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Conveying Systems Beyond Industry Standards With Jonathan Fourney (MFGMonkey Episode 11)

MFG Monkey | Economic Disaster Loan

Jonathan Fourney and Dustin McMillan talk about the importance of partner support and the importance of being “Made in the USA” vs LCCs (low-cost countries).

We all hear buzzwords about reshoring, and Intralox is doing just that. Intralox does not buy much overseas, but what they have been buying is coming back home. 

MCMILLANCO, LLC has been able to support them on both sides of the water and has moved products once purchased in China back to the USA and made in Wisconsin and Michigan with our network of manufacturing partners.

Intralox was founded on a commitment to an idea.

In 1947, Intralox founder JM Lapeyre patented the first industrial shrimp peeler but encountered problems moving the peeled shrimp on metal conveyor belts due to rust and corrosion building on the belts. He approached major rubber and steel conveyor belt manufacturers to produce a modular plastic belt, but was told this was not feasible. Undeterred, JM invented the modular plastic conveyor belt in 1970—and thus, in 1971, Intralox was born. 

Today, Intralox leads the way in helping customers achieve their goals by offering comprehensive conveyance solutions that create significant economic value. Locally owned and globally headquartered in New Orleans, Intralox delivers innovative, premium technology within a direct business model. We understand that every industry deserves its own industry-specific team of resources. Therefore, our extensive service infrastructure has in-depth knowledge of customer applications and provides technical support, consulting, and 24/7 customer service to help our customers achieve extraordinary results.

Over the last four decades, Intralox has developed a worldwide reputation for ethical and responsible business practices and maintained our founder’s commitment to treating employees, customers, and suppliers with honesty, fairness, and respect. Our growth and sustained success are the result of a diligent focus on continuous improvement, a core belief that self-managed people are our greatest asset, and a commitment to ideas, teamwork, and effort.

We pushed past the boundaries of traditional conveying systems with the revolutionary invention of modular plastic belting and continue to move beyond industry standards. With over 800 active patents and new products such as our Activated Roller Belt Technology and FoodSafe Technology, working with Intralox allows you to experience our uncompromising commitment to providing solutions and solving problems for our customers.


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Conveying Systems Beyond Industry Standards With Jonathan Fourney

I’m very excited to have you on MFG Monkey. We have Jon Fourney from Intralox down in Maryland. Welcome, Jon. 

Thanks for having me. 

I was explaining to you before we started recording that you guys are the number one customer that we’ve had on the show. I appreciate that. We’re going to talk about it. Some pretty pertinent things with just how the industry is moving and your experience, and all that stuff. Why don’t you tell everyone about your background and your experience at Intralox? 

I started at Interlox summer of 2012. I’ve been there for almost eight years now. I started as an intern when I was going to Engineering school at the University of Maryland. It was a really good experience. The way that we test things is pretty intensive. I got very familiar with the equipment over the couple of years that I was an intern. 

From there, I’ve been playing leapfrog with positions. I went from the Testing department to the Quality Control department. We didn’t have a super-defined Quality Control department. They stuck me in there to get that rolling. I was there for about a year and a half. Then I switched to the Design Engineering team, worked there for a couple of years, and now I am in Supplier Development. I’ve bounced around quite a bit, but it’s been overall a really good experience working there. 

It’s been a great experience just working with you guys over the last several years. I forget how long it is, but it’s been a few years, and you guys have always been a lot of fun to work with. Your product is just mind-boggling to me when I’m in there and I see what you guys are putting together and how it works, and watching things on YouTube and LinkedIn. For those who are reading, you can go check their website out at and see all the cool stuff that you guys do. What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on there? 

That’s a tough one. I think from a design standpoint, my biggest project is what we call an auxiliary shorter. It’s basically in the postal parcel world, and it’s relatively narrow activated roller belt technology that just essentially deferred on demand. It was one of our bigger projects that year. It was pretty busy. I don’t know. I’m trying to think what my favorite project is. It’s all crazy. 

The depalettizer systems are one of my favorite ones to watch. Essentially, you just put a row of boxes on this conveyance system that would come off of a pallet stack, and just through the different degrees in the belt and everything that we do by the end of what was once a square in a bunch of random orientations is now a single file exiting. 

It’s one of those things that’s mesmerizing to watch. I think there are a few of those on YouTube too. There’s another one with flatbreads. You see a pile of flatbreads come in, and then, at the end, they just magically get themselves in a single file line. It’s one of those videos you can just watch over and over again. 

What Intralox Does 

We’ll have to post some of those links in our description when we launch this. I guess I got a little excited, and we jumped right into this. To tell everyone what Intralox does would be important instead of talking about special projects, we skipped a whole bunch of shit there. Give us an overview of what Intralox does, how they were founded, and all that fun stuff. 

Intralox is under the corporation of Laitram. Laitram got started. She probably knew exactly the timeframe a long time ago in shrimp peelers in New Orleans. That was the initial product that kicked off the Laitram corporation. From there, it has to have some sort of conveyance system for the shrimp, they’re all covered in salt water. That led to plastic modular belts, that solved the issue of the rusting of traditional metal belts. That whole world of plastic modular belting just absolutely exploded. If you’re talking about Intralox, most people know Intralox for just the standard plastic modular belting.

That’s all done in Harahan, Louisiana. Very close to New Orleans. We’ve got a ton of molding machines there. We do all of the manufacturing in the States. It’s a very impressive campus to go and walk through and soak in, but probably, I should know, 12 to 13 years ago, somewhere in there, Intralox bought a smaller company near Baltimore, which is the Intralox Baltimore that I work for now. 

Essentially, what we do is create discrete pieces of equipment, we call it. We’re making conveyors that the Intralox building is going on too, and we’re focused primarily on activated roller belt technologies. There’s a bunch of different styles and everything, which essentially, it’s a plastic modular belt that has rollers in it. We use the rollers in that belting to divert the product or make it do what we want to do. 

There’s typically never anything. There’s no swing arms, there’s no turners, all that. A lot of it’s sort of a touchless application where we just, we’re moving the product with the rollers that are actually in the belting. That could apply just about everywhere. Our specialty is honestly very difficult to handle products just because the way that we’re able to move things is not matched very well elsewhere. We’re very good at things that are hard to do. We do them well. 

It’s pretty magical to watch boxes or chickens, or whatever food moves just magically across this belt. It’s all in order, it’s all synchronized, and there’s a method to it. It’s magical to watch, for sure. 

I think what I love about it is I would almost describe it as the most simple, complicated system that I’ve ever seen. When you’re talking about how it works, it’s nothing that’s too crazy, but there’s been all that leg work and honing in those designs. Then there’s a lot of work from the controls team to take the capabilities of that piece of equipment and make it do all these crazy things. It’s basic physics and vector addition that has turned into some pretty wild applications and abilities. 

Jumping on YouTube here real quickly, there’s one just moving pizzas across the belt. It identifies that there’s not enough pepperonis on the pizza and it’ll kick it down another belt. Just automatically or there’s one with strawberries here. It is magical how it can pick out certain things about whatever the packaging is. If it’s chicken or what packaging it’s in. It just does a lot of work for the company that’s buying it. 

It’s a very effective technology. We’re very proud to have it and be able to utilize it the way we do. 

It’s very cool. What are some of the shows that you guys go to to showcase your product and things that, it seems, material handling right now because of everything that’s going on in the world just hasn’t slowed down? If anything, it’s picked up. I’m sure you guys are just crazy busy right now. 

We’re at most of the trade shows; that’s not something I’m super involved with, but I know the big ones, like Pack Expo and all that stuff, where we have quite a large booth there doing a little bit of showing off. We’re very involved. We’re very much out there. 

It’s just very cool. One of the big reasons that you and I jumped on this podcast is just something that a trend that we’ve noticed, and back when I started my company, it was something that I felt was going to happen. I think when you and I met the company that I was working for, everything that we did was all low-cost country-sourced. Every single piece of everything that we sold was in a low-cost country somewhere. 

One of the things that I saw in the market, especially in the Midwest and the East Coast, was the price wasn’t the most important thing anymore and more on-time delivery. Vendor relationships, or partner relationships, were starting to become a little more important. You guys have started moving things back or just not even entertaining low-cost countries. 

Historically, we haven’t done much. There are a couple of components here and there that we’ve taken that route with, but by and large most of what we source in the States, and honestly, if you look at the core business of Intralox, we’re exporting to just about every country there is. We’re in the opposite direction on most companies out there. 

Challenges Of Overseas Sourcing

That’s great. One of the things that always comes up is when we typically do a proposal, we will offer both options. We’ve done it with you guys a few times. What goes into that decision-making is that a part that you are looking at purchasing could be significantly less buying it overseas, and you guys still make the decision to keep it here in the States. How do you guys go about that? As a management-level decision-making, how’s that culture been built? 

I don’t know that we can entertain it seriously too often; just based on it, it just takes a lot of agility away from your supply chain. The way that we’re typically operating, it’s rare that I know an exact design of a component and I know exactly how many I’m going to need 90 days in advance. I’m in the supply chain. I wish that were the case. That would make my job much easier. 

We typically do a lot of custom work for our customers. We’re always iterating very quickly. We’re always trying to move forward, and there’s not a whole lot that just stays static year over year in our designs. We’re always improving. There’s always potential for change in our designs. We can nail down a few key components and get a roughly right annual usage on it. That’s where we can potentially source it from another country, but often we don’t have the time. 

We need things quickly, and then there’s not only that, but there’s just the agility from the supply chain, is something that we value as well. When you’re always doing research and development, and when you’re always iterating, there’s you’re always going to run into something that’s going to make you stumble. If getting a rev change is a 90-day difference, I’d probably say 100% of the time it’s just something we can’t absorb. 

Having somebody that’s relatively local, that’s relatively bought in if there’s a great relationship there, and we can have some key contacts, good relationships, and we can move the needle at another company. That’s something that’s also very valuable for us. We’re never really directly in touch with whoever we’d be sourcing from in another country. There’s always the intermediate there. And it’s, I guess you just don’t have the same comfortability that you do for somebody that’s really in your backyard.

That makes it easy because, as you know, working with us, we are transparent. Any facility that you guys would ever want to go into, you go to, and we we delivered some parts to you guys a few weeks ago, and just with everything going on, hard time getting material in and things. The factory was running a little behind getting parts to you, and you guys were great just working with us because things happen. 

I was talking to Aaron and told him that we have to get these parts, and asked him what’s his plan. We can next day home. It’s going to cost an arm and a leg to do that. He said, “You know what? I’ll just stow it on our truck and we’ll drive it there.” I said, “You’re in your north of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He drove 15 hours to deliver those parts to you guys, and a company overseas isn’t going to do that. It’s very fun to have you as partners who are just that willing to go the extra mile to make sure that you have the parts when you want them. 

It just makes you feel so much more comfortable to know that. You feel you’re in a lot more control when something is relatively close. Do you know what I mean? If I can get there in two hours on a plane rather than 14 or 15 hours on a plane, it’s just a completely different, comfortable feel. Especially for those critical components, or at least components for those very critical programs. 

Company Culture And Customer Focus

If you don’t have that agility in your supply chain, you’re putting your customer commitments at risk. If there’s any risk to my customers, I’m not willing to entertain that. That’s not at all the model that Intralox operates under. If we commit to something, I can tell you that we’re going to do every single thing possible to make it happen. The more that we stretch that out to make it where you have to do more to make it happen, we’re just we’re not setting ourselves up well. 

If you don't have that agility in your supply chain, you're putting your customer commitments at risk. Share on X

It does put you guys in control. We always talk about manufacturing that it is an emotional sell because you as a buyer or sourcing manager, you’re going to be stressed out just because the culture that you guys have is that you, under no circumstances, are going to be late. It turns into an emotional sell for the individual who’s in charge of engineering or buying, or making it happen. If you’re not stressed out, then it just makes your life a whole lot better. 

There’s a huge emotional piece to that. And it’s just, I think, just top to bottom. When you hit a problem and when the supply chain can really turn something around quickly and almost make it seem they’re moving mountains, then that just gives everybody in your company so much more confidence in their ability to promise things. 

When a supply chain can turn something around quickly and almost make it seem like they're moving mountains, that gives everybody in your company so much more confidence in their ability to promise things. Share on X

The last thing you want to do is be a project manager that’s customer-facing and you’re promising the world, and you’re being backed up by something that’s just liable to fall apart. I think there are a lot of emotions that go into that, and there’s just a ton of confidence and reduced stress, and having a lot more control over what’s going on. 

Your systems are unbelievably complex; like what you said earlier, there are hundreds of pieces and parts that have to come together to deliver that project on time, I’m sure. You guys build everything in the house and then tear it down, ship it, and then reassemble it. Is that how that process works?

Yes, we do the assembly in-house. The way that works is everything’s typically split into modules. It’s all very modularized if it’s over 10 feet long. There are some different avenues, but if testing is involved, we’ll fully set that up and then we’ll break it back down into the modules for shipping. There’s a lot of work that goes into getting that stuff out the door. 

When you guys have a new customer come on or contact you or however that comes about, there has to be a lot of just discovery in the beginning. How does that work for you guys to understand what the customer’s needs are? 

That’s not a process I’m as involved in. I’m more on the backend side of things, but typically how that works for us is we have, there’s our salesmen, saleswomen out there, they are bringing

a customer to our Application Engineer, who is engineer. We have several of them. They’re very familiar with the line layouts and what technologies we offer would provide the most value. A lot of that, really getting that figured out, is on the Application Engineering team. They’re pushing that and discussing all that stuff. They do a really good job of setting up for success. 

It’s a relatively complex problem. Sure, you can say that we’re diverting boxes, but what is that box? What does the bottom of it look like? Is it taped? Is it folded? Is it six inches long? Is it six feet long? Is it weighted uniformly? Does it have a bowling ball in there that’s just going to roll around when we try to divert it? What exactly is this item that we’re trying to do stuff within our conveyor?

That’s why we have that department, just because there are rarely any two applications that are the same. That’s why we do so much testing as well, because there are often some fine adjustments that need to happen at the end to make sure that somebody’s thinking exactly what they should do. It’s roughly right getting to the engineering group, and they’re making it. 

There’s somebody that’s watching that product run from our test team, that’s super familiar with our equipment that can add that last little piece in there that’s a huge value add for our customers. We put a lot into making sure that every application works well, and applications can be crazy. It can be a 50-pound box full of apples, or it can be a poly bag with a stylus, and you just never know. 

What’s the most challenging product that you’ve ever been involved with moving around?

There’s been some that are strange that shouldn’t necessarily be in there. I know that one of them was a basketball. As you can imagine, a basketball in a bag, you try to roll it off of something, it’s going to start rolling itself. That’s not exactly an ideal application for us, but I can’t think of anything that was overly challenging. Some adjustments were often being made. Our Application Engineering department does a really good job of vetting that upfront. I’ve seen anything from a bag of pasta sauce to trying to think of a crate that’s 500 pounds. It’ll do just about everything. 

I just pulled up some more videos. You guys are moving around tires. There are boxes. It’s just unlimited. Is there a market that you guys play heavier in as a food and beverage that’s the main market that you guys play in, or is it a different market? 

I think our biggest market right now is logistics material handling, as I’m sure you’re not surprised. E-commerce has taken off, and we’re positioned pretty well to be supporting that industry. That’s a lot of our bigger customers are in that space, but food and beverage that’s another big one for us as well. 

With those projects, are your systems packing products as well, or is it simply moving the product or the pick-and-pack product around? Could it essentially put bottles in a box and then move that around? What are the limitations? 

We’re typically just moving either the box while it’s empty or the box while it’s full in some capacity, whether it’s diverting it, whether it’s switching lanes, turning, or gapping. We have a lot of different things that we can do with those items, but we’re not really in the robotic space. 

It didn’t look that way, but I didn’t know if I just hadn’t gotten to that part. It’s really interesting to see, for sure. When we do your description and so forth, are there certain videos that you guys would for us to showcase? 

There may be. Let me try to find some links for you. I can at least send you my favorites on YouTube.

Yes, send the favorites, and then we always do a description for the show. We can showcase some of those. That’ll be a lot of fun just to watch it. It’s amazing to me in the marketing world how videos will just capture people’s attention that are soothing. One of our principles is wire forming companies, and I can sit and watch those machines run for hours. Just mesmerizing, and I think this stuff falls into that category as well. 

We used to have some of our test video play on big screen TVs in the shop, and you’ll catch somebody that you’re just walking by, and they’ll stop and stare at it, and then they’ll be there a lot longer than they anticipated. It’s like, “Look at that. That’s cool.” 

It is cool. When I first came down to visit you, I don’t know what year that was, but you guys recently moved. I’d say recently, it’s probably been a year or two ago. You moved into a new building. It’s significantly bigger than where you guys were just a few years ago, right? 

It’s been about a year now. We had three or four different buildings. We’re pretty spread out, and we consolidated all into one. It’s around 220,000 square feet now, and we’re growing, and we’re already starting to run out of room again. Businesses are on the upswing, it’s a great problem to have. 

The facility is just amazing looking and you guys have enough room to do all the build-outs and testing, and that’s probably the most fun part for me when I come in there. Just walking around, looking at all the different pieces and parts, and widgets and how they’re put together and who’s working on it and just all the quality assurance that goes into everything. 

Our Global Assembly Manager works out of that office, lean manufacturing is near and dear to his heart. You walk through there, and you’ll see a ton of those principles being applied. That’s why there’s a very specific place that every trash can needs to go, all that stuff. It’s very much laid out, organized, and thought through. That was something that we were implementing in the old building, but moving into this new building gave them the chance to just start from scratch and put this together the way that they wanted it to. We’ve seen a lot of benefits from being able to do that. 

I’m sure just the organization and not having things in four or five different locations has just increased productivity tremendously. 

Absolutely. I spent quite a bit of time just working through the logistics of getting stuff from one building to another. That’s not something that we’re worried about right now anymore. 

Adapting To Remote Work

How many people are working from home right now with Intralox?

Almost everybody that was in the office. I don’t know just because I have been working from home. I haven’t been in the office, but there haven’t been a ton of people that are working there. The assembly floor support, anybody that’s supporting them, has been in there, but we’re following very strict precautions just to ensure that there’s no spread if anybody were to come to work with COVID. It’s working very well. We’ve been safe so far and haven’t had any issues. 

You guys are a pretty new-age company. We work with some very old-school companies that are at the pinnacle of everything that they do. There was no way on God’s green earth that they were going to let people work from home. Under zero circumstances, they want you in your seat from 08:00 AM to 05:00 PM no matter what. 

That’s a tough thing for me to wrap my head around too, because for us, self-management is paramount to any employee that we hire. You have a job to do and it is your job to do it. If anybody needs to be standing over your shoulder, making sure that you are doing your work, you’re probably not the right person for us. 

Since moving to working from home, I haven’t seen much loss in efficiency. I feel everybody’s been very committed to taking care of business still. I haven’t even really noticed much of a hiccup. That’s been great. Very proud to work where I do. 

I’m proud to be working with you guys. Some customers that we have, it’s like, “God, they’re calling.” You know that it’s going to be just painful. You guys certainly aren’t that at all. Even with everyone working from home, it seems that the communication is the same, if not better. I’d be interested to see just statistics if there is a way for the company to track productivity with everyone working in the office versus working at home. 

We’ve had a couple of companies admit that, especially the ones that are super old school because they track every single move that every person makes. They’ve come back and they say, “We don’t understand the productivity has gone up 25% and nobody’s in here.” You hired good people, just let them do their deal and get out of their way. They don’t have to be sitting in the office to do everything that they can from their basement or wherever they choose to work. 

There’s a ton that can be done remotely. It’s tough if you’re one of our test engineers, you’re not going to be able to work from home, but anybody that doesn’t have to be directly hands-on, we’re going for it. We were starting to move in that direction anyway, to start allowing people to work from home. 

At least on a part-time basis. A lot of people prefer it. If you have the right employees and they’re being productive working from home, they want to work from home. There’s no reason to invest in more space for employees and force them to work in your facility when they can do a better job from home and be happier. That’s something that we’ve started a test pilot to get that kicked off. The test pilot turned into a full-scale move, unfortunately, recently, but I’m sure a lot of it will stick coming out of this situation. 

I think that this is going to change how we do business forever. Certainly in our lifetime. When you and I are 50 or 60 years old, looking back on this, how it’s operating in the next 20 to 30 years, it’s just going to be a huge difference for the better, I think. I foresee more companies following your guys’ steps and doing a lot more sourcing in the US, and price not being the ultimate factor in their decision-making and things like that. It’s always fun to work with companies that are at the leading edge of that and not too far behind.

I definitely could see a move in that direction too, if not completely, but at least having some secondary sources that are more local and available that can be ramped up and down as necessary. I think that’s another thing that became a little obvious to us, where there were a couple of components for we didn’t necessarily have a secondary source. 

We didn’t run into any supply issues, but that was partially luck. We didn’t have a contingency plan for that. It opened our eyes up a little bit too, to expand that supply chain and make sure that we’re more robust than we have been historically.

We appreciate working with you guys, and I think we’ve touched on everything that we wanted to. I think that’s cool as well. If there’s anything that you’ve thought of that we haven’t touched on, let’s talk about it. If not, we can probably get wrapped up. 

I don’t know that I have anything else really to touch on. I think that’s it, man. I don’t know if I have a whole lot more to share. 

I knew that this was going to be a quick and easy chat. I always have fun talking to you. For those who are reading, go to their website and check them out. It’s, and check out what they can do. It’s just really cool stuff. If you want to reach out to them, feel free to email us at, and we’ll get you in touch with the right person. We’re just super proud to be working with you, guys. I appreciate you coming on. 

We appreciate your support. Thanks for having me. 


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