November 20, 2018
Manufacturing insights

AIS revitalizes manufacturing in North County

Photo | Courtesy
Bruce Platzman, president, CEO and co-founder of AIS in Leominster.

Affordable Interior Systems, a Leominster manufacturer of commercial office furniture, was named the manufacturer of the year for Worcester and Middlesex counties by the state's Joint Legislative Manufacturing Caucus. The company was selected for the honor by Republican State Sen. Dean Tran of Fitchburg, whose district includes Leominster. CEO Bruce Platzman spoke to WBJ about the honor.

Congratulations on being chosen as a Manufacturer of the Year. Why do you think AIS was chosen?

Since our move to Leominster, we have revitalized the role of manufacturing in a town that had once been a powerhouse, providing manufacturing jobs, including low-tech manufacturing jobs. AIS continues to thrive by constantly upgrading and adding new equipment and using locally sourced materials for our furniture and operations. Our company has grown to more than 750 employees, into 600,000-square-feet of space, where all of our office furniture and products are now manufactured and produced on site. Today, our company continues to thrive. We're constantly adding and upgrading equipment, and always seek first to use locally sourced materials for our furniture and operations. We believe in being a MassMade company that supports others as well.

Manufacturing remains a vibrant industry in North Central Mass. Why is that?

Mill towns in the area have changed, but they remain active municipal centers and manufacturing communities all these years later. Manufacturing continues to be a vibrant industry by providing 10 percent of the total economic output in Massachusetts where more than 7,000 manufacturing companies employ almost 250,000 workers in their facilities. When a local economy rests on a solid manufacturing foundation, local businesses of all sizes and industries benefit.

How does AIS help keep manufacturing alive and well?

Since relocating to Leominster in 2016, AIS has been able to continue to grow rapidly employing over 750 employees. Since the move, we have been able to manufacture and produce all of our office furniture and products on site in out 600,000-square-feet space. Over the two-year period of our existence in Leominster, the unemployment rate in the city has dropped from 12 percent to slightly over 4 percent.

The company opened itself up to high school students last month. Why is it important to get kids interested in that career choice at a young age?

Even though manufacturing has many benefits, our largest problem is hiring and retaining a young workforce. Despite its economic importance, manufacturing is often viewed negatively among young workers – a consequence of the untrue notion that a college degree is the only way to succeed in today's economy. It is our responsibility to introduce these young men and women about all of the options available to them and educate them about the benefits and possibilities a career in manufacturing could have for them. Additionally, we expose them to other opportunities and business fields when they visit such as marketing, sales and accounting. A company like AIS has opportunities for everyone.

How has innovation and automation played a factor at AIS?

From the beginning, we wanted to build a company meeting our customers' needs in a new and interesting way while bringing charisma and a sense of edginess to the industry. AIS leads the manufacturing industry in sustainability, lean manufacturing, lead-time and manufacturing flexibility. We embrace lean manufacturing through the basic Shingo principles of finding ways to eliminate waste in the manufacturing process without jeopardizing the quality of the products we are making.

How has the company been able to add 175 new jobs with the industry's economic challenges?

We have certainly benefited from a growing economy, but we have also been able to find and new and innovative ways to stay ahead of the curve which has allowed us to maintain steady grown and outperform the industry. Our new factory has allowed to become even more efficient while implementing our own lean manufacturing processes and sustainability practices.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Staff Writer Zachary Comeau.

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