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Polo Custom Products: from concept to production with a full range of services

by Rebecca Post Everything is global now. There’s more opportunity to enter into partnerships with your customers now. You can make suggestions that will improve their business, and that’s even expected,” says Kent Lammers, CEO and president of Polo Custom Products. In fact, says Lammers, keeping pace with customer expectations is what transforms clients into full-fledged business partners. Over the years, Lammers says, advances in technology and manufacturing have had great impacts on the business. The “speed of change,” he says, has improved the quality of Polo offerings along with inviting global opportunities. What’s more, when working with OEMs, there’s a much greater expectation to treat the relationship as a collaboration. “We offer more than just a product. It’s a partnership, and we’ve embraced that. Even though we’re a custom manufacturer, the expectation of speed in the marketplace is so important.”
In the interest of partnerships, Polo CEO and president Kent Lammers and his team offer supply chain management that can tackle all the steps from product concepting through fulfillment. Offerings include product design, engineering and product development along with materials sourcing and supplier management of manufacturing processes.
Polo Custom Products has been in operation for more than 70 years, and Kent Lammers has been there for the last half of that journey. Lammer’s 35-year journey at the business started on a part-time basis in college. After college, he worked in accounting and account management, later becoming the controller, chief financial officer and executive vice president, and eventually taking over his current position as president and CEO. Polo is a custom products manufacturer that designs and engineers products for OEMs in the medical, defense, fire and safety, and industrial industries. Polo’s services include custom industrial sewing, film and fabric welding, thermoforming, and supply chain management. Headquartered in Topeka, Kan., Polo has plants in Monticello, Iowa; Louisville, Miss.; Puerto Rico and five Asian locations.

Sewing, welding and thermoforming

Polo’s roots started in custom sewing. The company now has 60,000 square feet of production space for custom sewing. The manufactured products include ventricular assist devices, carrying bags, belt pouch assemblies, sensitive equipment carrying cases and a chemical protective patient wrap for the U.S. Department of Defense. Textiles used in these items include Kevlar®, PBI, and other flame-resistant or specialty fabrics. Polo frequently uses raw materials that are RoHS, REACH, Mil-spec and Berry Amendment compliant. The film and fabric welding offered at Polo produces medical drainage and collection bags; ostomy, nephrostomy, and colostomy bags; laparoscopic surgery specimen collection bags; and compression sleeves and cuffs. Other products include passenger and crew oxygen bag assemblies, CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) safety hood assemblies, and inflatable air bladders and cushions using vinyl, urethane, EVA and olefin films. Polo uses fabric and film sealing processes, including impulse sealing, ultrasonic and thermo-contact sealing, and RF (radio frequency) sealing, also known as High Frequency (HF) welding or Dielectric welding. Polo’s thermoforming services are utilized in making AED (automated external defibrillator) and other medical equipment carrying cases, EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) cases, weapons or instrument holsters, shoulder and lumbar support pad assemblies, device pouches, and compartment liners and dividers for auto interiors and motorcycle luggage compartments.

Supply chain management

In the interest of partnerships, Polo offers supply chain management that can tackle all the steps from product concepting through fulfillment. Offerings include product design, engineering and product development, along with materials sourcing and supplier management of manufacturing processes. Polo also handles global sourcing and procurement of raw materials, inhouse testing, and U.S. and international logistics management. Polo employs about 400 associates, and like many employers, Lammers says his company is in a battle for talent. Recruiting and keeping talent is a priority at Polo, dovetailing with Lammers’s philosophy of the Four Pillars of Success: talent, culture, strategy and vision. Of these pillars, Lammers says culture is most important. “We want people to enjoy coming to work. We’re highly ethical, and I want to listen to people who are doing the work. I’d never ask someone to do something I wouldn’t do, if I had the capability or knowledge to do it.” Creating a climate where people excel is a priority. “I’m all about building future leadership. I enjoy seeing someone develop over the years and become the best that they can be,” says Lammers. That’s where communication comes in. “A person can rarely overcommunicate. I’m not a micromanager. Each person has a role to support. I like to give people autonomy, but my door is always open. I don’t want to overstep; I let others learn and make decisions. It’s well worth my time to get to know people’s work style and what motivates them.”

Technology and human decision-making

Investing in technology is key at Polo. Lammers says, “An exciting part in manufacturing is that digitalization and automation are becoming more common. Manufacturing 4.0 and IoT [Internet of Things] are not fads, and they are going forward and here to stay.” Polo has invested the last few years in putting together an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) network. “It’s like building a house, making decisions on everything [the system needs to include],” Lammers says. Even with Polo’s underpinning of technology, human decision-making is still at the core of the business. “It’s important to gather all the facts,” he says. “I see some people acting on emotion. Let the facts help you decide.” And remember to measure the business accomplishments. “Know where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you want to go.” He adds, “I tend to be an optimist. With hard work any problem or challenge can be solved. Perfection isn’t necessary in the beginning. Avoid perfection paralysis. Let’s try small changes and ideas, do a pilot program and go from there. I like to have as many people as possible in the decision-making. Most often, we arrive at a consensus and the correct decisions are made.” Rebecca Post is editorial director at the Industrial Fabrics Association International. Kent Lammers, President and CEO Polo Custom Products Topeka, Kan. IFAI member since 1981 Most valued benefit: Industry engagement and buyer’s guides


How has IFAI helped your business?  Being a member of IFAI has many benefits, including increased engagement in the industry, partnership opportunities and staying abreast of trending legislative and manufacturing initiatives. IFAI buyer’s guides also hold a lot of value with Polo executives. IFAI shot training videos at a Polo production site, which has turned out to be of great benefit to employees. We’re trying to have the video display on the production floor so people can go back and replay critical steps in the manufacturing process. Employees can see living video documentation instead of reading instructions.

SIDEBAR: Snapshot

Protective Poncho

Polo Custom Products recently developed a patented Chemical Protective Poncho System for the U.S. Department of Defense to protect war fighters. This system protects the user against biological and chemical contamination, delivering total encapsulation of the patient who is either uncontaminated or has undergone decontamination. “We do quite a bit of work for the Department of Defense. For the protection of war fighters, we listened to actual troops and got firsthand knowledge of how a product like this could be helpful,” explains Polo president and CEO Kent Lammers. The bottom liner prevents contamination from underneath, while the attached hood has see-through material, providing visibility for the patient. The poncho facilitates the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and has a layer consisting of carbon-impregnated materials that help filter chemical agents. The poncho fits easily over the top of the patient, allows for easy movement and includes a respiratory port.