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Think zinc - and how it's applicable to numerous applications and industries. That's what Deco Products Company has done. Look how it transformed a US regional business into a global organization, suggests Dan Harvey.

At first glance, Deco Products Company appears hard to pigeonhole. It’s very versatile and it services a broad range of industries – electrical, plumbing, trucking, automotive, water sports, motor, HVAC, oil, and office furniture, among others.
But this fact better helps define its nature: The Decorah, Iowa-based business is a leading producer of zinc-based die castings (an attribute applicable to the aforementioned industries). The company may be headquartered in the American Midwest, but it delivers its offerings globally.

Deco specializes in zinc alloys, and each day this enterprise works with as much as 60,000 pounds – providing machined, powder coated, plated and assembled zinc die castings. Its enormous capacity – along with its versatility and its focus on continuous improvement – strongly differentiates it from other die casters.

“We are a full service company,” describes Custom Sales Manager Jim Raptes. “As a fully fledged die caster, we go from the 14- to 500-ton machines, and we have 88 of those various tonnage machines in 151,000 square feet of foundry. But we provide a lot of added value, based on customer request. Through the years, many of them asked us to provide more than just casting. That led us into machining and assembly work.”

INNOVATING CUSTOMIZED SOLUTIONS
Also, as Raptes’ title indicates, the company is heavily into customization. “A significant portion of our business entails custom precision die casting – both functional and decorative – for very large companies in North America, South America, Europe, India, China, Taiwan, and Japan. That makes us an extremely globally competitive company,” he says. “On the custom side, we are virtually in just about every industry. Name one. We’ve made parts for it.”

That translates into almost nine million annual pounds. “That, in turn, means about 81 million parts cast each year,” adds Raptes.

As a contract die caster, Deco Products Company is heavily involved in design and engineering. “Customers send us a design, and we make sure that it is a die-castable part,” says Raptes. “If not, our engineers will work with their engineers to come up with the appropriate workable solution. Further, we make sure that any design provides the customer with the lowest cost.” This not only helps the customer stay competitive in its specific marketplace; it also helps Deco Products remain competitive in its industry.

EVOLVING ENTERPRISE
Deco Products Company began in Decorah in 1960 as an assembly and stamping company for a first-tier automotive supplier. Its first decade was marked by major milestones: the installation of five zinc die casting machines to primarily cast automotive switch housings. In 1966, it became a certified IBM vendor.

The next decade included several industry “firsts.” For instance, in 1971 Deco installed the first automatic spraying/production powder coating system in Iowa. Armed with unique talents, the company entered the 1980s by expanding its casting business to include custom specialization.

A ZINC PROPONENT
Of course, the ISO 9001-2008-certified Deco is a strong advocate of zinc die casting, and the company underscores its mission by offering several substantial comparative assessments:

  • Compared to aluminum, zinc can be cast to precision tolerances, thinner wall sections, net shapes and much longer tool life;
  • Compared with plastic injection components, zinc die castings are stronger, stiffer, more stable dimensionally, more heat resistant and far superior to plastics on a properties basis. Zinc die castings are completely resistant to ultra-violet rays and weather, and prevent radio frequency emissions and stress cracking in the presence of various reagents;
  • One die casting can often replace several stampings within an assembly. Requiring fewer assembly operations, die cast zinc can be held within closer dimensional limits, have almost any desired variation in section thickness, involve less waste, and achieve more complex shapes. Die castings can be made in many shapes not producible in stamped forms;
  • Compared to sand castings, zinc castings require much less machining, can be made with thinner walls, can have all or nearly all holes cored to size, can be held within much tighter tolerance limits and are produced in dies that make thousands – indeed, potentially millions – of die castings without replacement. Die castings do not require new cores for each casting, have smoother surfaces, and involve much less labor cost per casting;
  • Compared with screw machine products, zinc castings are produced more rapidly, involve much less waste, can be made into shapes difficult or impossible to produce from bar or tubular stock, and may require fewer operations.

Deco has been in the zinc die casting industry for more than 50 years, so it knows that these assessments aren’t just brag but fact.

CONCENTRATED CAPABILITIES
“We place everything under one roof,” says Raptes.

Capabilities include engineering, and its team assists customer project development. “We are heavier into engineering than other die casters,” he reveals.

As far as tooling, Deco is an industry leader, offering tool design to final production. As the company relates, designers of zinc alloy die castings need a thorough understanding of the physical and mechanical properties of zinc. As such, the company assumes full responsibility for the design and production of the tooling to manufacture a product to the correct quality and time scales.

Beneath its encompassing roof, the company deploys a self-developed quality management system that includes:

  • Documented procedures and work instructions governing all manufacturing and support processes;
  • State-of-the-industry data and document control systems;
  • Quality-based purchasing and supplier controls.

Pre-production systems in use include:

  • Commercial/customer specified AIAG (Automotive);
  • SPC option;
  • Geometric tolerancing;
  • Effective gauge calibration and recall systems.

Quality Planning begins when the new part is quoted. Once a product order is issued, the Deco Products technical teams review drawings for critical features, to design all necessary tooling, and establish the inspection quality plans. Special gages and part-specific production CMM fixtures are obtained when appropriate.

The company’s secondary capabilities are as equally extensive. With a full range, it can deliver zinc die castings and assemblies ready for use (thanks to company capabilities that involve machining, finishing, assembly and testing). A variety of finishes are also available: chromating, polishing, electroplating, powder coating and many more.

As far as machining, Deco supplies the customer a finished, ready-to-use product with no further operations necessary. CNC machining centers are utilized when extremely close tolerances or complex configurations are required. Conventional machining is also utilized. This company covers all bases, and it knows how to run the baselines. Many of its machining centers are mobile and can be moved in close proximity to the die cast machines. This maximizes efficiency and, again, lowers customer cost.

The facility’s equipment list include zinc die casting (conventional hot chamber), powder coating, CNC machining and assembly, hydraulic trim presses, and vibratory finishing and tumbling equipment.

WINDOW TO NEW OPPORTUNITY
Equipment capabilities, operational support and engineering have stretched the company’s boundaries.

“Our die cast talents have proved transferrable, and we now operate in the window and door industry,” reports Raptes. “We make components for customers that build these items for the residential and commercial markets.”

Indeed, Deco has positioned itself as a leader in the design, development and manufacture of window and door hardware. Its advanced powder coating facility ensures that the hardware demonstrates the most durable, attractive and highest quality finish.

Further, with its Fast Lok hose clamp technology (which finds application in the petroleum and electrical industries), Deco is a hugely successful operation that anticipates even more growth. “Right now, we are about at $34 million in revenues,” reports Raptes. “And that’s very controlled growth. We can be selective when it comes to quotes. Still, we are looking to double our business in the next five years. That’s a long-term goal, even though 2017 is not that far away. In the meantime, our short-term goal is yearly growth in the 25-percent range.”

And that shouldn’t be hard to accomplish, considering the company’s nature and approach. “We are privately held and debt-free, which provides us flexibility and the ability to maneuver. Also, we’re extremely competitive, because we are always thinking automation. We’re as automated as a die-casting company can possibly be,” says Raptes.

Volume:
15
Issue:
4
Year:
2012


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