Uniseal is a manufacturer of adhesive and sealant products primarily for the automobile industry. The company was founded in 1961 in Evansville, Indiana. It is centrally located to serve the automotive assembly plants that tend to be based in the Midwestern United States.
Today, while the bulk of Uniseal’s work is still in the automotive industry, the company has expanded to serve other market segments including commercial transportation, industrial applications, and the electronics industry.
Over the course of its 56 years, Uniseal has developed an expertise in the field of sealants and adhesives. Its experience in this area enabled the company to develop a unique chemistry that is used in the ‘body-in-white’ phase of vehicle manufacturing, just after the sheet metal components of an automobile are assembled and sealants are applied to the unpainted chassis.
Body-in-white sealants and adhesives are where the company cut its teeth and began to grow through research and development efforts to become an innovative leader. In the last six years, the company has started to focus some of its efforts in the paint process to expand its operation and bring some of its unique solutions into the paint shop phase.
The company has two manufacturing plants in Evansville, Indiana, a third in Derby, UK to serve customers across Europe, and a fourth in Shanghai, China to serve customers in the Asia-Pacific region. Uniseal employs roughly 150 people directly.
The Uniseal culture is one of teamwork, camaraderie, and confidence in the company’s ability to exceed customer expectations. There are many employees who have been with the company for thirty years or more, and their tenure is a result of the friendly, positive atmosphere.
“Uniseal has a really strong entrepreneurial sense. The approach is really ‘How do we make it work for the customer? How do we make it better?’” says Vice President of Sales and Marketing Phil Jentoft. “Never in my tenure at Uniseal have we ever said, ‘No, we can’t do that.’ We find a way to make it work.” This confidence is hard earned. Its reputation for solving problems is a result of investing time, the money and care into getting the right equipment, finding the right people and implementing the best procedures.
One example of how Uniseal has worked to improve its procedures is its recent effort to overhaul its manufacturing operation. It has embarked on a lean manufacturing journey over the last two years. Lean manufacturing is a system for eliminating waste in all of its many forms to increase productivity. The company worked with a lean manufacturing expert to look at the company’s operating procedures and challenge the team members to look differently at how they work.
When a company can consistently make high-quality products and maintain a solid reputation, it can become complacent, but Uniseal is committed to not taking the path of least resistance. “It really made us look at things we had taken for granted,” says Jentoft, “and challenged us to improve them.”
As a result, the company has been able to get a better understanding of its manufacturing process and has developed some significant process improvements. Throughput has increased, the process is more flexible than before, and having a better overall understanding has given Uniseal more ways to utilize its manufacturing assets.
Uniseal has developed some groundbreaking technology. One example of this is a hybrid material the company developed with Ford. It combines a noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) inhibiting component with a body-panel reinforcement (BPR) component. The BPR component provides structural reinforcing and sound dampening in a pumpable or extrudable material.
Historically, NVH solutions came in the form of a rubber or foam patch, and BPR material was generally applied as a rigid stiffening patch. Uniseal’s solution puts both of these into one pumpable material, giving manufacturers more flexibility as it can be robotically applied. It is also better performing and more cost effective than what was previously available. The product is called SOUNSECURE™ HYBRID, and it has generated a lot of interest and excitement in the industry because of its ability to improve performance and reduce manufacturing costs.
The company has also done impressive work with fracture-toughened adhesives that give the advantage of being able to bond dissimilar substrates such as aluminum to steel, aluminum to magnesium, magnesium to steel and aluminum to carbon fiber. These materials are difficult to bond because they expand and contract at different rates as they are heated or cooled. Generally, as an adhesive gets stronger, it becomes less flexible and vice versa. So for an incredibly strong adhesive like the ones used in a vehicle, there is almost no flexibility which means that if one material changes shape faster than the other, the adhesive cannot adapt to the new shape without fracturing.
Uniseal’s research and development team have developed a truly unique approach that brings strength and flexibility closer to equilibrium, resulting in a strong adhesive that can stay bonded to two different substrates as they change shape at different rates. This gives manufacturers a lot of design flexibility. Having access to these substrate combinations enables them to make vehicles lighter; it eliminates the need for some fasteners and mechanical welds that tend to be more labor intensive, add weight to the vehicle, and are often less durable than a good adhesive.
For the paint shop, the company has developed 4580, a polyurethane stone-guard coating technology with advanced properties. A stone guard coating is a paintable surface protectant that dries hard enough to prevent damage from stones and debris. 4580 goes on significantly thinner and with a smoother finish than the orange-peel textured finish that is common with the PVC stone guard coatings available on the market.
Uniseal is widely recognized in the industry for its quality. It carries the Ford Q1 rating which is a globally-recognized quality certification and one of the most prestigious marks in the industry. In April, the company was given Toyota’s excellent quality performance award.
One of the keys to Uniseal’s success is that it has structured the organization to be as flat and nimble as possible. This means that there is very little red tape to delay the process of making a decision on how to best use resources. The company has a close collaboration with the customer. By working with them throughout the entire design process, Uniseal is able to come to the right solution much quicker than its competition. This is, in large part, the result of work by the company’s Vice President of Research and Development Dr. Thanikaivelan Veeraraghavan, PhD, known to the Uniseal team as Dr. ‘Velan. He has created a distinctive culture within the company’s research and development group that drives outstanding results at a rapid pace and delivers pioneering, economical solutions.
The speed at which it can effectively work through a project with no sacrifice to quality and its lean and nimble manufacturing processes are both key factors that enable the company to do the challenging work it does, but equally important to the processes and procedures are the values the Uniseal team holds.
“There’s no right way to do the wrong thing,” says Jentoft, quoting the old saying. “That’s a tenet that really holds true for us as a company.” Respect for people, integrity, a focus on the customer’s needs, continuous improvement, and community involvement are the principles that Uniseal stands by, and through them, employees can achieve personal fulfillment and the company has achieved great success.
The company has a long history in the Evansville area and is quite invested in the local community. It frequently allows its employees to take time from work to contribute their time and talent to nonprofit and charitable organizations and give back to the community. It has teams of people who work with Habitat for Humanity, United Way and other charities in the greater Evansville area. Uniseal employees log thousands of hours of community service every year.
Uniseal’s highly-streamlined internal structure allows the company to operate with exceptional clarity. The executive leadership members are highly engaged with each other as a cross-functional team to keep the operation nimble and to enable an unparalleled solution for every project taken on.