SSI recently won the “Mayor’s Global Leader” award during World Trade Week hosted by the Oregon Consular Corps. The annual event recognizes companies that make significant contributions to Oregon’s economy through involvement in international trade.
The “Global Leader” award recognizes SSI’s growing international business, effective approach to building demand for their products globally, and innovative methods of working with overseas partners.
In an interview with the Port of Portland, SSI President Tom Garnier said, “We don’t really plan for growth, growth is a byproduct of a job well done. Our goal is to always do the job right, and if the money supports that and follows, then that means we have been successful in our task.”
Garnier founded SSI in 1980, in Wilsonville, Oregon. A combination of factors early on in the company's development influenced Garnier to expand into global markets.
“I was very fortunate when I started the company that I met a gentleman from Korea and he took me on a walk along the Portland waterfront…He explained to me that when you have business outside the US, you expand your market share, so you are not totally reliant on the economy in your own country or state. You learn more about what the world’s needs are, so you are not just providing the world’s needs today but you are getting to look at what might be coming down the road.”
Garnier sold his first product overseas to Japan in 1987. Due to his time spent in the country and interaction with manufacturers, he adopted principles from the Japanese manufacturing process that are still used in the SSI shop today. The Japanese concept of “kaizen” or “process of continual improvement” has inspired modifications to SSI’s product offering in Japan, including modifications to their sales process, product design, and literature. One specific product design change for Japan was the creation of an access door for easy replacement of the load rollers on the platens inside the shredder. This change was critical in Japan where there can be a lack of access to heavy lifting equipment and much smaller service areas.
SSI’s success in the Japanese market has allowed them to more easily do business in other areas of Asia, where the Japanese emphasis on quality and product longevity is well known.
In 1998, SSI supplied all of the shear shredding equipment for the Tuas South Incineration Plant, Singapore’s fourth and largest incineration site. With limited land and a high population density, Singapore has always put a high emphasis on alternatives to landfills. Domestically, here in the US, fuel preparation systems were not embraced early on due to heavy regulation on emissions. SSI’s involvement in large fuel preparation projects in parts of Asia allowed them to get a head start on perfecting their technology and application experience.
Today, SSI has installed more than 3,000 systems in over 60 countries across all 7 continents. About half of their business is export.
As Garnier says, “We get involved with someone that has a true need. Then we go through the discovery process of finding out what the true need is, and then we get to solve the puzzle and come up with a solution.”
This solutions-based approach with each customer has served SSI well in the international market. For example, Hong Kong prefers to landfill their waste, due to public opposition to incineration. This has prompted the government to extend the life and modify some of the land requirements of its four existing landfills, so compacting their waste is very important. The Hong Kong government and waste transfer station operators wanted SSI’s compactor technology, which includes a reduced voltage electrical system to deal with power concerns the government has. They also wanted their compactor functionality, which gives them the option to pre-crush, pre-load, and compact all in one machine. The transfer stations had permitting regulations, which wouldn’t allow them to do any compacting outside of the building, so the compactors had to be much smaller. SSI redesigned their compacting equipment to have the same functionality but on a much smaller scale. This relationship in Hong Kong started in 1994, and by the end of this year in 2016, all of the waste created in Hong Kong will be compacted with SSI equipment.
Because SSI is not just a manufacturing company, but a design engineering company who manufactures everything they create, they are able to find solutions for unique markets. They are able to take on difficult challenges due to their extensive application experience and understanding of the equipment. They know how to apply, adjust, or optimize the equipment for different geographical needs, size constraints, or priorities. SSI will take on customers that other companies might not because of their capability to provide unique, specific solutions.
SSI never lets a challenging requirement stand in the way. For example, a customer in Saudi Arabia who was decommissioning aircraft and other military equipment, required a multi-purpose, portable solution that could withstand temperatures that can soar to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. The customer also needed to process everything from metals and seats to vehicles, electronics, and tires. SSI designed a machine that could process the wide range of material and operate in extreme heat.
Difficult material applications prompt SSI to engineer solutions. Recently, an Australian company needed to process packaged, containerized, hazardous waste and they needed a very consistent particle size. Due to the flammability of the waste, they required a nitrogen-purged system, which uses nitrogen to displace oxygen from the processing chamber to limit risk of fire. Not only was SSI able to design a machine that met these criteria, but they simultaneously increased online reliability and minimized downtime. They designed a wedge rollout system for the shredder, which allowed the customer to remove the shredder from this nitrogen-purged system for much simpler, faster maintenance.
Especially when working overseas, SSI’s goal is to understand their partner, their needs, and their unique situation. It is a common belief at the company that sometimes you must go further than what you feel is necessary in order to meet your customer halfway, because often you don’t fully understand the other side of the story. It is this willingness to be flexible, remain open to new ideas, and ultimately change, which brings them success in the international market.
Hanging in a conference room at SSI's headquarters in Wilsonville, Oregon, is a visual illustration of the eleven different bridges that cross the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. The poster lines up the bridges alongside one another so that one can see the dramatic differences in design and engineering. Garnier uses this illustration to explain his belief that there isn’t just one right way to solve a problem. The company uses this philosophy when working internationally, to show that all situations are different, people are different, and there are many ways to achieve a goal. At SSI, they realize it’s their job to get that customer from one side of the river to the other, and there are many ways to do that.