History: Present Day
The Changing Market Place
One of the largest evolutions in Clippard's long history has been the market shift. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, apparel manufacturing companies and textile industries used to be big customers of the Clippard brand, but over time many of these types of companies moved overseas. While the need for miniature pneumatics in these markets is still present, the late 1990s and early 2000s were a time of growth and expansion for Clippard in the realm of technology, particularly in semi-conductor, medical and analytical markets. Clippard's products were already very broad in their applications, but regular advancements in technology fueled the company to pursue newer, bigger, and better uses.
Clippard's market started to ease toward more and more customer-driven production. One customer wanted a slight modification to this valve and another wanted this cylinder, but for this purpose. Special orders—modifications to standard products—were piling up, and with many competitors now making similar products the company was faced with the choice of making specials or losing business. Leonard had originally backed the company selling quantities of special coils from one to tens of thousands. Specials gave the company a great advantage.
To the outside world a miniature pneumatic air cylinder is simply a metal tube. To a Clippard employee or customer, that tiny tube of metal can be anything you want it to be. Whatever your hand can do, a pneumatic cylinder can do—pull, push, grip, hold, eject, etc. The application of Clippard products is vast and constantly evolving, which is why not just so many different markets, but the thousands of potential applications within those markets are able to incorporate miniature pneumatics. In the words of Rob Clippard, "Pneumatics is only limited to your imagination," and Clippard proves that with their extremely horizontal customer base. From a tiny air valve in a dentistry tool, to paintball applications, to Clippard valves used on the international space station, to multiple cylinders working together to help President Lincoln talk in Disney's Hall of Presidents, Clippard's products are used all over the world in exciting and innovative ways.
On the other side of entertainment, Clippard's product line has a large presence in the life sciences, particularly in the medical field. Almost half (41%) of the company's North American markets consisted of customers in the life sciences in 2015. The growth in miniature pneumatic use in these industries is due to the reliability, long life, compact size, and quiet nature of Clippard products. As devices decreased in size, Clippard's lightweight yet powerful valves and cylinders have been a standout contestant to medical instrument manufacturers. Applications can be seen in the incorporation of pneumatic measuring devices, which use a valve to control the inflation and deflation of the cuff. While there are countless other uses of these products in the medical field, such as in analytical equipment, this Cincinnati-founded company is making a huge mark in the advancement of the life sciences industry.
Clippard takes great pride in the demonstration of their products and incorporates miniature pneumatics into their office space as well as in the factory as proof they can be used for limitless purposes. Stepping foot onto the sales and advertising floor of Clippard's Colerain facility, you are immediately greeted by a large clock with numerous pneumatic features. With a single hand that counts the minutes using timed air cylinders, the clock alerts employees for breaks throughout the day with various sounds. The training room on the same floor has pneumatically-controlled blinds on the windows and the doors can open and close using pneumatic control technology. But the trade shows are where the Clippard team has really shown what they can do.
Other displays not pictured here included a pneumatic "wall walker" and a pneumatic foosball table. Designed by Ken Lappin, the "wall walker" was used at numerous trade shows and later offered as a kit. The pneumatic foosball table was a challenge to build for Ernie Doering. It utilized miniature joysticks to control proportional valves and cylinders that moved all the players on the field. It was a huge success and always had people lined up to play.
From the first ads in the late 1950s highlighting the uses of pneumatics to competing with thousands of manufacturers of pneumatic components around the world, Clippard has always invested in the Clippard brand. Although the media and channels are changing, Clippard remains ahead of its competition in digital and print advertisements. Generating nearly 17,000 leads in 2018, Clippard is among the best in the industry for attracting new customers.
In the manufacturing portion of the Colerain facility, machines are lined up in rows across a clean floor. Whereas some machines date back to the early days of the Colerain plant, others are newer machines that have, depending on function, either been bought and modified by the company or designed and built in-house. Technology ranging from manual to fully automated fills both facilities, each one used for a specific purpose and with its own story. The Fairfield facility even has a section of the plant completely dedicated to unused machines. This section—known as the "graveyard"—is for machines that are outdated, but which the company hopes to either modify for newer purposes or scrap for parts. With a long reputation of building and modifying technology, these machines will likely find some way back into use. Bill Clippard, President, could be considered the "Master of Procurement" with his relentless research and negotiation skills in acquiring new machinery and equipment. From perusing eBay to driving to Chicago for an auction, his persistence has paid off time and time again as he saves the company money while building and maintaining capabilities beyond those of the competition.
Although Clippard still utilizes a hands-on approach for creating products, the incorporation of more CNC automated equipment has led them to bring more employees onboard who can work with new technologies. When the company began manufacturing pneumatic components, they produced products in bulk, creating thousands of their most popular items and stocking them on shelves. However, when customer demands started to increase, the company had to rethink their manufacturing processes. In bulk manufacturing, a machine would be held up making one product for an extended amount of time, meaning another product couldn't be put on the machine until the first was complete. Set-up for these new products also took a considerable amount of time, especially in comparison to the number of special orders the company needed to fulfill. The answer to this was lean manufacturing.
In order to meet all of these needs, Clippard needed to rearrange their production processes to accommodate for smaller more frequent orders of varying kinds. At the time, the company was working under a batch manufacturing process that produced standard items in bulk, which led to a lot of inventory that sat on the shelves. In 2004 Clippard made a shift toward a more economical way of manufacturing that eliminated the products collecting dust on the shelves and allowed for higher production with less waste.
Simply put, lean manufacturing means every employee identifies and eliminates waste in production. In preparation for this transition, many in management visited other companies who had "gone lean" and even attended Lean Simulation seminars that demonstrated the advantages of one-piece flow and improvements in achieving it. The simulations provided great examples of how the process worked, but didn't translate well to Clippard's line of work.
This led the company's lean champions to create their own simulation for other employees. The team, which included Larry Clines, Keith Peterson, Doug Robertson, and Robin Rutschilling, created a gameshow-type simulation where employees raced against the clock and learned the benefits of lean over non-lean processes. The simulations, which were conducted for all 250 employees in a series of two classes, were a success and many came out of them seeing what areas of their work could be improved.
New lean manufacturing processes were developed to eliminate excess inventory and increase the speed of production. Along with these new processes came smarter machines and skilled people who could program and operate them. In the past, the company recruited employees with mainly machinist skills, but they now look for those with a passion for mechatronics—a combination of mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, and pneumatic knowledge. These individuals are able to program, fix, and set up new technology in the facilites. When they arrive at Clippard they are taught basic machinist skills which are still needed in order to work effectively in the plant. This shift from straight machinery to programming has allowed the company to be more inclusive and efficient in their production methods, moving them forward into the future of manufacturing.
Clippard Instrument Laboratory is no ordinary manufacturer. When team members take groups on tours of either plant, a considerable amount of time is blocked out for guests to walk through each section. Not necessarily because there is a lot to see or because the facilities are exceptionally large, but because guests are usually stopped and introduced to employees working in the different departments. Each and every line has a story and a person attached to it. While the tour guide will speak about the company as a whole, a lot of information about the individual products and procedures comes from employees. Those working in the plant enjoy telling others about what they do, how they do it, and about their experience in the company. More times than not, those making the product know exactly what the tiny product they are making will be used for—and if not, they strive to find out. The plant floor is divided into sections—primary, secondary, stock, assembly, and shipping. In the past, almost all of Clippard's products were passed on to the secondary line for completion because the primary machines did not have tools in the turret to finish parts. Today, the machines in the primary section have more tooling that enables them to perform a variety of functions such as spinning, turning, and drilling. These added capabilities now allow many finished parts to be completed in the primary section.
In addition to advanced manufacturing techniques, Clippard also utilizes their own in-house engineering and automation capabilities for continuous improvement. New systems are regularly developed to replace manual tasks and increase efficiencies. For example, a robotic machine was recently created to take over the monotonous task of assembling o-rings on parts. Before this machine, an employee had to tediously place the tiny rings on each part—now, they can move to a more exciting part of the factory while the robot speedily performs the task day or night.
A unique aspect of Clippard's manufacturing is the lack of a second shift. All those who work on the production side of the business work during the day, arriving and leaving earlier than those in other departments. The idea of a second shift was first brought up when the company realized they needed to produce more in order to compete with the output standards of overseas manufacturers. The answer to this would be to continue production into the night, however the addition of a second shift contradicted with the company's values.
Since its foundation, Clippard had been a family-friendly company. Employees worked during the day and then spent the evenings with their families. With the increased need to make more products, the company sought to find a solution that would not affect the home life of employees. The answer to this dilemma was Lights Out Manufacturing. Clippard currently has 13 machines in its Colerain plant that operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year-round. The Fairfield location also has a number of machines that can load bar stock automatically for Lights Out Manufacturing. Except for spot checks, which are performed on the weekends to ensure the machines are running properly, these machines run independently and eliminate the need of a second shift.
One unique aspect of the Clippard culture is how they recruit new employees. Being a manufacturing company, a number of positions are trade-based. Clippard begins recruitment of potential employees early by partnering with local high schools to offer senior year co-ops. Clippard is affiliated with multiple high schools in the greater Cincinnati area, the longest of these affiliations being with Colerain High School. During the co-op, seniors work four hours a day through different areas in the manufacturing department. The co-op lasts six months as a two-way interview between Clippard and the student, resulting in a decision whether or not to hire the student full time after graduation. This program has been helpful to the company in educating students on the benefits of vocational professions and training potential future employees on their equipment and processes.
To supplement their efforts in high school recruitment, Clippard started an apprenticeship that helps discover and train individuals with backgrounds in mechatronics. In the program Clippard sponsors an apprentice whose schedule is split between college classes, training, and working in different participating companies. While working in the different companies, apprentices learn machining skills as well as how to set up, program, and fix various technology used to manufacture products. After two years, the student receives an Associate's Degree in Mechatronics and has the skills necessary to work in a number of different types of plants.
For others who wish to take a different route, the entry-level position at Clippard is "chip-spinning." This requires an individual to take the metal chips that fall from the machines and put them in a spinner, which extracts the oil from the chips. The oil then goes back into the machines and the dry chips are recycled. From here, and other positions at Clippard, employees can choose where they want to go in the company. As long they are willing to work and put in the necessary time to get the required education, employees have the ability to move up in the company and even switch departments. Instead of promoting employees based on seniority, Clippard implements an education policy that recognizes when employees invest time to continue their education. Whether it is in learning a new technology skill, management traits, or machining techniques, employees have the freedom to choose to continue learning with the company's help and support. Instead of forcing education on employees, it is each individual's choice whether they are content in their position or wish to move. For those who do seek additional education, Clippard has a tuition reimbursement program that pays back the money spent taking college classes.
There are many employees along Clippard's past and present who have taken part in the company's generous academic offerings, but two are often asked to represent the company's career opportunities to potential recruits—Gary Dilonardo and Scott Lamb. Scott started in Clippard's entry-level position spinning the oil out of chips and worked his way up to the machine shop building test fixtures. Through his exposure to the product line in the shop and through college classes, he finally moved into his current position as Technical Sales Manager, completely switching from one side of the business to another. Gary's story is similar in that he started in the shop working on a tube saw and then moved to the CNC machine. He worked his way up to becoming Quality Manager and is now the Purchasing Manager, also experiencing multiple aspects of the company. This is the kind of free culture Clippard promotes. Employees are guaranteed that, as part of the Clippard family, they are not stuck in one department if they decide they want to challenge themselves to learn another skill or part of the business.
The Ohio State University
The Ohio State University Mechanical Engineering building features lab space that has been dedicated as the "Clippard Laboratory" in honor of William L. Clippard, III, Class of 1963. The lab is used for engineering design courses where students have access to prototype-producing machinery to design, program, and run their parts.
Bill Clippard was a graduate of The Ohio State University Mechanical Engineering program in 1963. Bill has always had an engineering mind and the ability to put design ideas into practical applications. His natural depth of understanding for mechanical systems, coupled with engineering technical disciplines acquired at OSU, has allowed him to create unique designs for products, equipment, and processes. Through a partnership between OSU and engineering-oriented companies like Clippard, the need for graduates to have more practical knowledge and exposure to real world challenges is being addressed through curriculum changes. The Clippard Engineering Lab enhances these initiatives by allowing students to gain practical hands-on experience.
Focus on Education
Clippard is not only a team sponsor for the FIRST Robotics Organization, a high school robotics competition that challenges students to design, build, and program an industrial-sized robot to complete specialized tasks, but Clippard has been a contributor of parts for the robotics kits for over 17 years. FIRST teaches high school students how to incorporate real-world engineering skills in a fun environment, which is why Clippard engineers volunteer their time to help local teams prepare for competition.
As mentors to these students, Clippard engineers assist in guiding students toward creating a successful robot for competition. Employees also often attend local competitions—either as volunteers or spectators. Everyone enjoys cheering on the local teams, and it's always impressive to see the teamwork and spirit the students express.
In the later months of the year, Clippard's halls become quite festive and filled with celebration for the year-end holiday trio—Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Every year for Halloween, the company has a costume contest. While participation fluctuates from year to year, the company has had quite a lot of fun and genius costumes in years past, and everyone who participates has a blast dressing up and coming to work. During Halloween the company also has a chili cook off. Between both Cincinnati facilities, Clippard usually has at least 20 pots of chili ranging in four categories of spice level. The winning bowl is then shared for all to enjoy.
To celebrate Thanksgiving as a work family, the company brings in a catered lunch for all the employees to enjoy together. During the recession the Thanksgiving lunch was brought into question because the company could not afford to cater it in. Instead of cancelling the lunch completely, employees decided to bring in their own dishes and host a potluck lunch. Efforts such as this are perfect examples of the company's culture as the employees cared more about spending time together than receiving a catered meal. The company also brings in a catered lunch for Christmas each year and purchases a gift for every employee, usually with the words "Quality People, Quality Products" on it. Events such as these truly bring the staff together and allow them to get to know each other on a deeper level, strengthening their comradery and making the thought of coming to work more fun as well.
Outside these three major holidays, the company also celebrates warmer weather with outdoor picnics, such as on Memorial Day and Labor Day. During these Clippard usually invites community service men and former employees to join, making the event a whole family affair with catered food, games, and good company. Another national holiday the company joyfully celebrates is Manufacturing Day. Though they've only been celebrating it for a few years now, Clippard is proud to be an American manufacturer and employees love showcasing that pride for this day. The Clippard leadership team has also invented holidays over time, making sure every month has at least one fun day for the employees to enjoy. These days include Ice Cream Day, Hat Day, and many more. Even when there are no holidays to celebrate, birthdays, retirements, and anniversaries are special events always deserving of commemoration and cake. Employees celebrate each other's milestones, in life and with the company, together as a family. Clippard employees are also friends outside of work and spend time together, whether on camping trips, at football games, or simply dinner outings.
As the 21st century progressed, the team at Clippard began discussing who would take over the company's leadership when Bill and Bob stepped down. As a family-owned, family-run business for over half a century, the management team introduced the idea of bringing in an outside president for a limited amount of time to groom the third generation of the Clippard family to lead the company. Statistics on family business evolution, and the business knowledge of the third generation, had a large impact on this decision. According to many studies on the stages of family businesses, the majority do not make it through third generation leadership either because the grandchildren are not interested in inheriting the business or make unwise decisions that cause the company to dissolve. Some even refer to this stage as the "blunder years," following the wonder years (inception) and thunder years (growth). The Clippard family did not want this to happen and it was the third generation in 2008 that purposed someone with outside business experience was needed to transition the company.
Together the management team compiled a list of qualifications for the future president, including someone with international experience who could expand the company's global scope and someone who was experienced in company acquisitions. After reading through close to 100 resumes and interviewing 40 candidates, the team narrowed the applicants down to the final six from which the family would choose from. From these final candidates came John Campbell. John was brought into Clippard in 2013 to mentor the third generation family members, who serve as company vice presidents in their respective departments, into leadership roles. His time with the company is based on a five-year contract, in which time he will have successfully transferred his own outside business knowledge and experience onto Leonard's grandchildren so they can, then, eventually step up and take the leadership of the company back into the family.
In March, 2019, William A. Clippard was selected as President to lead the organization going forward. With 26 years of experience at Clippard, he has been involved in many aspects of the business. Bill has served as Vice President of Operations for the past six years, and has assisted in making significant investments in technology improvements and advancements in manufacturing. He is a champion and supporter of personal development, and is respected for his servant leadership and integrity by all who know him.
Sales Wars Sales Meeting, 2014
In 2014, Clippard hosted "Sales Wars," another themed sales meeting. Based on Star Wars, the meeting featured the tagline "Power of the Past, Force of the Future." The rebel alliance was invited to Cincinnati to meet Jedi John Campbell and the new executive team. The meeting was a tremendous success, with distributors hearing from key managers and executives about defeating the dark side and moving forward with great momentum.
When thinking about the future, the team at Clippard cannot help but include international sales into the mix. Comprising around 18% of the company's revenue, sales outside of the U.S. are a growing focus for Clippard. Though most of this revenue is from Europe and serviced by the Belgium office, the Pacific Rim is also a strong market. China, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malesia, and Australia are all countries serviced by Clippard's sales office in Wuxi, China, which opened in August, 2015, and have prominent customers of the company's innovative miniature pneumatic line. Clippard also has a presence in Latin America, particularly in Puerto Rico, Brazil, Mexico and Columbia.
Part of Clippard's future vision is to grow their international sales even further. While there are many options and factors to consider in brainstorming the execution of this goal, Ernie Doering, Vice President of Corporate Development, says one solution could be to move manufacturing to the market it serves. This would mean building manufacturing plants in other countries that would then fulfill orders for that area, which was a point of contention when the company decided to build a sales office in China. Many questioned whether the company was moving their manufacturing overseas to then service U.S. customers, but this was indeed false. Though it makes sense to manufacture products in the area of service, Ernie says it is a double-edged sword because many overseas customers like the idea of an American-made product. The company has looked into potentially moving forward with this idea in India, but there are many factors to overcome, the two biggest being quality control and profit.
In 1974, Interstate 275 was being completed and the final plans called for cutting the Clippard Air Park in half. The northern portion of the property was sold and is now retail space while the 15 acre southern portion was donated to Colerain Township to be used as a park. Clippard Park received a makeover in 2009 and now has two baseball fields, a nature walk path, a large skate park, several shelters, a huge kids playground and water park.
Clippard is well-known throughout the Colerain community and the city of Cincinnati for their involvement with and generosity toward a wide variety of local organizations and charities. Leonard began a tradition of giving to several charities every year at Christmas, which the company has upheld throughout the years. In addition to this tradition, Clippard also supports other causes throughout the year. Organizations Clippard has supported include City Gospel Mission, Matthew 25 Ministries, Pro Kids, Relay for Life, Anthony Muñoz Foundation, Susan G. Komen, and the Leukemia Society. The company also supports local food banks twice a year with a "Souper Bowl" food drive in February where employees donate canned goods to vote for the team they think will win the big game. In most cases, giving and participating in local charity events is employee driven. Employees at Clippard like to support different causes and often present them to the executive team.
Throughout the years, the company has been a loyal supporter of the U.S. military and the men and women who fight for our freedom. On many different occasions, employees have collected items to create care packages for soldiers stationed overseas including food, books, stationary, toiletries, and other supplies the soldiers might have need for while in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Clippard has a collection of letters sent in gratitude for the packages, many describing their thankfulness for support from home and the reminder of why they do what they do. It is efforts like these and many more that make Clippard a rare and special place to work.
Every year the Clippard management team gives each of their employees a gift with the company's simple yet profound motto—"Quality People, Quality Products." One Christmas the motto was printed in reverse, leading the phrase with products instead of people. It's interesting how something as minor as switching two words can mean so much to the meaning of a phrase. "Quality Products, Quality People," wasn't how the motto was supposed to read because the focus shouldn't be on the products but the people who make them.
The story of Clippard is a story of passionate people of all backgrounds coming together with a common purpose to create a quality product. After all, the story of Leonard Clippard and his ingenious invention of the first-ever miniature pneumatic product wouldn't exist without his passion to solve production problems. The sale, growth, and success of the product wouldn't have happened without dedicated people backing and promoting Leonard's idea. And the massive success and longevity of Clippard Instrument Laboratory, Inc. wouldn't be half what it is today without the numerous names that have been mentioned throughout the pages of this story. Even those who haven't been mentioned are part of a history that far extends the Clippard family.
The beauty of Clippard's credo statement is that every line begins with the word "We." Each line defines the company and the mission of those who work there through the all-encompassing "We" statements. The statement says it is a desire company-wide to give back to the community, not just among leadership. These statements say all employees from 1941 to 2017 and beyond are part of Clippard history—we are Clippard.