Janis Hubschman reports on Tricon Industries, Inc., a high-precision insert molder and specialized component manufacturer, whose depth of vertical integration provides one-stop shopping for its first- and second-tier customers.
Tricon Industries, Inc., was launched in Chicago in 1944 by three partners – William R. Grandle, Bernard Boedeker and Harvey Dyer – as a jewelry and precious metals contact fabricator, as well as a supplier of brazing materials and preforms. Building on its initial success, the company expanded, in the 1950s and ‘60s, into the design and manufacture of electrical contact points and contact assemblies for the relay and switch industry.
In the ‘60s, Tricon entered the plastics field when it pioneered the use of insert-molding techniques for the manufacture of switches, relays and other electrical components. A breakthrough opportunity arrived in 1963, when IBM enlisted Tricon to produce a series of switches for its consumer products. Using a combination of contact welding, stamping and insert-molding processes, Tricon met and exceeded IBM’s specifications and expectations. The custom-molding company soon earned an industry reputation as a leader in insert- and injection-molding processes.
Tricon grew and flourished during the next two decades, expanding its operations to serve the growing and specialized needs of the electronics, appliance and automobile industries. Its customer base grew to include many Fortune 500 companies, as well as middle-market manufacturers. It penetrated the automotive market in 1978, when the company was approached by General Motors to produce a component used in the dimmer switches of interior car lights. From that first commission, Tricon’s involvement with the automotive industry mushroomed until the company was soon serving worldwide Tier One suppliers, who in turn supply to the major automotive manufacturers. Today, the automotive segment represents 85 percent of Tricon’s business.
Tricon’s leadership in electrical connector and component design brought new growth in the 1990s. Regular investment in manufacturing equipment – coupled with the opening of a new assembly facility in 1990, and a new technical center and headquarters in 1992 – enables Tricon to provide innovative and cost-effective solutions for a growing customer base into the new millennium.
Under One Capable Roof
For more than half a century, Tricon has adhered to a tradition of manufacturing excellence, becoming a leader in providing design, support and quality assurance for new and difficult-to-mold applications. Working as a strategic partner, Tricon is invested in the success of each and every one of its customers.
A QS-9000/ISO 9001-registered company, Tricon provides manufacturing services that can be tailored to a specific project’s requirements. These include: insert and injection molding, electronic encapsulation, metal stamping and plating, component assembly, contact welding and riveting. All of these services are accomplished at the company’s three suburban Chicago facilities – two manufacturing facilities in Downer’s Grove and a headquarters and technical center in nearby Lisle – which total 115,000 square feet and employ more than 500 people.
At its two manufacturing plants, Tricon operates more than 55 injection-molding presses, ranging from a 30-ton vertical to a 400-ton horizontal. Of the 30 toolmakers on staff, 20 are devoted to mold development, repair and maintenance. Tricon’s comprehensive in-house capabilities include: CAD modeling, design, prototyping and production; strict adherence to customer criteria; manufacturing resource planning (MRP); and product schedules designed for just-in-time delivery. Further, Tricon ensures that advanced-quality-planning (AQP) processes are integrated into every phase of the manufacturing and design process. Proven statistical-process-control (SPC) techniques are used to guarantee zero-defect components. In addition, the Quality Assurance group has expanded its testing and analysis resources.
Tricon’s engineering and product development group provides added benefits to its customers. The addition of more CAD software and workstations facilitates direct interface with customers’ designs in their native file formats. Expanded CAD capacity allows the creation of more detailed concept proposals, and accelerates the process of converting concepts to molds once the proposal is completed.
Commenting on Tricon’s full-service capabilities, Ralph Grandle, the company’s president and son of William Grandle, says, “Tricon has greater vertical integration than most of our competitors. We do resistance and ultrasonic welding, stamping, plating of materials and insert molding. We do our own plating of precious metals. Most of our operations are done in-house.
We build a fair amount of our automation equipment in-house. None of our competitors do this. The metals portion of the business generally takes on a greater complexity than plastics. We cut our teeth in the metal world and can bring that expertise to the customer’s product. The result of vertical management is cost-effectiveness and quality-effectiveness. We’re able to control our own destiny for all the different component parts that we work with.”
Products for Every Purpose
Over the years, Tricon has consistently provided high-quality, low-cost parts and components, which explains why it has become a preferred supplier for a variety of customers. Today, the company operates two divisions: the Electromechanical Division and the Brazing Alloys and Chemical Products Division.
The Electromechanical Division is a leading high-precision insert molder and specialized component manufacturer for worldwide automotive, mobile communications and appliance markets. In the automotive market, Tricon continues to be a strong presence by helping manufacturers meet the demands for more efficient and reliable vehicles. Leading manufacturers and suppliers rely on Tricon’s products for safety and operating applications as diverse as lighting, ignition and electrical systems, steering and restraint systems, anti-lock braking systems and instrument panel components. Tricon also helps power the latest generation of automobiles and trucks with components for brake, fuel, engine, drive-train and suspension systems.
In the commercial market, Tricon has built a reputation for being accurate, flexible and innovative in applying technology to complex projects. Its components are found in a variety of products, including: mobile communication components and antenna equipment; business machines; consumer appliances; and photography apparatus.
Tricon’s Brazing Alloys and Chemical Products Division – whose president, Ted Boedeker, is Bernard Boedeker’s son – is an industry leader in the supply and manufacture of low- and high-temperature brazing materials. Specializing in the manufacture of copper and nickel brazing compounds, Tricon is capable of furnishing application assistance for a variety of wire, strip and preform metal joining. Customers include mining, tool, construction and automotive suppliers.
Keeping Pace with Progress
Ongoing investment in research and development has enabled Tricon to serve the evolving needs of its customers with innovative solutions. The rapidly advancing automotive industry, especially, has presented Tricon with technological challenges that it has met with outstanding success.
Recent new products include multifunctional switches for steering columns; insert-molded automotive blower switches; insert-molded circuit substrate and wiring harness for power seat controls; alternator diode bridge rectifier platforms for car and truck electrical systems; a universal sealed bulb-socket assembly with an ergonomic push-in design; and a noise-suppression capacitor in a protective molded package.
Discussing Tricon’s involvement in recent technological advances, Pat Grandle, vice president of sales and marketing, says, “In the telecommunications marketplace, there’s a lot going on and we’re a major participant. We’re helping to continue the advancement of wireless communication. Antenna manufacturing and wireless technology are areas we’re certainly going to be a part of. We continue to supply to the automotive industry; they’re our primary business. The areas our automotive customers are asking us to get involved with include the manufacture of parts with more functionality. Automotive lighting has been a significant part of our product mix, and we’re continuing to work on this with the development of new technology such as neon and LED lights.”
As Tricon keeps pace with technological advances, it will also be broadening its global reach. With sales representation in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Brazil, Tricon exports about 8 percent of its products. “As the automobile industry is global, we’re able to supply globally,” says Ralph Grandle. “We expect to establish an operation in Europe or partner with an existing company to better serve these international customers.”