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Up in smoke: goes the Rust Belt image with the likes of Logansport kitchen exhaust-system manufacturer.


Goes the Rust Belt image with the likes of a Logansport kitchen exhaust-system manufacturer.

When you think of Logansport, you may think of a rusting railroad town. When you think of kitchen exhaust systems, you likely think of a stove hood with a fan. Think again.

Logansport and its industries are working hard to overcome that rusting-town stigma. A good example is LDI Manufacturing Co., Inc. The company produces kitchen exhaust systems that redefine the "stove hood with a fan" as a high-tech, multifeatured, custom piece of commercial equipment. An exhaust system sells for between $500 and $15,000, depending on the facility. If a heating and air-conditioning system is included, it can be another $10,000 to $30,000.

Indiana is one of the last places LDI is getting its well-deserved recognition. As an innovative manufacturer serving an international market, the company has been featured in The New York Times and on NBC's "Today Show."

For the Logansport Economic Development Foundation, LDI is a case in point. "We're particularly proud of LDI because it was the first project we worked on," explains LEDF Director David Yount. "We told Logansport we were going to work to help existing companies as well as attract new business, and with LDI we `put our money where our mouth was,'" Yount says. An LEDF loan helped fund the company's 1985 expansion, which in turn precipitated other significant changes at the private company that had operated much the same way for nearly 40 years.

The changes came under the direction of LDI President and CEO Richard Swennumson. "In 1946, LDI was kind of a jack-of-all-trades," Swennumson says. "The company was a distributor of furnace and residential products. The word `manufacturing' was added to the company's name to reflect the addition of our own designs."

Swennumson and his wife Mary Anna, who spent her girlhood in Logansport, bought the interests of Robert Masters and Byron Simpson, two of the company's three founders. Co-founder Clarke Webster II, Mary Anna's uncle, now in his mid-70s, remains with the company as chairman of the board and director of research and development. The 44-year-old Swennumson's business background includes a master's degree in finance, marketing and transportation.

The 43-year-old company operated at three separate locations until 1986, when it moved to its new, 51,000-square-foot facility. The sleek, new plant is modularly designed for easy add-on to both the manufacturing and office areas. Its computer-aided manufacturing equipment has increased productivity and reduced waste. The only reminders of a stereotypical factory are occasional magazine covers picturing women in scantly attire that decorate some of the workstations.

Besides a new plant and the addition of computer-aided design and manufacturing systems, other changes at LDI include development of a proprietary cooking equipment system and expansion of the company's service business. To expedite its service, LDI maintains a toll-free telephone line and a corps of authorized field service representatives.

"We now conduct site surveys where our representatives evaluate electrical supply, cooking systems and heating and air-conditioning equipment to help customers determine cost-effective installations and upgrades," Swennumson explains. Because of its installation and inspection procedures, LDI has gained a reputation in the industry for reducing first-year warranty calls, he says.

"Education of our customer is important in this industry," Swennumson maintains. "We provide good maintenance and operations manuals. We explain the importance of changing filters, and try to build in safeguards," he continues. "No system is `no maintenance,' but we build low maintenance into ours."

LDI's commitment to education extends beyond the printed word. Maintenance basics, such as how to check belts, lubricate bearings and change filters, are taught by the company in regional courses for restaurant maintenance personnel. "Proper use of LDI's equipment can reduce utility costs, prolong the life of the equipment and reduce kitchen temperatures," he says. "We deal with the whole store environment."

LDI's 80 employees equip between 700 and 800 restaurants each year, according to Swennumson. Their expertise comes through in their assurance that equipment meets building codes all the way down to the country level. Production improvements in the last few years have increased output by between 10 and 15 percent a year, a rate achieved by only 50 plant employees. Improved engineering builds in quality and keeps call-backs to a minimum, he says.

"We do a lot of rebuilds, too," Swennumson adds. "Our equipment contains fire suppressant systems and features that contribute to an atmosphere and environment that is healthy and conducive to efficient operations and good employee morale."

About 95 percent of LDI's sales are directly to national chains, such as Rax Restaurants, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, White Castle, Taco Bell, Long John Silvers and Burger King. Approximately 20 LDI representatives also sell to individual establishments throughout the United States.

Swennumson credits LDI's commitment research and development with making the company what it is today. The R&D department simulates on-the-job activity by duplicating the environment of a commercial kitchen. The area is also used for taping training films.

Exhaust ventilation systems developed by LDI stress energy efficiency and low maintenance, and have garnered several patents for the company. Currently under development is an exhaust-only system, which Swennumson says works almost as well as a compensating air system that draws air in from the outside.

Besides manufacturing its exhaust systems, LDI also distributes heating and air-conditioning systems. Frequently, it completely designs an air-handling system for a restaurant.

Swennumson seems at home in the family atmosphere at LDI. He speaks rapidly, walks briskly and is on a firstname basis with everyone in the union plant. "I always wanted to run a small business," says Swennumson, who's previously held positions with Transworld Airlines, Hertz and Conrail.

The administrative section at the plant conforms to the open-office concept. Every job under way is indicated with a pin on a map on the wall of the service department. Rows of file cabinets hold individual files for every system ever installed. In the files are diagrams and architectual information that help provide quick solutions to service problems.

"LDI is not just reacting to changes in our industry," Swennumson says. "We're not only changing with the times, we're a leader in our industry."

Kathy Mayer is a partner in Lafayette's Mayer & Samuelson Writing/Editing Services.

PHOTO : Richard Swennumson heads LDI Manufacturing of Logansport. The New York Times and NBC's

PHOTO : "Today Show" have featured the innovative manufacturer.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:LDI Manufacturing Company Inc.
Author:Mayer, Kathy
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 1989
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