Wireform Manufacturer Staying Ahead of the Curve by David Gaines, Design-2-Part
Design-2-Part Magazine - August 2012
Keeping a contract manufacturing firm competitive and thriving these days is no easy task. One spring and wireforming shop, Ace Wire Spring and Form Co., Inc., stays competitive with many years of innovation to draw from, a constant eye on quality, and a continual upgrading of its equipment inventory.
All of the work that the ISO 9001 certified/ITAR registered company performs is for custom, high-precision parts with low- to-medium volumes. The company, located in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, just outside Pittsburgh, was founded in 1939 by Linda Froehlich's father, and then taken over by her and her husband, Richard Froehlich, in 1976.
One recent addition to the company's production equipment is a high-tech CNC spring and wireform coiling machine. "We have one of the most unique spring and wireforming machines in the world today," says Linda Froehlich, the co-owner and co-president of Ace Wire Spring. "This piece of equipment is one of only two in the world; the other is in Switzerland. This machine has the capability to coil up to 0.375-inch carbon steel, and we can make double torsion springs on it in one operation. I think this sets us apart from our competition."
The new automated machine gives Ace Wire Spring many advantages in regard to repeatability and material size, and it reduces cycle times dramatically.
"A lot of people in the spring and wireforming industry don't have the broad capacity that we have," Froehlich insists. "They can maybe go up to a ¼-inch part, but we can go up to 5/8-inch parts and beyond. We're looking to go up to 1¼-inch bar stock. The new machine allows us to do more work automatically and to make double torsion springs automatically, which is unheard of in this industry. The benefit of this machine is that it makes us more competitive and more efficient, and the work is very repeatable. It also gets us into different industries, like agriculture, nuclear power, and railroads."
A major concern of many manufacturing firms these days is the dwindling supply of skilled employees that possess the mechanical and computer skills necessary to work in a high-tech manufacturing environment.
"One of the things we're doing right now is working more closely with our local school districts and trade schools to train young people," Froehlich remarked. "The educational system seems to focus on children that want to go to a four-year college after high school. The technical schools allow high school students to go into trades, but not all of the public schools are offering the trades. Right now we're working with a local technical school that's had a mechanical program for the last three years that no one has signed up for. They changed the name of the program to ‘mechatronics,' which is mechanical and robotics training, and they're finally getting some kids interested."
The spring and wireform company is actively involved in the mechatronics program. In addition to teaching students how to read drawings and make tooling, the company is working with students to help them understand elements of creativity, as well as the computers on CNC production machines. "I think our schools have failed some of these kids because there is a lot of talent out there," says Froehlich. "These kids have what it takes; it just hasn't been recognized."
As products become more sophisticated, both mechanically and electronically, a primary concern of the nation's OEMs is high quality. Ace Wire Spring has had projects come back to their company because of quality issues with overseas manufacturers. "Our quality is superb. Even a spring in a ballpoint pen has to have high quality; otherwise, how well will the pen work?" Froehlich states straightforwardly. "A lot of customers that were going offshore to have products made found that when the parts came back, they were unusable. And there are waits of maybe three months to get the parts back from China or Taiwan, and communication issues. Our quality and one-on-one communication is a big plus for the OEMs, so are they really saving any money by going offshore?"
The company's co-president often hears from colleagues in the manufacturing industry about OEMs that are bringing work back to the U.S. "There have been many instances of companies coming back, not only with our company, but for others, too," says Froehlich. "I think there is a lot of American pride, which is a good thing, and American companies have become competitive again. I think the number one reason is the quality. If the parts aren't made correctly overseas, you have to wait for someone to fix it, and then wait for the parts to come back."
Besides providing high levels of quality, excellent customer service is what keeps Ace Wire Spring's customers coming back to them with more work. "We make a lot of follow-up calls with our customers to keep in constant contact," says John Higgins, the company's marketing and sales support manager. "We want to make sure that not only do they get their deliverables on time, but that everything is working out OK. Our design engineers are always available for design assistance. We get a lot of current and new customers coming to us that need something for a final product, but they don't know exactly what they need. Our design engineers will talk with them about it to come up with an efficient solution."
Another customer service strategy that the wireform company has enlisted is having a coordinator on staff dedicated to quotes. "I think something unique for us, compared to other companies, is our quick turnaround time on requests for quotes," says Higgins. "We do a lot of follow-up to make sure they received the quote, and to make sure it's understandable, and we have a quote coordinator on our staff. She takes any information and turns it around very quickly with our design engineers. If our clients have specific questions, our design engineers will contact them as quickly as possible."