Family-owned and operated for over 70 years, Fullerton Tool is today recognized as one of North America’s premium manufacturers of solid carbide cutting tools for a variety of different industries.
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Based in Saginaw, Mich., the company recently completed a significant expansion of their facilities and rolled out a number of new product programs, making 2015 an exciting and evolutionary year for them. Patrick Curry, company president and third generation successor, sits down to talk about Fullerton’s role in America’s industry, and how a longstanding commitment to both market diversification and high quality service has led to the blossoming success they are experiencing today. Steve Engelhardt reports.
It was in 1942 when Morgan Arthur Curry, a farm-raised and somewhat recent graduate of the University of Michigan, decided to take his education and hard-working demeanor and use it to enter into the business of tool making. Organizing the Research Tool Company (also sold under the names “Perma Cut” and “Wolverine Cutter”), Curry got his foot in the industry’s “door” by manufacturing cutting tools for the many manufacturing plants across the United States engaged in defense production for the raging world war going on across the Atlantic in Europe.
After the war, Curry kept his hands in the defense industry, becoming one of the nation’s top suppliers of tools to the Department of Defense, and later expanded out from Michigan to set up an additional facility in California in 1961. “At this time my grandfather had built quite a successful business, but as someone who always had the future on his mind, he wanted to diversify Fullerton’s business,” he says adding, “Given the tools we were making, we really could do business with just about any company making holes and chips, so we soon entered into the automotive industry as well, to further hedge our position as a company.”
Starting with defense and then growing into automotive, Fullerton today has evolved to become a leader in precision-made tooling for virtually every industry there is, including the medical, aerospace, and mold and die sectors in North America. “It was always my grandfather’s idea to keep the company diversified in its business,” says Curry, adding, “Because with our products’ wide-ranging applications and the corporate dedication to quality in each and every tool we make, there was a lot of opportunities to pursue from many different sectors.”
He says that their market diversification particularly paid off during the economic downturn that shook the nation’s economy back in 2008, as while Fullerton suffered along with just about every other business during this time period, they were able to buoy themselves and offset losses in certain sectors with stability in others. “During this time we also invested in a number of lean initiatives to improve our overall manufacturing efficiency, as well as placing a greater commitment on innovation and how we went about developing solutions for our customers.”
The latter of which is what Curry and Fullerton Tool refer to as Fullerton’s Advanced Solutions Team (FAST), a program launched in 2009 to bolster their internal and external operational success. “FAST represents the foundation of our commitment to continuous improvement, innovation, and product diversity,” says Curry, adding, “Right from its inception, the program has been a massive success for us and our customers, as we have been able to foster a significant amount of engineering and technology breakthroughs to develop groundbreaking and superior cutting tools and overall services for them.”
With a fully equipped Research and Development lab to work in, Fullerton’s FAST team of engineers have been able to test and develop a number of new materials, coatings, and tools with the ultimate goal of increasing quality while reducing overall cost. It’s why in 2010 they won the American Eagle Award for the ‘Value Added Manufacturer’ category, as while the program had only been in existence for a year up to this point, Fullerton had already demonstrated several examples where its presence lead to savings in the six figures for a few of their customers. “In today’s world, it’s all about the cost per part and maintaining operational efficiency,” says Curry, adding, “Our FAST program, combined with the highly improved internal manufacturing processes we took on at this time, really enabled us to not only meet but exceed such needs with our tools.”
And the program has only continued to show its merits, with Fullerton again winning an American Eagle Award in 2014 under the ‘Excellence in Industry’ category. The awardwas garnered through Fullerton’s role in freeing up machine time and reducing total tool costs for their customer, Cleveland-based Jergens Industrial Supply (JIS). Curry says the program, which took several weeks to implement, generated total savings of more than $480,000.
Expanding into the Future
It’s examples like these why, now that the Great Recession begins to fade into history, Fullerton Tool is succeeding more than ever. “Our investment into improving our internal and external activity during the economic downturn allowed us to ‘hit the ground running’ when things began to clear up,” he says.
And they truly did, as Fullerton Tool grew significantly as a company last year, prompting them to make the decision to build a second manufacturing plant down the road from their first one in Saginaw County, Mich. The investment, which totals $8 million and is expected to create 58 jobs over three years, was coupled with a $400,000 performance-based grant given out by the Michigan Business Development Program. “The Fullerton family was excited to expand to an additional facility in a familiar area,” says Curry, noting that over the last year, the “Fullerton West Facility has enhanced our product offerings and allowed us to seamlessly continue the momentum we had originally cultivated.”
Curry says that with a formal engineering team now in place, a greater level of manufacturing proficiency, and an expanded footprint of facilities, the sky is the limit for them, especially as many of their major industries begin to come back in big ways. “The aerospace and automotive markets are especially coming back into prominence and manufacturing is stronger than ever here in the United States, as more and more companies innovate and reshore their operations.” He says that while the U.S is their primary market, they also do significant business in Canada, Mexico, China, and the UK. “There are manufacturers everywhere that have need for our tools, and we’re always ready to accommodate wherever possible.”
Fullerton Tool’s sustained performance and strong position throughout good times and bad are the reason why the family-owned company has been in successful operation for as long as it has. “Our diversity and commitment to the customer makes everyday an exciting and important one here at Fullerton Tool, and as a company with an everlasting goal of ‘minimal energy, maximum material removal’, we ourselves operating successfully for many years to come.”