Barbara Kram tells how 80-year-old Davis Industries has evolved into a well-oiled machine that exceeds customer requirements through a focus on quality products, lean manufacturing systems and a commitment to continuous improvement.
Founded in 1921 as a small tool and die shop, Davis Industries, Inc., has grown with America’s auto industry and strategically expanded to deliver world-class manufacturing processes and technologies to the top OEMs. Specializing in fabricated metal subsystems and assemblies, Davis is well known for its power train components and for body structure and reinforcement modules. On the power-train side, OEMs rely on Davis for multipurpose engine and transmission bracket assemblies, battery trays, valve cover assemblies, transmission pans and covers, flex-plate and drive-plate assemblies, torque-converter components and heat-management products. On the body and chassis side, Davis manufactures fuel tank supports and body reinforcements; fuel filler door assemblies; hood, deck-lid and door assemblies; latching mechanisms; and instrument panel subassemblies. The company combines innovation with experience. In automatic transmission technology, for example, Davis prototyped the first torque converter in 1939 and has been in the drive-plate and pan business since 1965.
Today, Davis Industries enjoys $160 million in annual sales. The company’s organization is an integrated team of five uniquely structured manufacturing and product development units that have been acquired, expanded and upgraded to serve customers’ changing needs. “The best word to describe our organization is ‘focus,'” says Bill Doll, director of sales and marketing. “We’ve really got ‘focus’ with our product and strategic manufacturing initiatives at our plants.”
Partners Inside and Outside
First among equals for Davis is its Epworth Technologies unit, established in 2000 and based in Plymouth, Mich. Epworth is the technical center, pulling together design, development and testing capabilities. Through this unit, Davis offers its state-of-the-art, computer-aided services internally and externally. Its value-added resources – such as CAD, finite element analysis (FEA) and other technologies – support Davis’ product design, advanced engineering and product data functions. Its full-service engineering offerings include benchmarking, concept development, design and modeling; product prototyping, testing and validation; and transition and integration to production.
These functions and capabilities may not seem unique in the manufacturing world until you consider the intense expertise that Davis adds to the equation. For example, FEA data shows where stresses might compromise the strength of a component, but Davis takes that capability much further than the average metal stamper. “Anybody can have an FEA run. But if you take the knowledge that we have within our core product areas about how that product functions in a certain application and load that specific information back into the software, it gives you a more accurate depiction of what would happen in a real-world scenario,” Doll explains.
Volunteer Automotive, Davis’ Manchester, Tenn.-based unit, is a world-class supplier of body hardware components. Volunteer Automotive’s products include fuel filler door assemblies, deck-lid and hood hinges, tailgate and door latches, and body and chassis reinforcement assemblies. Established in 1995, Volunteer Automotive is a lean manufacturing facility recognized for its use of kanban visual control methods, quick die change and multirobotic-weld cells.
Datec Industries, the Davis plant in Angola, Ind., that was built in 1992, manufactures more than 5 million automatic drive-plate and flex-plate assemblies each year. Datec features leading-edge spin-balancing techniques and robotic-weld procedures to achieve exceptional quality performance ratings.
Established in 1962 and purchased by Davis in 1985, Multi-Plex specializes in flex-plate and engine plate stampings, multipurpose engine and drive-train stamped assemblies, valve covers and heat shields. The Howe, Ind., facility incorporates customized valve-cover and engine-cover automated assembly cells, heat-cured elastomer bonding processes and multiple deep-draw, complex transfer and progressive die stampings.
Davis Tool and Engineering Company in Detroit is the elder statesman of corporate family, established in 1941 and carrying on the parent company’s tradition of expertise in power-train technology. Davis Tool’s core competencies are engine and transmission pans and covers, transmission shells and drums, valve-cover assemblies and torque converters and subassemblies.
At Davis, the dog wags the tail. The company designs and tools equipment for the desired output, rather than the other way around.
“What we do is design our equipment around the most effective process,” Doll says. “We have a product focus, utilizing our advanced engineering groups to work with our customer to come up with more effective designs. The next step is to take that design and work with our manufacturing locations to develop the most efficient tooling and processes based on customer requirements and volumes.”
Davis prides itself on its sophisticated team program management, which integrates functions, tasks and all of the inputs and outputs of product development. Planning, communication and tracking, along with process standardization, are the keys to Davis’ fine-tuned manufacturing machine.
The company’s cross-functional teams, including customers and their own top veterans, develop world-class manufacturing processes from prototyping and tooling design through assembly processing. It’s manufacture-driven design with customer involvement all the way through. “The basic philosophy is to work with the customer, understand what their needs are and design the most effective engineering and cost-efficient product up front,” says Doll.
Suppliers also play an important role on Davis’ winning teams. “If we’re working on something that is going to take a lot of outside supplier support, we bring them in as an integral part of that team,” Doll says. “We may be the experts in developing the end- item process, but they’re the experts in their own product, so we need their expertise to develop the most effective designs.”
Davis is always on the move with automotive industry leaders, growing business profitability while keeping pace with technologies and trends. “We understand that as the industry changes, our strategies have to change as well,” Doll observes. “For (automakers), the best investment value return is on assembling vehicles. They don’t get value from stamping although they have those capabilities and can make these kinds of parts. Their value is in assembling end-item vehicles in big chunks. We’re expanding our focus into more modular product designs where we add on and offer the customer the biggest benefit.”