Ingersoll Production Systems engineers miracles. Among its many talents, the Rockford, Ill.-based machine tool company converts customers’ existing equipment to perform new tasks, in turn enhancing their competitiveness. Dan Harvey explains how it combines capabilities with creativity to engender cost-effective solutions.
Ingersoll Production Systems (IPS) is a machine tool company specializing in custom-designed solutions geared toward a client base faced with high-volume production requirements. However, that mundane description leaves out a large part of the story and only suggests what it accomplishes for customers, which is nothing less than magic.
Consider one example offered by Bradley Lindeblad, IPS vice president of sales and marketing. “It involved a customer in the automotive industry, traditionally one of our main market segments,” he recalls. “They had purchased 20 CNC machines for the production of T8 engine blocks, a significant expenditure that loomed even larger when the company eventually discontinued that kind of engine.”
LPS subsequently accomplished a remarkable conversion that would make alchemical magicians envious. “We transitioned the machines to serve a whole other purpose. Specifically, we converted the equipment into something that could create transmission parts,” Lindeblad relates.
But that’s only part of the remarkable transmogrification: IPS accomplished the task in a cost-savings fashion that can only be described as breathtaking. The project cost the client $5.8 million. True, that’s a sizeable price tag. However, as Lindeblad points out, the customer was looking at an even larger expenditure. “If they got rid of the existing equipment and bought all-new machines, essentially revamping their processes from scratch, they would have spent anywhere from $12 to $14 million. But, for less than half that cost, we provided a full-warranty solution that accomplished the same thing,” he reveals.
Additionally interesting, IPS hadn’t even produced the original machines. “We can perform similar transitions with machines built by anyone in Germany, Japan or anywhere in the United States, reapplying the equipment to best suit customer needs,” he says.
INCREASING CLIENTS’ COMPETITIVENESS
Always strongly focused on the automotive industry, IPS has recently diversified its customer base as well as its products, capabilities and services – enabling it to perform similar wonders for customers in the energy, recycling and aerospace industries, among others. “Lately, our largest activity area includes the retooling of customers’ existing machines, which they initially purchased to produce a range of certain parts,” says Lindeblad. “In other words, we’ll take a flexible system they purchased about five or 10 years ago and convert the equipment in such a way that enables them to produce other parts.”
Adds Jill Wilson, IPS vice president and general manger: “It’s all about trying to make our customers more competitive, no matter what industry they’re in. Clients need to get products out the door, and with our extensive experience and history in manufacturing, that’s what we do.”
The background that Wilson references dates back more than 100 years, to a company called Ingersoll Production Machinery, an enterprise noted for introducing new technology and raising industry standards related to manufacturing capabilities. As such, its impact has been experienced throughout the world – so much, in fact, that the Dalian Machine Tool Group (DMTG), a manufacturing organization located in Dalian China, decided to purchase the company in 2002.
“Ingersoll Production Machine was established in 1887 and we were formed in October 2002 as a division of that company,” relates Lindeblad. “Later we spun off as a standalone business, and now we’re a wholly owned subsidiary of DMGT.”
Founded in 1948, DMTG has pioneered special-purpose machinery in its homeland industries. Today, the organization, which employs nearly 10,000 people, is the largest Chinese machine tool builder.
Today, IPS is headquartered in Rockford, Ill., and it operates a sales and service facility in Troy, Mich. By providing new equipment or retooling existing machinery for new or redesigned products, the company helps customers respond to changing market conditions. IPS products, services and capabilities relate to stand-alone horizontal and vertical CNC machining centers, dedicated and flexible transfer machines, flexible hybrid machining systems and special purpose machines.
As far as specific products, IPS offers transfer lines, agile systems and cells, and assembly and special purpose machines. IPS’ transfer lines (dedicated or flexible) can produce cast iron parts at a rate of 50 to 250 an hour. The company’s agile systems and cells are optimal for low, mid-range and high volume manufacturing requirements, particularly where products and volumes will most likely change during the life of existing equipment. IPS’ range of production-oriented horizontal machining centers can be configured to meet specific requirements for customer parts.
“We’re also introducing a new parallel kinematics product, a module for five-axis contour machining of complex work pieces,” reports Lindeblad. “The functional, easy-to-program system is very agile but, at the same time, possesses the stiffness required to do the machining of a variety of materials and metals, from aluminum to titanium. This technology is applicable to the machining of axles, engine mounts and aerospace components, among many others.”
All of this ties in with IPS’ unique capabilities. The company’s special talents include custom fabrications, integration of total processes, and a large capacity for creativity. “We don’t provide out-of-the-box solutions. Rather, we engage in custom engineering, using our process skills to come up with a better arrangement,” says Lindeblad.
LEAN BUSINESS MODEL
The company’s Rockford production facility includes 75,000 square feet of assembly and manufacturing space. The full-time staff includes about 58 employees. For really big jobs, IPS dips into the large, regional and available contract-labor pool. “We have a lean business model,” Lindeblad says. “We outsource all of the heavy machining and do all of the engineering. Our standout skills are design, assembly, check-out and integration of equipment supplied to us from other vendors.”
Emphasis is placed on assembly and integration. “Our integration skills are an important element for our customers, because many of them are running lean today, too,” adds Wilson. “While we supply the main equipment, they have to buy the auxiliary components from other manufacturers. But they no longer have all of the in-house people to perform the necessary integration. So, they like the idea of being able to turn that over to someone like us. In that way, we represent for them a turnkey operation.”
As IPS continues advancing, it will continue to diversify into even more industries. “We’re taking the skills that we learned and applied to the automotive industry and are carrying them over into other markets,” says Lindeblad. “To that end, we’ve added personnel that can handle the rebuilding and retrofitting of large machines.”
As he points out, in the current economic environment, IPS customers, like everyone, need to make the most out of their available capital and make do with what they have, as far as equipment. “As such, we improve existing machines in terms of performance, accuracy and reliability. This not only involves standard machines but major equipment such as CNC lathes and vertical and horizontal cutting machines. We’re looking at a big business increase in this area.”
“We’re a creative company looking for new solutions,” says Wilson. “Tough times can foster breakthrough solutions, and such creativity can help us and our customers survive. Basically, that’s what we’re all about.”
Essentially, IPS is helping customers to find new ways of using old equipment. Further, it engineers these solutions in the most cost-effective fashion. That’s what the tough times call for, and that is what the company is accomplishing.