applicable standards for performance. Our fixtures are certified to ASME A112.19.3/CSA B45.4.
Q: What does your tagline ‘Count on Us’ mean to you?
A: One of our most important goals in business is to be our customer’s most dependable supplier. We work hard to ensure that when a customer has a need, we respond. If it is a problem, we aggressively pursue a solution. If there is a new or alternative design, we work towards a properly engineered solution. We always try to put ourselves in our customer’s position, and treat them as we would want to be treated.
Location: 5105 West 78th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46268
New Facility Completed: March 2012
Delivery Method: Design, bid, build
Previous Operations Combined in New Facility: 2
Total Square Feet: 250,000 (manufacturing: 225,000, office: 25,000)
Percentage of Components Fabricated at New Site: 92 percent
Number of Employees: Approximately 100
Average Employee Tenure: 8.6 years