Leading innovation, overcoming obstacles

With 12 locations — four in Iowa — and 7,800 team members, Pella Corp. was established 91 years ago to be a leader in technology and product innovation. And it continues to be just that. It’s been awarded more than 100 product and design patents. The first double-hung window with a sash that pivots so exterior glass can be washed from inside the home was invented by Pella.

And the innovations keep coming. Now, it’s building intelligence into the equipment to ensure top quality with all the pieces that are assembled into a particular finished product, like a door or window.

“Our manufacturing processes are becoming more and more complex,” said Luke Huisman, senior engineering team leader at Pella. “Much of what we do now is made to order. And going forward, this trend will continue. People want more customization and something unique in their home.”

A few months ago, Pella purchased Reilly Windows & Doors out of New York, adding about 180 employees. Appealing to the luxury market, it’s a premier manufacturer of discerning windows and doors for the most exacting builder and architect. It’s also using 3-D printing in new prototypes.

“We’re working on smooth and orderly transitions to transfer knowledge to our next generation of team members,” said Kurtis Webb, production manager at Pella. “We have a lot of people retiring in five to 10 years.”

Working with area colleges like Indian Hills Community College and Des Moines Area Community College, Pella aims to compete in a tight labor market. In addition, it works with high schools on mock interviews and is on the career academy board with Pella High School. The company also offers internships and is now extending them to students in two-year programs.

“It’s a win-win,” Webb said. “These are paid positions providing real-world experiences. Students also receive class credit to fulfill their last six weeks of classes.”

Pella is also using robots to take over monotonous tasks and allowing employees to take on more fulfilling work, giving them a sense of pride.

“Once we get candidates and students into our facilities, we can overcome the assumption that manufacturing is dirty work,” said Christine Headington-Hall, director of operations and human resources at Pella. “Our facilities are clean and well-lit, and our team members take pride in their work, waving at people who tour.”

Pella Corp. continues to enjoy its location in Iowa.

“Employees in the Midwest have a good understanding of productivity and work ethic,” Headington-Hall said. “We can partner with state resources and provide input to develop the economy of our state even further.”

content from Business Record’s 2017 innovationIOWA magazine