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April 1, 2003

9 Min Read
Industry Watch

Facing an order backlog, Ameritech Die & Mold (Mooresville, NC) recently expanded capacity by adding two high-speed machining centers and a wire EDM. At left is Ameritech’s new K165 Fidia machining center and to the right is a new SNC 64 Makino high-speed mill. By entrenching in a niche, investing in new technology, and cultivating a new generation of moldmakers, Ameritech has thrived in turbulent years.

“We set a record for the company’s sales last year.”
Steve Rotman, president, Ameritech Die & Mold

Moldmaker finds niche, reinvests in technology, staff

WITH PURCHASE orders backed up to March of this year, Ameritech Die & Mold Inc. (Mooresville, NC) didn’t go to last September’s IMTS show in Chicago as an idle attendee; it came with a shopping list. Purchasing a high-speed K165 Fidia machining center and a Charmilles 440 wire EDM from the show floor, Ameritech began to fill the need for anticipated and existing workload. The company also added an SNC 64 Makino high-speed mill that was installed in February and is currently up and running with the Fidia.

“We’ve stayed pretty steady,” Ameritech president Steve Rotman says of the moldmaker’s business. How steady? “We actually set a record for the company’s sales last year,” Rotman admits. He attributes the landmark year to an automotive niche that has insulated Ameritech from the wave of hardship that has engulfed much of the moldmaking community.

Ameritech isn’t immune from the times, however, and an important client is now considering moving work to Mexico. Undaunted, Ameritech has taken preemptive action and offered to operate in a joint manner to train the client’s Mexican workers at its plant and provide onsite help in Mexico to keep the business. “[The plan] is nothing in detail, it’s just ideas of how to possibly partner with them to help, and we’re offering to be a beta site for them.”

With approximately 22 employees, Ameritech remains small, but it thinks big using its recent boon to invest in the latest high-speed technology, as well as a more traditional means of improvement: apprentices. By participating in a program called Apprenticeship 2000, Ameritech works with five other companies to recruit juniors from eight surrounding high schools. (See “Apprenticeships: Building the Future of Molding,” September 2001 IMM, for an initial report.)

A series of tests and interviews match the youngsters with a company, and in their senior year, the students split days between the shop and their classes. Following graduation, apprentices work four days a week and spend the fifth day at a local community college, earning an associate degree. All the while, Ameritech or other member companies are paying the students and footing the bill for their tuition and books. The investment’s returned eventually, as Ameritech gets what Rotman calls a “super-custom employee,” among other cost benefits.

“There’s a point when an apprenticeship still costs a company money,” Rotman explains. “When you first start out, that apprentice can barely make the company enough money to pay for himself, but as the apprentice grows, it turns over to the other side if he does a good job, and the company gets the advantage.”

Automaker trucks on in face of geopolitical strife

THE SPECTER OF WAR, rising gas prices, and dimming consumer confidence seem to have finally mired American automakers, who watched business stall in February as car and light truck sales dipped 6.9 percent from a year earlier, but Ford Motor Co. says its recently publicized plans to reduce Q2 production were put in place well before any headlines gave the American buying public pause.

George Pipas, Ford’s U.S. sales analysis manager, says the world’s number two automaker slowed its production plans back in January of 2002, in response to a company-wide restructuring initiative and the rollout of its new F Series slated for late this summer. Conflict and rising gas prices had no effect on its decision.

“The overall economic environment is a little like a newborn calf,” Pipas says. “It’s on its legs, but it’s kind of wobbly. We can’t focus on things that are going to be here now and gone tomorrow. The Middle East conflict looms large right now, but [for us] it’s more the overall economy that we watch in order to set production schedules.”

Pipas says monthly updates and plans keep its supply chain abreast of any production changes, but suppliers needn’t worry about knee-jerk reactions to the conflict threats or other calamities that currently clutter the news. Pipas says the 9/11 attacks changed the forecasting game for the foreseeable future.

“If you had told me that a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks we would have experienced the biggest month in our history,” Pipas says, “I would have said you’re crazy. So what happens if a war starts? I wouldn’t even care to speculate.”

Nypro expands in the Far West

TENDING TO THE NEEDS of one of its domestic operations, global manufacturer Nypro Inc. recently announced a new plant for its Colorado branch. One of 59 flagships for the manufacturing behemoth, Nypro Colorado will move into a new, 30,000-sq-ft facility five miles from its previous location in Longmont, CO.

Serving a variety of markets including health care and automotive, the shop employs 120 and runs 20 presses, mostly in the 350-ton range. Formerly, these employees worked among three buildings, none of which was designed for its job.

“Now [the operation] has all been put into one building that was designed specifically for what it’s being used for, so it just makes it much more efficient, much more useful,” says Nypro spokesman Al Cotton.

Cotton says the move will allow Nypro to better apply its company-wide lean mantra, called the High-Velocity System. Cotton says aside from process efficiency, this program helps Nypro control costs.

“Customers are looking for price decreases,” he says, “and for a long time, people kept doing that just by volume, which you can’t do forever. So lean brings our costs down for our customers.”

Costs, however, are not Nypro’s sole influence, especially regarding location. In the news recently for expansions overseas, Nypro isn’t just chasing low-cost labor around the globe, Cotton says.

“[Nypro] really doesn’t decide its locations based on costs,” he explains. “Our locations are based on sales. So, for the most part, we’ve been growing and continue to grow worldwide, including in the United States.” He says Nypro’s customers go where they find new business opportunities, which inevitably leads to one locale.

Citing a U.S. population of 282 million people, Cotton says larger markets loom overseas, and Nypro’s customers would be remiss to ignore them. “There are more than 1.3 billion people in China, so there’s a lot of growth in China, and while we’ve been able to sustain growth [in the U.S.], we’ve also been able to work with customers who are accommodating growth in China.”

Mold component manufacturer expands, relocates

IN THE FACE of an ever-shrinking customer base, one mold component manufacturer has augmented its specialty services and realigned manufacturing and sales facilities to better serve its clients. National Tool & Mfg. Co. (Kenilworth, NJ) recently announced the relocation and expansion of its Midwest mold base production, warehouse, and sales office, as well as the relocation of its California warehouse. The new 18,500-sq-ft plant in Elgin, IL replaces two separate facilities and triples mold base production capacity. Sales manager Scott Lukacs says the facility will also provide specialized machining capabilities like gundrilling, a 60-inch Blanchard grinder, and large-capacity vertical and horizontal CNC machining centers.

“We try to be flexible with our customers to provide them with the services that they need,” Lukacs says. National’s West Coast warehouse and sales office will be relocated to Anaheim, CA. Lukacs says both moves were made with National’s customers in mind, especially in these leaner times for moldmakers.

“[National Tool] is trying to do everything it can,” Lukacs explains. “What we’re trying to do with the moves we’ve made is put as much machinery as we can in areas where it can best serve our strongest customer base.”

FDA prescribes procedural changes

IN A PROCEDURE aimed at resuscitating invention within the medical industry, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced measures to reduce delays and costs incurred during product development, improve review process efficiency, and stimulate new product development as well as emerging treatment technologies.

FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan cited longer approval times for Class III medical devices as one impetus for change. “[The FDA] noted a decline in product applications from manufacturers in key areas, which contributed to an increase in review times,” McClellan says.

Short shots

DuPont Engineering Polymers (Wilmington, DE) has acquired Eastman Chemical’s (Kingsport, TN) high-performance crystalline plastics business for undisclosed terms. The deal includes technology and intellectual property rights for resins like Titan LCP, Thermx PCT, and Thermx EG reinforced PET; the transaction doesn’t entail physical assets or workers.

Adding $8 million in annual sales to its closures business, Berry Plastics Corp. (Evansville, IN) announced the acquisition of a 400 Series continuous threaded injection molded closure system from CCL Plastic Packaging (Los Angeles, CA).

N-K Mfg. Technologies (Grand Rapids, MI) has formed a joint venture with Industrias Gesta (Monterrey, Mexico) to produce various automotive components. N-K reports that it created the partnership to better serve its clientele based in Mexico.

Medical contract manufacturer Classic Industries Inc. (Latrobe, PA) is expanding its operations to Ponce, Puerto Rico. The new facility will operate 24 all-electric machines up to 330 tons and perform secondary operations including assembly.

Front loading future price cuts into its five-year supply contracts, Tier One automotive supplier Visteon Corp. (Dearborn, MI) is now asking suppliers for upfront cash payments. After subtracting discounts now, Visteon says suppliers would receive the original part price over the life of the contract. In other Visteon news, the company announced plans to abandon its seating business, and said it will transfer that segment of its manufacturing to Johnson Controls Inc. (Milwaukee, WI).

ATW Cos. (Warwick, RI) has acquired metal injection molder Parmatech Corp. (Petaluma, CA). Parmatech was formerly a division of Carpenter Technology Corp. (Wyomissing, PA).

Interplex Plastics Inc. (Lexington, KY) recently acquired an 11,000-sq-ft building adjacent to its own. Parent company Interplex Industries Inc. (Flushing, NY) has also formed a partnership with etching and tool and die manufacturers Metal Logic Inc. (Attleboro, MA) and Etch Logic LLC (Attleboro, MA).

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