By Jeff Wright and Bruce Niederer
January 2013 was a big month for the Gougeon Brothers, Inc. Technical Department. This department is responsible for our technical customer service, product development, and quality control. In January this department moved into a completely new building that adjoins our current facility.
Conversations regarding a new technical department building started several years ago. As our business grew over the last 30 years we built additional lab and shop space inside our existing building. This served us well but having separate labs meant we had to control the environmental conditions in multiple rooms, a difficult task at best. We also found ourselves walking unnecessary miles between the instrument lab, the formulation lab, and the multiple places we stored raw materials. We had also outgrown all available office space. We knew that a new building was the best option, and it was time to pull the trigger! We began work with a local design/building contractor to plan our new building.
The highest priority for the layout of the new building was the laboratory. Climate control (temperature and relative humidity), conditioned electrical power, counter space, storage and ventilation were all aspects that could not be compromised. We now have a fabulous single workspace with all of our precision instruments which include equipment for measuring thermal properties, viscosity, chemical composition and more. Another key feature of the lab is an independent ‘floating’ concrete slab which isolates our MTS hydraulic mechanical testing machines from outside vibration interference.
For the workshop we had a very different focus – flexibility. Forty years ago when the company got started, wood was the primary material that WEST SYSTEM epoxy was used for. Then along came fiberglass, carbon fiber, and synthetic fibers such as Dynel®. Not to mention polyethylene “plastic” boats. In order to properly support our customers who are using these materials now, and to be ready for some unknown materials in the future, we wanted to make sure our workshop could quickly adapt to accommodate projects of different size and scope.
To accomplish this we moved from a central dust collection system to individual units for each large power tool so they could easily be moved. A very large garage door was installed for that inevitable boat project that one of our Tech Advisors may want to tackle. The workshop also has a heated floor that evenly distributes unobstructed heat, and air conditioning for those few days when the weather in Michigan exceeds 90°F. Each Technical Advisor has a dedicated portable work bench with easy access to the same chemicals and analytical equipment that our Lab Techs and Chemists utilize. This design will allow us to adapt and work with the same materials and process as our customers.
The workshop will also house our environmental testing chambers, which are still under construction. We will have a 100°F / 20% humidity, 100°F / 100% humidity and 60°F / 100% humidity chambers so we can simulate working conditions from the rain forest to the desert.
Each employee has an enclosed office—no cubicles or open office space— and they all got to keep their staplers! Seriously, we want to be sure that our Technical Staff has a distraction free workspace to talk with our customers who take the time to call us. Our conference room has the opposite approach. It is a wide open space that encourages collaboration and impromptu meetings for brainstorming sessions.
Moving was not an easy task. Besides sorting through and letting go of decades of “stuff” —which for some guys was emotionally draining, akin to losing an old friend— we had to maintain our customer service and quality control support. Our advanced IP-based phone system helped us easily manage the transfer of incoming calls from old offices to new, so customers could always reach a specific Tech Advisor. We also took the time to calibrate each instrument after they were moved to ensure we still generated precise, accurate data.
Our move to the new building took place shortly after we lost our Founder, friend and mentor Jan Gougeon. Out of respect for the innovative work he did with advanced materials that laid the foundation for much of the work that the Technical Department performs and the love and esteem the entire Gougeon employee family holds for Jan, the facility is dedicated to his memory. A plaque commemorating his memory hangs on the wall in the entrance to our new technical building.