Driven by DaVinci
How many people can say that they look back 500 years for their engineering inspiration? Schoenfellinger credits the 16th century engineer, artist and all around Renaissance man Leonardo DaVinci as one of his inspirations. Prominently displayed in his office is a picture of DaVinci, with the accompanying quote: “It’s a rare engineer who has the resources to take a product full cycle.” Schoenfellinger explains: “To me, that means to design it, build it, and run it. A lot of people get to do one aspect of something. I’ve had the opportunity to design, build, and then run the equipment I designed.”
One such DaVinci experience is the unitized ham molding system that he nurtured from conception through operation, which he named the “Unimold System.”
“It’s an interlinked mold used for pressing hams into shape during cooking and chilling,” Schoenfellinger says. The Unimold System provides consistency in the distribution of heat during the cooking process, and uniform heat removal during the chilling process. “Right around 1986, I developed it while I was at Sandy Mac, and brought it to Dietz & Watson when I came here.” Its compact size saved space and labor in processing areas, and the Unimold tower could be adapted for many different styles of ham – “slicing hams, pear shaped hams, round hams. It’s perfect for smaller plants that are doing a lot of different things.
“One thing I remember when I designed the Unimold System is that I did all the drawings in the top loft office in a townhouse that I had in Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia, overlooking the Delaware River. This was a split level townhouse so it had about seven short flights of stairs. I had all the drawings which I drew by hand taped to every wall from the ground floor to the top floor so I could run up and down the stairs to compare the interactions and fit of all the components. This was almost a three-dimensional perspective. I was working on the systems design many times from the night into the early hours of the morning,” he explains.
Unimold is still in use at D&W today. “When I came here, we built a number of them, and we have well over a hundred that are used today.”
Other design projects in his career include a beef stick cutter from his Formost/ Hebrew National days, and a dual head horizontal meat tenderizer/macerator with variable controlled cutting depth built while he was at Sandy Mac. He currently has a patent pending on a packaging graphics enhancement system, and has ongoing projects in co-generation systems.
“I have a knack for machine design and equipment layout. Even redesign. Sometimes we’ll buy equipment, but I’ve got it in my mind to redesign it a certain way, after we’ve spent quite a bit of money for it – buy it and cut it up, but in the end it’s a good solution. We’ve purchased numerous old Vemags and redesigned the control systems and put servos in them; they’re a better machine as a result, and they are still running today,” Schoenfellinger says.
Chris Eni concurs: “That attention to detail and project management really characterizes John’s style. Whether it’s the full redesign of a machine, or developing the new warehouse, John is very hands on in his approach.”
“Being a family company,” Eni continues, “John is on the ground floor of operations every single day. He’s not an office worker, he’s hands on, whatever it takes. He’s helping put the machine together, getting his feet and hands dirty. That’s a testament to the family company morale piece.”
When Schoenfellinger talks about the D&W family business, he isn’t just referring to the Eni family – he is also talking about the feeling of family among all the employees.
“Since Dietz & Watson is a family business, we are able to react to situations and make decisions quickly whether it is market conditions or capital equipment purchases. Not being a public company, we don’t have to go through the bureaucracy of decision making that comes with large companies. We can do a much more abrupt analysis, because we can get together as a family and make decisions quickly. When you’re in a family, you can do things quickly.
“We all wear many hats here, being a family business,” he explains. “That’s what makes it enjoyable, because besides engineering, I’m also involved in maintenance, operations, even sales and marketing. We all work together as a team, so we all help each other in various areas as we can.”
Rising From the Ashes
That sense of family was never more apparent as when a fire destroyed the company’s distribution center on Sept 3, 2013.
“The distribution center was about 15 minutes away, across the river in New Jersey. On Labor Day weekend in 2013, the warehouse caught on fire and burned for several days. We lost the entire inventory – over 20 million lbs. We all showed up at the fire, and right there started planning our strategy to go forward without the warehouse. The very next day was Labor Day, and we were able to get some people in to do production. We worked seven days a week for about two months. We didn’t short any customers; we kept every customer supplied.
“Credit goes to everybody – from the president of the company, all the way to the guys pushing the brooms in the plant. Everybody pitched in; everybody worked long hours, seven days a week,” Schoenfellinger says. “That’s one nice thing a about a family business – everyone feels part of the family,”
The new distribution center was built right next to the production plant, and that promises to improve operations in Philadelphia even more.
“The communication is much better; it’s more efficient compared to the previous distribution center. Our plan is to link the two buildings together with a transport system and convey packaged product to the distribution center for final palletizing, for even greater efficiency,” Schoenfellinger explains.
While speed and efficiency are important to the growth at Dietz & Watson, this is the mantra that comes through loud and clear from MEAT+POULTRY’s Operations Executive of the Year: We take care of our customers, and invest our product with the high level of quality that founder Gottlieb Dietz instituted in 1939.
His mission statement was, “Quality above all else.” Today, John Schoenfellinger is doing his part to make sure that Old World quality and integrity is preserved and delivered to customers with 21st century technology.