Salute to Quality: Unistel is driven to find new opportunities for growth and ensure high quality

As seen in Manufacturing Today:

Manufacturing operations usually need to provide two key details to clients: consistent quality and cost effectiveness. Unistel Industries Inc. understands this with its dedication to Good Manufacturing Practices, being SQF-certified, continually vetting its suppliers for quality and cost, and holding its workforce to high standards. Companies and agencies that work with Unistel, however, have found that they not only receive quality products, but they are also supporting an operation that benefits communities in New York State in multiple ways.

Rochester, N.Y.-based Unistel Industries is a subsidiary of CDS Life Transitions, a private nonprofit corporation that has been operating since 1977. Unistel provides job training, individual placement and supported employment opportunities for more than 200 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as veterans. The company owns two state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities that are available for fulfillment, contract manufacturing and packaging needs. With its vast capabilities and skilled workforce, Unistel serves clients such as the U.S. Department of Defense, New York State (NYS) Department of Corrections, State of New York colleges and universities, and the NYS Thruway Authority.

“What really sets Unistel apart is that we are a business but we are part of a nonprofit,” says Kim Albert, the senior director of operations. “As a result, we are very mission-based. We hold our workforce to the same standards of any manufacturer, and they rise to those standards and exceed them.”

Strong Relationships

CDS Life Transitions was founded by parents who had children with intellectual and developmental disabilities to ensure their children could live the most fulfilling lives possible. It used to be that parents either had to stay home with their children who had disabilities, or parents had to put their children in a state-run facility. The families who started CDS knew the potential of their children and wanted more options for them. Unistel was created to provide job opportunities to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and is the provider of spices to the U.S. Military through the federal government’s AbilityOne Program.

Now Unistel offers a complete list of spices and blends to the military, and COO Mark Curletta explains the company is happy to package anything the military wants. “This is a very entrepreneurial company that looks for opportunities to provide more services to people with disabilities,” he says. “This is a high-energy organization and we have an aggressive strategic planning process that we put a lot of focus and energy on. The people who work here take pride in that we’re providing services to people who have needs.”

The company’s production workforce includes more than 50 people and aside from its seasoning business – the brand is Salute Seasoning – Unistel also has longstanding relationships with major companies in the region that provide jobs to its workers. Rochester-based Harris Communications, for example, has worked with Unistel for more than 20 years to assemble dust-cap covers for Harris’ high-tech military radios.

“The individuals who work at Unistel take so much pride in their work,” Albert says. “They are the first ones to tell you if any concerns need to be addressed on the floor. There are so many major companies that provide work for our individuals, and Unistel works hard to cultivate and maintain those relationships.”

“The individuals in our workforce know the big picture they are contributing to,” says Allison Warren, director of communications and public relations. “They know what they do supports our military, and they take great pride in that, as well.”

Ongoing Improvements

Unistel has a SQF-3 certification which is at the Excellent level. To maintain this level of quality in its operations, the company has robust processes and procedures in place, and is audited every year. Part of the SQF process is identifying improvements, and Unistel makes it a regular practice to reach out to its customers and get their feedback. Recently, Unistel re-evaluated its entire production schedule being that its military customers especially need supplies quickly, so the company made this a focus in continuing improvement efforts.

“We broke down our scheduling and production process to estimate delivery times depending on where the customer was in the country,” Albert says. “By doing that, we improved our lead time by two to three days, including production and delivery time. If we get any kind of feedback that helps improve our processes, we make a concerted effort to circle back to the customer and make sure they’ve noticed the improvement. If they haven’t noticed, we will do a root-cause analysis to improve even more.”

Unistel’s quality practices attract more customers, so it has been continuing to vet its supplier base to ensure they meet its standards. The company’s goal is to expand its offering, bring more capabilities in-house and then create more jobs.

“Unistel has a plan to sell more products in the commercial space and do more outside the military,” Curletta says. “The AbilityOne program from the General Services Administration allowed us to develop a capability in producing and packaging these spices, and we are grateful for opportunities like that, but also that this allows us to provide a lot of jobs for people with disabilities and veterans. By growing with non-military customers, we can provide more jobs for people and really have the opportunity to strengthen Unistel.”

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