Andy Lechtenberg, president of Marlin Technologies Inc., doesn’t have a magic formula for success. There is no “Marlin Technologies Production System,” no “Marlin Sigma” program.
“A lot of times, people make this business more complicated than it really has to be,” says Lechtenberg. “It’s about listening to your customer.”
Marlin makes programmable controllers, engine control modules, timers, inverters and other electronic assemblies for harsh environments. The company’s products are found in tractors, locomotives, turf-care equipment, military vehicles and other rugged, outdoor machines. Small and nimble-the company tallies $10 million to $15 million in sales annually-Marlin is willing to take custom orders and low-volume opportunities.
“The majority of our stuff [is produced in quantities of] 50 to 5,000 a year,” says Lechtenberg. “By making a custom product, we give our customers exactly what they need. They don’t have to be satisfied with not getting all the features they want, nor do they have to overpay for a standard, off-the-shelf product from an OEM.”
That strategy has paid off handsomely. In January, Marlin moved into a new, 33,000-square-foot assembly plant in Horicon, WI. “We’ve been growing at over 10 percent a year for many years, and had the opportunity to step up and build a facility the way we wanted,” says Lechtenberg. “We’re delighted with the way it came out. We’ve more than doubled our size.”
Compared with Marlin’s previous facility, the new plant is clean, bright and open. “It has high ceilings, and it’s very adaptable,” says Lechtenberg. “Most of the power and air comes in from overhead. We can-and have-moved around different cells and assembly lines.”
Lechtenberg has no regrets about locating in a small, central Wisconsin town. “We have ready access to both Madison and Milwaukee for professional services and technical talent,” he says. “We have a very dedicated workforce that is willing to be flexible on work hours. It’s worked out very well.”
The company performs both surface-mount and through-hole assembly. Marlin upgraded its surface-mount equipment and brought in technology to accommodate lead-free processing. Equipment for potting and encapsulation-key processes for ruggedized electronics-was brought in-line with assembly. The company also expanded its test lab to run more severe product validation tests.
“If you want to compete these days, you’d better keep upgrading your capital equipment,” says Lechtenberg. “We’re increasingly getting into state-of-the-art technologies, like hybrids and drive-by-wire.”
Lean manufacturing methods enable the company to cope with high-mix, low-volume production. “We offer a quick turnaround time and 99 percent on-time delivery,” says Lechtenberg. “In this day and age, our customers can’t forecast very well, so we make a little higher commitment in raw stock than other suppliers. ...People expect you to respond to increases and reductions in demand.”
Editor’s note: “Moving Forward” is a regular series profiling new or expanding assembly plants. If you know a facility that’s opening, growing or investing in new equipment, we’d like to hear about it. Send an e-mail to John Sprovieri, editor of ASSEMBLY, at email@example.com, or call 847-405-4068.