Fullerton Tool is a third-generation family-owned manufacturer of carbide cutting tool solutions. This Michigan “Made in America” company provides customers in a range of industries precision-made tooling that provides greater profit improvements with increased efficiency and throughput. David Soyka reports on this leading toolmaker’s recent plant expansion and exciting new product lines
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There’s been a lot of talk about the decline of family businesses, not to mention American manufacturing in general. Fullerton Tool is a third-generation family business based in Michigan that just a year ago doubled its certified manufacturing capacity with a new 35,000 square-foot, $8 million facility in Saginaw’s Great Lakes Technology Center.
A lucky exception to the rule? No, rather more like a case study in how exceptional products and service demonstrate how American manufacturers still rule.
“While we were a little slow at the beginning of the year, the fourth quarter has been good to us so far,” notes president Patrick Curry. “We serve a variety of industries—including aerospace, mold and die, heavy equipment and medical—so when a sector such as oil and gas is in a down cycle, another sector, such as automotive which has been going strong lately, picks up.”
While serving diversified markets helps stabilize and even grow business when some segments are experiencing down cycles, perhaps more important is offering a specialized service backed by personal attention to customer needs. “We make solid carbide cutting tools,” Curry explains. “But we aren’t just a build-to-print manufacturer. Sure, we have standardized off-the-shelf products and we do build-to-spec. But we also tailor solutions to address specific manufacturing problem/needs. Typically, we provide a mix of standard and custom products, but we’re also working with customers to determine how our products best fit into their processes as well as how our products can actually improve their processes. Customers are buying much more than a tool from Fullerton—they’re buying tools that expand efficiencies and increase throughput.”
He adds, “We’re not the least expensive. But over the long term we save our customers money with tools that last and perform. We guarantee that Fullerton carbide tools result in cost savings for our customers.”
Making it FAST
This guarantee is provided thanks to FAST— Fullerton’s Advanced Solutions Team. “FAST is the foundation of our commitment to continuously improve, innovate and provide product diversity,” Curry explains. “Our engineering staff teams with highly skilled operators and top-of-the-line production machinery designs to produce custom carbide cutting tools for the most demanding applications. Our FAST culture works closely with customers to optimize their process parameters to help them operate as lean, efficient and profitable as possible. A FAST solution is more than just tools, it’s using the tools to reduce cost-per-part and reduce metal waste. To give just one example, use of our Fury end mill saved one of our customers over $20,000 as measured by a variety of metrics including metal removal rate, cycle time, total cost per part and number of parts.”
Of course, Fullerton has the same production efficiency goals as its customers. As an ISO 9001:2008 certified manufacturer, Fullerton Tool continues to demonstrate its commitment to process improvement in implementing a variety of lean concepts such as 5S, Six Sigma, Fast Response Manufacturing. The second manufacturing plant handles most of the high-volume, high production parts while enabling Fullerton to bring coating work in-house and expand its product portfolio. JIT (Just in Time) Services provide customers with 24 hour delivers of decimal size reamers, slitting saws and keyseat cutters, and 48 hour delivery of weldon flats, corner radius end mills, decimal size ends mills and chip breakers.
People are Key
Between the two plants, Fullerton runs more than 45 CNC (Computer Numerical Controlled) machines. While Curry notes that, like any manufacturer, automation is key to improving efficiency and reducing costs, Fullerton Tool doesn’t lose sight of the “human contribution” of its 170 employees.
“Obviously, you need people with engineering knowledge, but highly skilled and experienced people on the shop floor are absolutely essential to make high quality precision tools,” Curry points out. “Our people have a passion to innovate and continually improve. Manufacturing is configured in a series of cells dedicated to certain operations and products. Personnel are cross-trained to work in every one of those cells. That way we can easily move makes the work more challenging so you aren’t always working on the same thing day in and day out.”
Fullerton Tool’s new manufacturing facility created not only expanded capability to meet customer needs, but also created new jobs. Manufacturers in general are struggling with not only staffing positions with the required skilled sets, but attracting people to traditional manufacturing jobs in the first place. “Fullerton Tool has developed a good working relationship with Delta Community College, which has a top-line CNC shop where they not only can make tools, but develop their own tooling,” Curry says. “We also work with local high schools and Saginaw Valley State University to promote the idea of manufacturing as an attractive and rewarding career.”
New Products and Partnerships
Another facet to Fullerton Tool’s success is an ever-expanding product line and strategic partnerships. Recent product announcements include:
- Fantom 2.0, an advanced performance, solid carbide, 5-flute solid carbide end mills designed to excel in difficult machining materials with enhanced edge strength to provide a stable, robust cutter for heavier chip loads and superior part finishes.
- MATRX composite tooling line, designed to withstand various composite materials (carbon composites, fiberglass, fiber reinforced composites, plastics and green ceramics).
In addition, Fullerton has entered into a number of partnerships to make and distribute their tool products. These include relationships with Velocity Products (which involves collaboration among several companies including Briney Tooling Systems, Blueswarf) and 5ME’s BlueZone™ Cyrongenic.
“Being involved with the Velocity SMART Tool was a no brainer for us,” Curry points out. “It is a turnkey solution that eliminates the guess work for machinists, optimizes parameters in high speed machining and eliminates trial and error. 5SME’s cryogenic machining system enables higher cutting speeds, increased material removal rates and longer tool life by transmitting liquid nitrogen at -321°F through the spindle/ turret and tool body, directly to the cutting edge. This partnership is going to help users improve performance in machining of high-speed cutting of titanium and other tough- to-cut alloys.”
Underpinning every tool and every partnership is Fullerton’s customer-focused approach. “Our customers trust the Fullerton Way—our commitment to design, manufacture and deliver high-quality tools supported by people with a passion for improving their productivity and bottom-line efficiencies,” Curry says. “It’s a family calling.”