This article was originally published in the May issue of COMPRESSORtech2. Get every issue in your inbox/mailbox and access to our digital archives with a free subscription.
Sloan Lubrication Systems knows all about transition. Over the company’s 95-year history, it has evolved from handling sales to manufacturing lubrication systems and components, occupied eight different locations across Pennsylvania and seen four generations of the Sloan family. In another year, change will strike Sloan Lubrication Systems again as Walter Sloan, the company’s CEO, hands over the reins to his son, Brian. The move will come officially at the end of 2018.
“I have been with Sloan nearly 45 years and have never worked anywhere else,” Walter Sloan said. “While it has been enjoyable and rewarding, it is time to do something else just for fun. It is also time for me to let the next generation make their own decisions and take every opportunity to develop their own successes.”
The fourth generation, which includes Brian Sloan, chief financial officer, and C.J. Sloan, chief technology officer, already has played a part in the company’s recent developments. C.J. Sloan joined the company in 2003, with Brian Sloan and Eric Sloan following in 2008.
Since that time, the company moved to its current location in Freeport, Pennsylvania and expanded from 20,000 sq.ft. (1858 m2) to 31,000 sq.ft. (2880 m2). Sloan Lubrication Systems is also a fully integrated manufacturer of lubrication products for the gas compression industry, thanks to a transition plan it launched in 2008.
“Our best path forward … was to dictate our own destiny,” Brian Sloan said. “That primarily required us to take control of our supply chain in terms of sourcing, design, manufacture and quality.”
The move from sales company to manufacturer, however, began well before the fourth generation came on board. In 1971, when Walter Sloan was cutting his teeth in a part-time role, the company only dealt with lubrication system sales. Sloan Brothers, as it was known at the time, would take orders and send them off to Manzel Lubricators in Buffalo, New York.
Problems arose with this setup, such as incomplete orders, shipping interruptions and long lead times on components. Even after another company bought out Manzel Lubricators, the same issues persisted, causing Sloan Brothers to start stocking common components.
By the early 1980s, Sloan Brothers exposed itself to the manufacturing world by making its own check valves, a necessary move after its supplier refused to adapt to the needs of the compression market, C.J. Sloan said.
“We took it upon ourselves to make the components that we needed,” he said. “That slowly proceeded with filters and several other small parts until the mid 2000s, at which point we started our plan to redesign and manufacture all lubrication system components ourselves.”
As the company began manufacturing more components, the need for additional space became apparent. Sloan Brothers moved to its Freeport location in the summer of 2008, which gave the company all the floor space it needed for manufacturing tools, such as its four-axis horizontal machining center. With CNC capabilities, Sloan Brothers began manufacturing divider blocks, as well as divider assemblies and proximity switches.
“C.J. will be the first to tell you that the day we had our first piece of CNC equipment delivered was probably the scariest of his career,” Brian Sloan said. “There’s no question that we took a bit of a leap of faith in the initial decision and implementation of our plan (to be a manufacturer).
“But I don’t think anyone within the organization would change it for anything,” he said. “Our decision to begin in-house manufacturing has completely transformed our company.”
The transformation continued in 2013 when the company realized it needed more space to accommodate its manufacturing operations. The 11,000 sq.ft. (1022 m2) expansion gave the company a climate-controlled space for its machining centers, a manufacturing office and a research and development department.
These moves gave the company firm footing in the compression world right as the industry downturn arrived. The slowdown, however, allowed Sloan Lubrication to focus on ways to make internal improvements, such as to its product lines, processes, operations and sales strategies, said Michael Bechtold, chief operating officer.
“As machine capacity opened due to market conditions, we vowed to keep our employees working,” Bechtold said. “We accomplished this by re-designing products and then insourcing the manufacturing year over year, which allowed us to reduce purchases by nearly 70% since 2012.”
While market conditions continue to evolve, Sloan Lubrication hasn’t sat idle. This year, the company obtained ATEX and CE certification on its SLS pumps and lubricators and also released its newest product — the oil recovery system.
The oil recovery system automatically recovers oil from packing and distance piece drain lines. In most cases, the recovered oil can be directly filtered and reused. In other cases, it can send the waste oil stream to a disposal tank.
Sloan Lubrication crafted this product after hearing several customers state that the oil draining out of a packing case during normal operation was still good oil. The oil recovery system gives them a way to recycle that oil back into the supply stream, C.J. Sloan said.
The system also prevents the accidental discharge of oil from vent lines and reduces emissions where fuel gas is used to empty “blow pot” style collection systems. It features stainless steel Swagelok tubing and fittings, a 2000 psi (138 bar) maximum discharge pressure and a flow capacity of 100 gpd (379 L/d).
With all of its products and capabilities under one roof in Freeport, Sloan Lubrication Systems’ transition plan is nearly complete. While the company has become a fully integrated manufacturer, the final step is still several months off.
Walter Sloan doesn’t have any reservations about passing Sloan Lubrication Systems onto the next generation. He’s invested nearly 45 years into the company and has seen his share of change. Even though the next change involves his absence, he’s not worried about the company’s future.
“Over a year-and-a-half from retirement, I can already see wonderful things happening around me without my input, and I couldn’t be more proud,” Walter Sloan said. “I have great confidence that their (my sons’) accomplishments will far outshine mine.”