Founded in 1967, Missouri-based St. Clair Die Casting initially served local business. But it rapidly transformed itself into a technologically advanced operation with an international client base. A recent merger will further expand its capabilities and business opportunities, Dan Harvey reports.
Only 42 years old, St. Clair Die Casting (SCDC) has cast for itself a solid reputation as a leading industry player participating in global markets and boasting an international clientele.
From modest beginnings as a zinc die casting company (operations began in 1967 in a 6,700-square-foot building staffed by four employees), the St. Clair, Mo.-headquartered company now focuses on both zinc and aluminum castings as well as providing computer analyzed mold flow analysis that aids in perfecting the die cast process. SCDC’s high productivity levels and relentless dependability assured a stronger-than-steel business durability: Only three years before its 40th anniversary, the company produced its billionth die casting.
Such stratospheric yield resulted from the company’s commitment to uncompromised excellence, an approach fostered by cofounder R.B. “Bob” Grisbrook, whose influence remains intact in SCDC’s signature “shoulder-to-shoulder” business approach with its customers through every process step. This includes front-end design and development, subsequent and inclusive project progress reviews that involve everyone from shop-floor employees to front-office executives, and end-of-project reviews that compare results with previously defined performance criteria to identify any necessary modifications. “We call it ‘Comprehensive Selling,’” says St. Clair President John Graves.
But SCDC is not only highly productive and customer committed; it’s also forward thinking. In recent years, as competition has intensified and customer expectations have increased, SCDC has set a vision for the future. In July 2009, it merged with Engineered Products Industries, LLC (EPI) its plastic injection molding sister company. The move seemed natural, as the parties share similar competencies and deploy analogous technology. “We perceived synergies,” Graves relates. “Materials we work with may be different, but the same manufacturing principles readily apply as do tool development and how we approach achieving and creating customer value.”
Most important, the merged enterprises’ customer base uses both die casting and plastic molding. “We can now leverage each others’ client base,” Graves points out. “We’ll bring in EPI when plastic injection molding opportunities arise. Likewise, when EPI recognizes die casting opportunities, they’ll call on us. In this way, the merger, for both sides, provides broader exposure to different markets, customers and applications.”
St. Clair’s major markets include the heavy truck, off-road vehicles, electric motor products, commercial/industrial equipment, consumer lawn and garden, automotive, telecommunications and agricultural sectors.
SHARED COMPETENCIES AND RESOURCES
“Further, SCDC and EPI will both benefit by utilizing each other’s technological and human resources,” indicates Graves.
Indeed, SCDC and EPI share distinct competencies related to tool design, development and management. Ultimately, the merger, which combines expertise in die materials and mold flow analysis, among other elements, will improve customers’ competitiveness.
While the companies will continue operating under their current names, the merger will foster the sharing of best practices and operational resources and leverage the purchase of materials common to both organizations, adds Graves. That points to another advantage: The merger creates a strategic platform for single-source procurement with potential to capitalize on reduced overall cost of vendor management.
As far as physical logistics, EPI brings into the merger two manufacturing facilities with a combined 250,000 square feet. Its molded plastics divisions are located in DeQueen, Ark., and Sherman, Miss., and SCDC die-casting operations are headquartered in St. Clair, Mo.
LEAN AND STRATEGICALLY POSITIONED
SCDC’s own facilities encompass 130,000 square feet dedicated to die casting, CNC machining and a host of value add finishing of die cast parts. Strategically located in an industrial park close to St. Louis (which places it within a major U.S. transportation hub), the facilities include dual natural gas and propane backup systems that ensure continuous operation.
SCDC and its sister divisions are ISO 9001:2008-certified. The production environment is streamlined for maximum efficiency, as SCDC has achieved numerous benefits from lean transformation processes.
FULLY EQUIPPED FACILITIES
SCDC’s aluminum department is equipped with 20 die-casting machines ranging in clamping tonnage from 400 to 1200 tons. Further, the department can produce aluminum castings up to 45 pounds in A360 alloy and A380 alloy. The zinc department boasts 18 conventional zinc die casting machines that demonstrate clamping tonnage ranging from 40 to 500 tons.
Both departments use central melt furnaces and an efficient launder system to transfer molten metal safely and with a consistency of temperature necessary for process control. Fully automated cells that assure shot-to-shot consistency complement this capability.
Other specific equipment and manufacturing processes include: CAD and solid modeling capabilities, surface treatment methodology that reduces soldering and die maintenance, parts and process approval (using PPAP procedures), APQP fundamentals and a single-minute die exchange program (SMED).
The company’s finishing and value-add operations are equally vibrant. Finishing equipment includes vibratory finishing mills, a Surftran automatic thermal deburring machine, rotoblasters (12 Cubes and 4 Cubes), flow-through automatic parts washer/dryer, spin dryers, stabilization furnace, a Loctite impregnation system and incline vibratory system. Among its many value producing machining assets, SCDC boasts lathes; single-, three- and four-spindle drill presses; eight-, 12-, and 24- spindle multi-drill tap machines; lead-screw tapping machines; feed drills with tapping capabilities; multi-spindle drill heads; hydraulic-trim and Arbor presses; one-inch to eight-inch sanding machines; a CAD CAM system, and pressure test machines to ensure solid die cast products.
Further, strategic relationships with domestic and international tool manufacturers enable SCDC to provide a complete portfolio offering of tool-making capability; the company believes the approach offers customers a selection based on market requirements.
PLANNING FOR SUCCESS
The current economic climate has, of course, slowed down the pace. However, as Graves reveals, SCDC has still managed to gain share, develop tools for an increased breadth of applications and still provide excellent service for its customers. Amid the economic downturn, the company positioned itself for yet greater market share and growth while providing top quality and service at best total value to customers.