After 63 years of primarily serving a North American market, Gilman Engineering & Manufacturing enters the millennium positioned to serve a worldwide market. Bill Moran explains how they got there.
In 1936, Gilman Engineering & Manufacturing Co. LLC opened in a garage as Gilman Engineering Works. Its founder, George Gilman, originally produced small lathes, but shifted production in 1941 to making fuses for bombs to support the U.S. war effort. Automated assembly was required to produce the large quantity of fuses needed. Since then, while undergoing further changes in ownership and name, Gil-man has focused on designing and building a variety of custom assembly solutions, always responding swiftly to market changes and customer needs.
In September 1999, Gilman was formed into a new business aligned directly with the Johann A. Krause organization and was renamed Gilman Engineering & Manufacturing Co. to highlight its position as a leader in engineering and manufacturing in the assembly industry. Gilman’s recent transformation extends its reach beyond North America to worldwide.
Within the Krause organization, Gilman has access to the support of facilities in several countries in Asia, Europe, and South America countries where many American and European industries are expanding. This access allows Gilman to follow its customers wherever they go. General Motors, for example, has many projects in Brazil and in Spain and other European countries. Gilman can access many facilities similar to its own with the same skill sets. Consequently, says Al Stenli, vice president of sales and marketing, “We can engineer some of these systems for a customer in North America and duplicate that production line in Brazil or Asia or Europe. One of our sister facilities can develop and install the system and provide ongoing service and support. To my knowledge, no other company in the world can offer the degree of globalization that our Gilman-Krause group can.”
Gilman designs and manufactures custom automated assembly equipment and body and frame welding systems in its two plants in Janesville, Wis. In addition to custom automated assembly equipment, Gilman produces modular cells, manual stations, light-duty and heavy-duty transport systems and provides simultaneous engineering and service and support for all systems, including balancers. Its key markets are automotive, consumer and appliance, and industrial. Customers include “companies that make things related to the automotive industry,’’ says Gilman President Bob Kamphuis. Among current customers are Caterpillar, Cummins, DaimlerChrysler, Delphi, Visteon, Ford, Saturn, Tower Automotive and ZF.
Assembly Life Cycle
In its mission statement, Gilman highlights the focus it places on its customers’ success by providing as-sembly solutions that offer the best value throughout the Assembly Life Cycle™. The Assembly Life Cycle approach emphasizes the value of the equipment throughout its entire life – essentially from cradle to grave. Gilman assembly solutions mean total reliability and efficiency combined with reduced operating and maintenance costs. The emphasis on the total life cycle of the equipment leads to higher productivity, increased flexibility and an improved return on investment.
Assembly Solution Continuum
Gilman’s Assembly Solution Continuum provides a tool for design and application engineers to estimate the degree of automation that will be designed into any assembly system. One end of the continuum represents a totally manual system, while the other end represents a completely automated assembly solution. The continuum helps Gilman respond appropriately to the industry’s move in recent years to “lean” manufacturing concepts. Gilman, together with its customers, analyzes many variables in the continuum before finally determining the appropriateness and the degree of lean manufacturing that fits the customers’ business. This approach helps Gilman engineers develop the most reliable solution desired, whether it be a high-production flexible “lean” system.
Gauging and Inspection
Gilman’s association with Krause also allows it to provide its customers with gauging and inspection products. At critical points in the assembly process, customers must verify that a component works or passes certain tests. In the past, either the customer would have to buy that product separately or Gilman would have to buy it and integrate it into its systems. Now, Gilman can put it all under the assembly umbrella and offer a complete solution to customers.
A Broad Breadth Of Experience
Long before its recent alliance, however, Gilman established itself as a strong, distinguished organization. In 1966, when Gilman merged with and became a division of Giddings and Lewis in Fond du Lac, Wis., several things differentiated the company from its competitors. One distinction — perhaps the most longstanding — is the company’s breadth of experience. Many Gilman competitors specialize in certain areas of assembly; for example, engine, transmission, or drive-train assembly. Gilman does these, too, and also does automated welding systems. It’s unusual for a company to do assembly work on both sides of the fence, but Gilman has a much broader scope. Furthermore, Gilman does unique things, such as combining engineering efforts with a customer to design special machines for fabricating wing spars for aircraft.
The variety of products and markets broadens the staff knowledge base and expertise, benefiting the company as well as customers. “We may learn something unique in the aircraft industry that is applicable to engine assembly, for example, or transmissions,” says Stenli. “If you specialize in one industry, you don’t benefit from learning the breadth of techniques and technology out there.”
The variety of employees’ expertise and skills also allows Gilman to deploy employees across industries. Industries are cyclical, but not all are on the same cycle. When one is down and another substantially busy, Gilman redeploys engineers and technical staff to other areas.
Reliability and Maintainability
Another area that differentiates Gilman from competitors is reliability and maintainability (R&M), which are particularly important in the automotive industry. Gilman invested considerable time and financial resources in training employees in R&M techniques. “Being a leader in R&M is a competitive advantage. Recently we’ve secured business based on our strength in R&M,”says Stenli.
Gilman gained leadership in R&M by recognizing early its ability to improve machine designs and provide better equipment. In 1996, Gilman realized the importance of R&M and began to “institutionalize” the R&M philosophy throughout the organization. A partnership was formed with a local technical college to develop a curriculum and assist in training. Classes offered both on site and at the technical college train employees from the very top — the company president included — right down to every technician and skilled and unskilled person. Customers have asked the technical college to provide this R&M training at their facilities. “It’s really turned out to be a tremendous benefit for us,” says Stenli. “I have to say we did it right.”
The proof that Gilman did, indeed, do it right is in the awards it has received from leading manufacturers. Among others, Caterpillar, Cummins, DaimlerChrysler and Ford have recognized Gilman with awards for the quality of its systems. Since May 1998, Gilman had been ISO-9001 certified and, in September 1999, achieved an official upgrade to QS-9000 Tooling and Equipment (TE) Supplement certification.
Raising The Bar
From its 165,000 square feet in two plant facilities in Janesville, Wis., Gilman looks forward to continuing to set high benchmarks in developing and providing assembly solutions. Gilman’s strengths in R&M and life cycle costs give it an edge in working with customers to chart the future expectations for equipment. “Working with customers like Ford,” says Kamphuis, “we are, as a supplier, at the forefront of our industry.” Ford is looking very aggressively at reducing investments through better equipment —equipment that results in lower working capital levels and life cycle costs, improved reliability as well as redeploy-ability for flexibility lean manufacturing and assembly. “Ford is clearly the leader in that arena,” says Kamphuis, “and we are a part of their strategy to improve their business.”
With continued focus on quality and improved processes and equipment, Gilman is positioned at the forefront of innovation in assembly solutions and is poised for expansion into a global market. “In the future, things will continue to change at an even quicker pace. The key is being able to anticipate and make changes in a global marketplace, blending the benefits of higher global volume with local support,” says Kamphuis.