Like a lot of small manufacturers Jim Back, owner of High Tech Elastomers Inc., a maker of highly engineered rubber to metal components, knows his business but doesn’t have a lot of business knowledge.

“I’m like a million other entrepreneurs in that I’m good in the shop but lack a lot of upfront expertise,” says the owner of the Vandalia company with 20 employees.

After reading an article about how TechSolve, the Bond Hill process improvement organization, helped another smaller manufacturer, he turned to Ken Maisch, director of its Center for Small Manufacturers.

“I didn’t have any issues financially or any customer issues,” Back says. “ I wanted to listen and learn about how to get better at what we do.” 

Today he says it’s one of the best decisions he’s ever made.

“We’re more efficient and more productive, and as a result our cost of doing business has come down proportionately. I attribute it to Ken. He’s pointed out so many things to us.”

The six-year-old Center for Small Manufacturers offers free, confidential business development and growth services to existing and startup manufacturers with 50 or less employees.

Maisch, who has more than 40 years of manufacturing experience, says the service has grown from helping four or five companies six years ago to 165 today and is adding 20 to 30 each year.

“I spend a lot of time listening on my first interview with [a client],” Maisch says. “I’m trying to understand whether they’re competitive, and what’s the market they’re selling to and are they taking steps to address that market.”

Over the years, Maisch has created a software spreadsheet that he plugs a client’s data into.

It gives him information on the business’s manufacturing costs, its output per employee and throughput. Maisch says the average manufacturing company should produce $150,000 in revenue per employee per year. 

If they’re below that figure he looks at their financials to look for things such as whether they’re pricing their products correctly or if they have too many non-productive employees.

“We’ll do whatever we can do to help them generate profitable revenue,” he says. “That’s what this is about.”

In some cases, he may call on TechSolve’s engineering and technical experts, at discounted rates, to help clients overcome problems and adopt lean manufacturing techniques to improve their efficiency.

With TechSolve’s expertise High Tech, Back says, has introduced lean manufacturing to improve the company’s performance. Since 2011, he says the company’s sales have increased between 20 and 22 percent and the throughput, the time required for a product to pass through the manufacturing process, has been nearly cut in half with fewer employees.

“Each of my associates is being more productive. We’re working smarter and not harder,” he says.

Maisch says most small manufacturers are under a lot of pressure.

“They’re worried that Washington doesn’t hear what they need,” he says. “But if there’s any place in the world you can make a product that has innovation, productivity and capability, it’s the United States. We’ve got to make stuff to create value.”