Proudly made in Smithville
Star Manufacturing links facilities internationally with the help of fiber
Whether or not you realize it, there’s a good chance you’ve eaten food someone has cooked using equipment that came from Smithville, Tennessee.
The hot dog roller in a gas station food area, the griddles and fryers many commercial kitchens use, along with popcorn and waffle makers, pizza conveyor ovens, liquid cheese dispensers, bun warmers and other such equipment are likely products of Star Manufacturing, a member of the Middleby Corp. Just as many of the foods we eat each day couldn’t be available without products from Star, its manufacturing facilities wouldn’t be functional without high-speed fiber connection from DTC Communications.
DTC’s technology solutions keep the Smithville headquarters humming. The local factory, with between 250 and 300 employees, also serves as a data center supporting three additional manufacturing operations in Allen, Texas, and Nogales, Arizona, and across the border in Nogales, Mexico.
“DTC is an essential partner and extension of our business,” says Chip Woods, Star Manufacturing IT director. “They provide the reliable fiber connectivity, and if there’s an issue, it’s priceless to have DTC a phone call away. They’re not a national provider where you call, get a ticket and hope for a response. With DTC, I get help immediately from someone who knows me and understands our operations.”
Companies like Star Manufacturing look to locate in communities like Smithville, which is part of the service area of DTC, a Smart Rural Community provider. DTC is one of only about 100 rural broadband providers nationally to receive the Smart Rural Community designation since NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association established the award in 2013. “DTC provides a very important service to our community,” Smithville Mayor Josh Miller says. “We know that it makes a big difference in companies like Star Manufacturing locating here.”
Star Manufacturing, which originated in 1921 in St. Louis, Missouri, became well known as a leading supplier of restaurant equipment. After outgrowing its St. Louis operations, the current Smithville factory opened in 1982 and expanded in 1990.
Over the next 17 years, a series of acquisitions that included names like Toastswell, Holman and Lang greatly expanded the Star portfolio. The Middleby Corp., which oversees the world’s largest family of heavy duty commercial food equipment manufacturers, acquired the Star Group in 2007. “We’re constantly growing,” Woods says. “If Middleby purchases something similar to what we’re making here, we usually consume that brand and expand our operations.”
Starting with Star Manufacturing about three years ago, Woods worked to move the data center from St. Louis and cut the final strings from that office as it closed. “We worked to bring in more organization and consistency, add a disaster recovery plan and more to our IT operations,” he says. “We wanted to ensure we have a more stable environment and keep the IT infrastructure up to date to support our manufacturing facilities.”
Woods went through a similar process just over a year ago. For many, the holiday season during the ongoing COVID-19 situation was stressful enough. Add in mov- ing a data center from Allen, Texas, and ensuring plant operations ran smoothly, and Woods had a busy end to 2020. “On Dec. 26, I was on a flight to Allen, Texas,” he says. “While the plant was on holiday shutdown, we had three days to break the data center down in Texas, physically bring the equipment to Tennessee and get everything up and running. There was so much preplanning to make sure we had the right server setup, adequate power and connections from DTC to support all of the facilities from Smithville.”
The Smithville data center runs the enterprise resource planning system, which Woods calls the “heart and soul” of four manufacturing plants in three states and two countries. “IT is a support unit, and we have to provide all the right tools for the plants to be successful,” he says. “Decisions have to be made immediately because you’re impacting manufacturing if systems are down. We have to go from raw materials to finished goods as fast as we can with the highest quality, best product going out the door.”
The systems in Smithville help run the machines and nearly everything in the facilities, as well. “It’s essential we have the connectivity and the uptime for the plants,” Woods says. “It’s hard to grasp, but work in Mexico is dependent on what’s happening in Smithville every day. The planning, purchasing and shipping is all done off servers and software hosted here.”
Additionally, during COVID-19, employees across the U.S. connected to Star Manufacturing’s systems remotely
to continue their work. “They were able
to work from home safely because of the stable connectivity DTC provides,” Woods says. “We’re dependent on DTC to communicate with other offices and vendors, use our cloud-based phone system, electronically exchange documents and more.”
And after nearly 30 years in IT, Woods is still excited about work each day. “The Middleby Corp. is acquiring new partners all the time, and when Middleby grows, so does Star, and so does our bottom line,” he says. “It’s a great organization. Every day is a new adventure, and new opportunity, and our connectivity wouldn’t be possible without DTC.”
Content provided with permission from DTC Communications.