Although it’s only six years old, Ohio Valley has grown to become one of the country’s top Tier II suppliers — thanks to its veteran staff and its clear vision of what its customers want, as David Gill discovers.
Ohio Valley Manufacturing is a young company with years of experience. The company was founded in 1995 as Ohio Valley Stamping and Assembly, and changed to its current name in 1999. Yet its personnel, from top management to the shop floor, includes people with decades of experience in the creation of progressive, transfer and blanking dies. The company has also grown very quickly; from sales of $2 million for 1999, Ohio Valley (see ad on page 52) expects to hit $10.5 million at the end of this year. According to Mike Fanello, vice president, the company should garner from $17 million to $18 million in sales next year. Ohio Valley has accomplished this phenomenal growth as a supplier to manufacturers of automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, appliances, sports equipment, lawn and garden products, and suspension parts – among the toughest markets for a supplier to penetrate in the whole U.S. economy.
Fanello credits good management practices for the firm’s rocket journey to success. “We’re a team,” he says. “No one person can do it. You have to delegate as a manager and an owner, and have trust in your people to do their jobs. You also have to communicate with your managers and involve them in a lot of areas that are important to company. I’m out on the floor over a dozen times a day, and those people feel very comfortable talking to me when I’m out there and in my office.”
Wealth of Experience
As Fanello describes the Ohio Valley staff, it’s easy to see how company management can develop such a high level of trust in its employees. At the top level, Fanello has 35 years of experience in the blanking industry, having left another blanking company to start Ohio Valley. Also in upper management are Fanello’s father, Mick, and Bob Sutter, who both have 50 years of industry experience and who now serve on Ohio Valley’s board of directors. Jim Day, the plant manager, and Dennis Dininger, the tooling manager, each have 28 years of experience in the field. “They’re both only in their late 40s, so this industry has been their life,” Fanello says.
“We’re also fortunate to have people on the plant floor who’ve worked in this industry 30 to 40 years,” he adds. “Some of them came out of retirement to work for us part-time.” This tradition is being passed on to the next generation as well. Now on the staff are Fanello’s two sons: John Fanello, the operations manager, and Jeff Fanello, in charge of customer service, finance and computer systems, both brought seven to eight years of experience prior to joining Ohio Valley. Another son, Steven, is still in college – but has already worked part-time for the company during his school vacations.
This combined experience has helped Ohio Valley’s reputation as a quality supplier to grow as rapidly as its sales. Another element in the company’s reputation is honesty, Fanello states. “It comes to doing what you tell people you’re going to do,” he says. “The key is to be straightforward. If you can’t do it, let the customer know you can’t do it. Being honest is the best thing you can do. We take our customers through our facilities, and they see we’ve put money into it. They also see that our employees are happy, and they see how we do things for the employees.”
Investing in good equipment has paid huge dividends for Ohio Valley. When the company opened its doors for business in 1995, it had small presses weighing from 50 to 300 tons. Beginning in 1999, the company began purchasing larger presses, measuring from 800 to 1,800 tons. In doing so, it increased its capability to run larger and larger dies – a key factor in its ability to bring Tier I suppliers into its customer fold.
These purchases also made Ohio Valley a better bet in the competitive race for OEM and Tier I business. “If you look around the country, you’ll find the majority of Tier II stamping houses with presses of up to 600 tons,” Fanello says. “But the industry is changing. Customers want you to be able to run larger dies and do more complete work. Buying these presses allowed us these capabilities. We currently run five presses at our facility. Three of them run six days a week, three shifts a day.”
Ohio Valley hasn’t stopped there in its capital program. By June of next year, the company will have installed another 1,800-ton press with a bed size of 72 inches by 312 inches, and completed a building expansion of 15,300 square feet. “There are only seven of these presses in the country right now,” Fanello says. “These new presses will increase our stamping capacity for dies from 144 inches to 312 inches in length by 50 percent. With 312 inches of bed size, we’ll be able to run almost any die that’s built today.”
Ohio Valley produces blanks and stampings from various grades of steel, including hot-rolled, cold-rolled, high-carbon, low-carbon and stainless. “We have our quality-control inspectors on the floor performing checks and first-piece inspections to ensure good parts. Routing sheets are also provided to our press operators, with detail instructions for each job,” says Fanello. “People on the floor are constantly checking parts to make sure they follow the specs from the customers.”
The company does more for customers than quality control. “We work with the customer on design and engineering,” Fanello says. “We help design the tooling and find the die shop to build the tooling. We have five journeymen tool makers and four apprentice tool makers, who work daily to keep all dies ready for production. Another advantage to the customer that is all die maintenance is done in house.”
Customer recognition of Ohio Valley’s efforts on their behalf has come naturally. The company is now nearly all the way to its QS 9000 certification; that process should be completed in the first quarter of 2002, Fanello says. It has also established itself as a key supplier on some of the highest-profile projects in the industry. For Tower Automotive, one of the nation’s largest Tier I suppliers, Ohio Valley is producing engine cradles, engine mounts, shock mounts, spring hangers and various heavy-gauge frame parts. Currently, Ohio Valley makes 16 different stampings for the new Dodge Ram frame. “It’s the biggest project we’ve ever done for Tower,” Fanello says.
Tower, in fact, is one of Ohio Valley’s largest customers to date. The company continues to accumulate customers among other major Tier I suppliers, and is on course to continue this pattern for years to come. Fanello says, “The experience and the team we’ve put together give any new customer coming in the door the confidence that we can do the job.”