Crystal Group has a history of transforming itself to remain relevant, and the pandemic has provided another opportunity for the manufacturer of rugged computer equipment to lean into that strength. Over the past year, their operations have changed along with the requirements of the pandemic to keep their workforce safe by minimizing the spread of COVID-19.
Crystal Group began its operations in 1987, when it served the telecom industry. For many years, they produced telecommunications equipment. When the industry took a downturn in the early 2000s, the company transformed itself into a rugged computer company that sells its servers and computers to the military and autonomous vehicle industry. They also provide services from tech support to systems engineering in order to integrate their durable equipment into industrial and military environments.
In 2018, Crystal Group completed a $17.5 million expansion by building a new facility in Hiawatha. The new facility grew their production capacity by more than 50 percent and added 100 new jobs. Michael Kruger, Vice President of Operations, says that the small, tight-knit community has a pro-business approach. The company has appreciated the ease of working with the City of Hiawatha, including the City Administrator Kim Downs and the mayor’s office at the time.
When the pandemic arrived in the U.S. in March, Crystal Group moved quickly to ensure their people could be safe while the company could remain in production mode. Kruger says that the administrative staff worked remotely for a time and relied on Skype, Zoom and other technology to conduct meetings and calls. For the manufacturing side to continue operations, they instituted a strict lockdown that prohibited visitors and customers from entering the building. Mask policies were put in place, and the break room was rearranged so their employees could eat and take their breaks while following social distancing guidelines.
One of the more significant actions taken involved splitting the single-shift manufacturing operation into two shifts in order to keep workers more distanced. These measures helped the manufacturing line continue its work while reducing the potential spread of the virus. Cases of the virus have been minimal amongst the Crystal Group workforce, so the company has been able to seamlessly continue production of essential equipment.
In addition to the measures taken for the administrative and plant employees, the company also supported its workers throughout the initial shutdown in several ways. Crystal Group brought lunch into the facility at the beginning of the pandemic when restaurants were closed and grocery store hours were reduced. They also instituted a more understanding and flexible approach to working from home, particularly with parents whose kids needed support while distance learning.
Some of the effects of COVID on Crystal Group’s business include the fact that the traditional in-person trade shows came to a halt. Again, the company made a shift to attending virtual trade shows—something new for the Crystal Group marketing team. In the recent months of 2020, they have focused on virtual and digital means of marketing. Government work has slowed with the pandemic, as well, and Crystal Group is looking forward to an improvement in that sector.
Today, Crystal Group plans to keep employees safe and carefully manage the reintroduction of visitors and customers coming to the building. With a balanced approach, the goal remains the same: Keep the facility open and safe while still getting products to customers. Contact tracing has been implemented, and after having a cleaning service provide santization services, the company purchased sanitizing equipment to enable in-house cleaning procedures. As a result of their efforts, Crystal Group has not had to close due to a virus outbreak.
Crystal Group has plans to grow its Hiawatha operations in the future, working together with the city and its leaders to create plans that work well for everyone—their employees, customers and community.