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Parting Shots: No competitor is out of reach
August 1, 2001
4 Min Read
Batesville Tooling & Engineering staff: (back, from left) Rob Karsten, John Allen, Jeffery Fuller, Wesley Shultice, and Ralph Fuller; (middle, from left) Dan Blair, Jeff Blair, Robert Neese, and Keith Payne; (front, from left) Sherry Fuller, Gary Blair, and Janice Blair.
A small moldmaking shop in the U.S. cannot possibly hope to stand up to overseas competition, right? Not according to Gary Blair, president and founder of Batesville Tooling & Design (Batesville, MS). Blair looks you straight in the eye when he says, "We can go toe-to-toe with any competitor," and he means it.
He explains how his shop has done work for a long list of major OEMs, including DaimlerChrysler, Ford, ITW, Stanley, and Thermos. "We often find ourselves doing things that customers have been told can't be done," explains Blair. "Southern boys like me don't like the word 'can't.' It's not in our vocabulary."
Blair started the business in 1978 in his backyard, and it has grown to its present-day location with 12,000 sq ft and eight employees. His secret to success is actually two-fold. First, he and his staff love what they do. And secondly, he has embraced new technology in a big way. He started small, first by investing in an EDM machine, and then over the years by adding a variety of other machine tools. He added computers to his business in the early 1990s, and followed up by adding software from Surfcam and SolidWorks to improve his ability to design molds and to automate NC program generation.
Three years ago, The Mississippi Business Journal named his company as one of the "Mississippi Fast 40," recognizing it as one of the 40 fastest-growing businesses in the state. Today, the company creates molds for a wide variety of customers and industries. In fact, Blair, says, no two jobs are ever the same. "We are always doing one-of-a-kind molds," he explains.
No doubt about it: The new global economy has put a major strain on tool-and-die shops like Batesville, as more and more work is shipped overseas to less expensive laborers. But Blair's hope is that the high level of dedication and innovation that his firm pours into its work will continue to attract customers.
"Mold design is a complicated business," he says. "The molds we have created have been as small as a human fingernail to as large as 2 by 3 ft. A single mold may involve hundreds of individual parts, and a wide variety of shapes and draft angles. And they represent a significant investment, costing anywhere from $12,000 to $250,000. So it's a decision that a company doesn't make lightly.
"My hope and expectation," he explains, "is that good work will continue to be awarded to talented and dedicated people. We're doing our part by continuing to make investments in technology and training. Our software, in particular, is the closest thing to magic that I've seen here in Batesville. We wouldn't be where we are today if it weren't for our CAD/CAM technology. It has leveled the playing field so that we're now in a position where we can compete with the big boys for the most sophisticated jobs. And we feel pretty good about that."
Attitude and Technology
Perhaps the one thing more than any other that has kept Gary Blair and Batesville Tooling in business is its flexibility. When confronted by difficult parts or machining challenges, Blair and his team never say never. They are often approached by companies and subcontractors alike to solve particularly challenging problems, those that the companies aren't able to solve by themselves.
"Many times, the client just has an idea, a sketch, or perhaps an incomplete or inaccurate CAD model. So being able to design on the fly, to draw a completely accurate CAD model in a few hours, goes a long way towards earning their trust," says Blair. "The clincher, of course, is that with just a bit more time, we're able to do the toolpaths and actually machine the tool."
So, how does a small shop in the deep South compete and win against much larger and more established competitors? By following its drive to be the best at what it does, pushing the envelope of what's possible, and embracing technology that enables it to do so.
Submissions to Parting Shots are welcome. If you have a favorite sign, saying, quote, or part that is used in this section, we'll send you a check for $25. For our What Is It? series, be sure to identify the part, material, manufacturer, and function. We're also looking for stories about molding ingenuity. Send your submission ideas to Karen Wood, managing editor, fax (303) 321-3552, or e-mail [email protected].
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