An Ohio-based aluminum extruder has learned that controlling every phase of production amounts to the highest quality and a top-notch reputation. Lorie Russo explains how.
General Extrusions, Inc. (GEI), began 50 years ago in a 9,000 square-foot building with eight employees, a single 800-ton extrusion press and a five-tank anodizing line. At that time, says Rob Swartz, General Extrusions’ vice president of sales, the run-out table was comprised of sawhorses owner Fred Schuler had built himself. But things have changed. The run-out table the company now uses was purchased at a cost of $750,000. The company’s 375 employees work in a 250,000 square-foot building outside of Youngstown, Ohio. After 17 expansions since its founding in 1950, General Extrusions can now boast $36 million in revenue. A 91,000 square-foot plant in Leetonia, Ohio, is expected to further position the company as a world-class supplier of aluminum extrusions. (It will house a 9-inch extrusion press and represents a total investment of $15 million.)
Excellence at Every Level
“The worldwide markets we serve demand excellence in quality and service, and General Extrusions is committed to being the recognized innovative leader in the manufacturing of custom-engineered products,” says current President Herbert Schuler.
GEI now directs its efforts toward the design and production of custom functional, fabricated, machined and finished components, concentrating 95 percent of its production on the North American market. The company has made a commitment to offering greater flexibility and more comprehensive capabilities for customers. Says Swartz, by concentrating its efforts on extruding, fabricating and finishing, GEI has developed an unprecedented capability in all phases of production.
“We typically work on a one-year contract,” he explains. “Parts change in the electronics and appliance markets roughly every two to three years because of growth in technology. So we know when we tool up a job, within three years that part will no longer be used.”
The markets GEI serves include appliance, electronic, furniture and lighting, transportation and medical. Its customers run the gamut of Who’s Who in the OEM market, from General Electric to Intel and Compaq. “Our customers are demanding more in quality, which is why we’re the first extruder in North America to receive ISO 9002 certification,” Swartz says. GEI also has received QS 9000 certification. Combined, the two certifications place “big demands” on quality, Swartz adds. To meet the demands that GEI places on consistently producing top-quality products, the company routinely reinvests 10 percent of its sales in plant equipment and the training of employees, he adds.
“The whole idea is to control the process, and our philosophy is to do as much in house as we possibly can,” Swartz explains. This is why GEI has chosen to become vertically integrated. “Aluminum extrusions,” he says, “can reduce assembly time and improve component appearance and performance.“
GEI can provide any extrusion at a quality level, producing simple or intricate shapes. The company designs and builds fabrication tooling for the following processes: bending, forming, drilling, notching, punching, milling, precision sawing, mitering, welding, cutting, piercing, reaming, boring, CNC machining and assembly. Every process is done with unsurpassed accuracy; dimensional tolerances are held within a machine capability that for many sections approaches one-quarter standard.
In the area of finishing, GEI provides etching and color anodizing, bright-dip and alodine to create a particular, high-grade surface finish that customers require. Prior to anodizing, GEI can add a mechanical surface finish through polishing, brushing or sanding. It can also produce powder-coating and silk-screening finishes in virtually any color, and GEI’s automated powder-coating system provides the highest-quality and most cost-effective finished components known in the industry. In addition, Genex Tool & Die, a wholly owned subsidiary of GEI, provides a valuable, on-site resource for fabrication, tooling, product development, pre-production, testing and prototyping.
General Extrusions also offers engineering and design support using CAD to produce close-tolerance extrusions and fabricated parts. It is the goal of GEI’s engineering staff to design quality and efficiency into every phase of the process.
True to Its Mission
Part of GEI’s mission statement is to manufacture custom-engineered products “for markets that demand excellence.” While it has grown to world-class status, GEI maintains its leadership position through a set of old-fashioned business beliefs and small-company characteristics. GEI’s extrusions are the result of a professional team that devotes great attention to detail combined with high productivity, a decentralized structure, good relationships and short lines of communication. The company has implemented continuous-improvement strategies as part of a team environment that encourages openness and creativity — two practices central to any company’s link to manufacturing distinction. GEI, adds Swartz, holds true to a “commitment to continuously improve process and products to serve markets.”
But the people at GEI know that this record of consistent value-added production cannot be achieved without asking the customers what they want. Says Swartz, the company also routinely surveys customers on what they feel is important. Producing extrusions that always meet the demand for quality is a key component of the philosophy at GEI, he adds: “Our customers are the most demanding; they want quality pieces when they need them. That’s the people we serve. That’s our niche.”