M. S. Willett, Inc. has been specializing in metalforming services since 1929. David Sokya tells the story of this unique company.
Click here to read the complete illustrated article as originally published or scroll down to read the text article.
Today, backed by an experienced team of innovative engineers, toolmakers and production personnel, Willett is unique in being both a full service manufacturer of contract metal stampings, metal fabrication and assemblies as well as designing and building tools and dies, system integration, part transfer, turn-key systems and replacement tooling.
When you’ve been in business for almost 80 years, reputation is a definite competitive plus. However, as M. S. Willett, Inc.’s CEO and President, Jim Lekin, is quick to point out, it is what’s behind that reputation that ultimately counts for continued success in today’s competitive global marketplace.
“Quality is key. We have a longstanding customer base that’s been with us for over 40 years, but the reason customers continue to do business with us isn’t out of habit; it’s because we deliver quality products. Willett’s commitment to continual improvement and meeting customers’ expectations is the basis for achieving our quality objectives.”
He adds, “Pricing is always going to be a consideration, but we find our customers do not want lower prices at the expense of quality. Equally important is the ability to deliver products on-time. In addition, our customers look to Willett not just as suppliers, but as problem-solvers. We partner with our customers to provide solutions that achieve their goals. We’re successful because we help our customers become more successful.”
Adding to this highly competitive combination of service and value are Willett’s unique capabilities as a single source for metal fabrication, stamping production, and tool and die services. “We offer a unique blend of production development, engineering, tooling and automation, all backed by experienced engineers, tool and die, production and fabrication personnel who eagerly welcome new challenges to solve problems,” Lekin says.
Willett is headquartered in Cockeysville, Md., which is located between Baltimore and York, Pa, convenient to major interstate highway I-83. Originally a family-owned company, Willett continues under private owners, which include Lekin and his partner, Michael Sullivan, who purchased the firm in 2005. Willett operates two business units – the Production Division and the Tool and Die Division – which, while separate and independently run entities, frequently collaborate to achieve customer expectations. Willett, an ISO 9001.2000 registered company, operates in two buildings with over 60,000 square feet.
“Each division has its own separate sales teams, but the production people can talk about engineering, and vice versa, and each side is always looking out for the other,” Lekin notes. “Nobody here is territorial. The objective is to service the customer in the best way possible. Sometimes that stays exclusively with one division, sometimes it means bringing the other side in to deliver a complete solution. Our ability to see it from both ends – as tool and die and as production – is our added value.”
Adds Director of Engineering and Development Gary Ruby, “Because we have expertise on both sides – engineering and production – we can offer more than most typical shops. For example, a customer could come to us and say they’ve got a benchmark of making a specific part at 60 units a minute. Some shops might say, OK, we can do that, and sure, at one level, they satisfy what the customer wants. What makes us different is that we might look at it and conclude, Willett can do it, but with reengineering, we can double or even triple that rate. That’s a key added value Willett provides which most of our competition cannot offer. In today’s marketplace, it’s all about increasing productivity, preserving quality and reducing costs. We look at every job with that in mind.”
The Production Division is a full service manufacturer of stamped and fabricated components, capable of handling everything from prototyping to full production runs of small to large quantities. Willett is highly experienced in running progressive, compound, draw and transfer dies, with 20- to 400-ton press capacity. Willett services include in-die, off-line tapping and assembly capabilities. Willett offers coordination of any additional outside service required by the customer to ship a completed part such as polishing, plating, powder coating, etc.
According to Tim Lekin, Director of Planning and Administration, “We have the latest CNC metal fabricating equipment and robotic welders, but there is still some hand assembly. Of course, we have the advantage of having our own tooling capabilities, which helps make us much more efficient. But it’s difficult for us to do things like lean manufacturing, which is ideally designed for repetitive tasks performed for large scale operations. When you do a lot of small production runs intermixed with larger jobs, like we do, it’s hard to apply many of the lean manufacturing techniques. Still, we’re always looking to develop methodologies that make us as efficient as possible. For example, our latest scheduling software helps ensure just-in-time deliveries.”
As steel prices continue to rise, Tim Lekin notes that “these are tough times in our industry. There’s not much we can directly do about the price of steel; it is what it is. We’re all subject to the laws of supply and demand these days which are keeping prices high. Our customers understand that. They also understand that while it might sometimes seem to be cheaper to go offshore, you don’t get the same kind of value, and it often becomes more expensive in the long run.”
“We’re starting to see manufacturing come back to the United States.” Jim Lekin observes. “A lot of companies are beginning to realize that an 8,000 mile supply chain has major, major pitfalls.”
The Tool and Die Division provides engineering and development support services, precision tools and dies, tooling integration, part transfers, automation mechanisms, and complete turn-key production systems. “Willett engineered transfers and integrated tooling have a long history of increasing productivity, quality and operating efficiencies in a wide range of metal stamping industries.” Ruby says.
“Willett’s customers rely on us for our engineering expertise,” Ruby emphasizes. “Willett has partnered with Heat Wave Technologies, Inc., a California based company, in developing the next generation of convenience packaging; instant self-heating cup – the first of its kind to heat in 60 seconds. This is perfect for today’s ‘on-the-go’ consumer. Willett successfully developed the forming sequence and tooling for the deep drawn inner cup, using heat sealable aluminum can stock provided by Alcan Packaging.” Adds Daniel Ginzburg, Heat Wave’s CEO: “Heat Wave has the innovative ideas to meet the consumer’s needs to make their lives easier. Willett provided the technological knowledge and expertise to make the inner cup production possible.”
Adding to that lustrous reputation, Willett continues to invest in technology. “We use state-of-the-art equipment and systems. It’s one of our greatest strengths allowing us to be more efficient and price competitive,” notes Jim Lekin.
“Even with the latest technology, there is still a need for highly skilled personnel,” Jim Lekin says. “Finding the right people presents a challenge. Trade school isn’t emphasized as much as a career choice as it was 20 years ago and attendance at trade schools is down. It’s not always easy to find qualified people. We employ about 60 people. We’re careful about who we select to work at Willett, which has an employee average of 20 years of work experience and we do everything we can to retain our colleagues. Willett has a national award winning apprenticeship program, and continues to invest in training its apprentices.”
The U.S. economy is also making things a little harder, but Jim Lekin is optimistic. “On the one hand, yes, the declining economy is breathing down everyone’s necks a little bit. On the other hand, Willett has recently purchased major pieces of equipment to enhance and diversify its capabilities. We have a very loyal customer base that is growing, and customers know they can depend on Willett when they need us.”