Plant of the Month: Northway Industries, Inc

Running three shifts with 130 employees, Northway Industries, Inc. has come a long way in 45 years. When it was founded in 1966 by C. Kenneth Battram and Joseph Callender, it was a simple laminate countertop shop with just two people on payroll.

Today, the Middleburg, Pennsylvania, firm specializes in mass customization, creating office furniture, store fixtures and architectural millwork for all of the following market sectors: health care, institutional, corporate, educational, retailing, kitchen and bath, and more. Contracts flow in via competitive bid, as well as through the company’s Online Ordering and Strategic Partner programs.

Donald O’Hora, President and CEO, says, “We utilize 100,000 square feet, have 12 machining centers, three work cells, and two press lines. We operate around the clock five days a week. This is very demanding on the equipment, which never gets a prolonged period of rest.”

Machinery on the floor includes two IMA single-sided edgebanders and one double-sided edgebander. Schelling’s contribution is a rear-loading panel saw and automated material handling equipment obtained through a partnership arrangement with Dakota Automation.

O’Hora says, “We have been using IMA Schelling equipment for more than 15 years. It is reliable and accurate, and stands up well to our rigorous schedule. We can always depend on these units to perform, which is essential given the short lead times demanded in today’s market.”

Noting that Northway’s reputation has been built on the principles of quality, service and integrity, O’Hora says, “Our primary mission is to provide jobs in the Central Susquehanna Valley area and to be an asset to the surrounding region.”

To implement this goal, co-founder Battram established the Northway Trust in 2003, funding it with his shares in the company. He was then in his early 70s and sought to secure Northway’s future beyond his lifetime. O’Hora says, “He passed away last April at the age of 80, but his legacy continues.”

According to O’Hora, two keys to the company’s continued success are its online ordering capabilities and the strategic partnerships that have developed over the years.

Launched in 2006, the ordering system offers clients and prospects 24/7 access via the Web. O’Hora says, “It is linked to our manufacturing processes, vendor Web sites and Northway’s scheduling system. The result is reduced costs, streamlined order entry and shortened lead times. Users can configure custom cabinets, get instant pricing, shipping costs, and real-time production information.”

The executive points to global sourcing and today’s economic challenges to explain Northway’s interest in strategic partnerships. “It’s necessary for us to balance our own manufacturing efforts with a multitude of supply chain options. We’ve developed a system that utilizes advanced IT solutions to generate accurate bills of material and automated machine code. It’s our ability to collect information in a variety of formats from our customers, process the data quickly and pass it along to all points in the supply chain that differentiates Northway from overseas competitors. Add to this an almost limitless ability to modify and customize, and a ‘get it now’ approach, and you can see why companies large and small are rediscovering domestic manufacturers as a viable source.”

O’Hora cites the connection with Dakota Automation as a particularly successful partnership. “We collaborated on an inventory management and material handling system. After studying our process through scale-model simulations, we became convinced that there was a better way. Dakota Automation listened to the challenge, contributed to the solution, and worked closely with our developmental staff to make it work.”


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