With state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and management philosophies for excellence in place, Swift-Cor is strategically positioned to enter a new phase of prominence as a contract manufacturer. April Terreri learns some company secrets.
You might say that this company’s core competencies include production swiftness and product quality. Swift-Cor was born in 1956 in the garage of Ralph Scriba, a young engineer with the vision to recognize that companies needed manufactured tools – and they needed them fast. Today, that once-fledgling company is entering another phase of the ascending growth it has enjoyed since taking flight 44 years ago.
Headquartered in Gardena, Calif., Swift-Cor was recently purchased by Tru-Circle Corporation of Wichita, Kan. – and soon will change its name to Tru-Circle to reflect its new corporate identity. “One of the reasons I think they acquired us is because we fit into their corporate philosophy,” says Barry Altman, president, referring to Swift-Cor’s use of both the Six-Sigma and kaizen philosophies in its corporate environment.
Today’s manufacturers must have nimble and innovative suppliers providing them proven, dependable and quality products. Serving manufacturers in industries such as aircraft, telecommunications, networking equipment, computers and medical equipment, Swift-Cor earned its reputation the old-fashioned way: through customer dedication pivoting on nimble inventiveness.
Under founder Scriba’s leadership, Swift-Cor quickly established itself as a company committed to producing quality sheet-metal components and subassemblies, primarily for the aerospace industry. During the 1970s, the company began diversifying its capabilities and became a respected supplier of custom precision fabricated products for the burgeoning business equipment industry. Today, as a major supplier to premier original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs), Swift-Cor offers a significant amount of value-added assembly to the products it supplies to these respected companies.
“We are a true contract manufacturer,” says Altman. “Manufacturing our customers’ products to their specifications, we assume the problems involved in making metal products and assemblies from our customers. They determine when they want the product and we do everything to get them that product when they need it. So they don’t have to be in the metals business.” Companies wanting to subcontract can also choose to have Swift-Cor handle their subassembly work along with their inventory management.
Swift-Cor can be there from the very beginning of a new program, or it can jump in at any point along the design-to-production process. The company’s engineers can get involved in a program early on and help design a product to assure that it can be manufactured effectively. It can also build a cost-effective manufacturing flow system that will produce products just in time and at the lowest possible cost.
Swift and True
Swift-Cor manufactures components and subassemblies for equipment that performs highly sophisticated applications. Companies that demand quality products are never compromised at Swift-Cor. For telecommunications and networking companies, Swift-Cor produces enclosures. “We build the enclosures to a fairly high level, including the power distribution, power back planes, fans and other components,” says Altman.
He adds, “Another product the company manufactures to a high level is a networking system for one of the large fiber communications networking equipment manufacturers. We supply the sheet metal and the chassis that go into the frames. We also manage the entire supply chain for this company, buying parts and assembling all of the components as required.”
Swift-Cor also manufactures major complex sheet metal assemblies for a nuclear scanner manufactured by a leading medical equipment manufacturer.
Swift-Cor employs 250 people in its two quality-dedicated facilities.The 50,000 square-foot plant that specializes in aircraft components is certified to the aircraft industry’s D1-9000 standard. The 100,000 square-foot plant that performs precision fabrication for commercial enclosures is certified to ISO 9002. “We will work within whatever quality or material system works for our customers,” explains Altman. “This can include any number of kanban and JIT systems.”
Lean and world-class manufacturing propels the company’s manufacturing philosophy. The company has regularly scheduled kaizen events aimed at continual process improvements and cost reductions. Attacking specific problem areas as they arise, the company will bring in a consulting team to train employees to use statistical tools and other problem-solving and line-balancing techniques. These tools are used primarily in the shop, but are also used in the administrative areas to improve throughput, reduce inventories and reduce costs throughout the company.
Swift-Cor manages the entire production program for its customers. “The scope of our capabilities combined with our unique customer service is what makes us distinct in the industry,” says Altman. “Our services include design capabilities and consultation on design-for-manufacture. Our sheet-metal fabrication core competencies are enhanced by a significant amount of in-house finishing processes including liquid painting, powder coating and alodine.”
The company also provides electromechanical integration, meaning that it assembles the product after purchasing components specified by its customers. Handling the supply-chain management for its customers, Swift-Cor will perform inventory control and all of the inherent scheduling for all required components. These would include power supplies, back planes, cable systems and power distribution systems.
State-of-the-art equipment is a key to Swift-Cor’s success. This equipment includes Amada CNC punching cells with automatic sheet-loading equipment; a Bystronics X-Y laser-cutting system, also with an automatic sheet loader; and CNC hydraulic press brakes. The company’s fully automatic, six-axis CNC Motoman robotic water-cooled MIG welding system includes a 92-inch, two-axis rotary manipulator. Its 1,000-foot conveyorized paint system is equipped with a state-of-the-art five-stage iron phosphate pretreatment system. “We can do both liquid and powder coating on this line,” explains Altman. “We also have electrostatic discharge-conditioned (ESD) floors in our assembly areas to handle electromechanical projects requiring high-level assemblies.”
Without effective management in place, even the most technologically advanced equipment isn’t enough to thrust a company into world-class status. Recognizing this, Swift-Cor uses both lean and Six-Sigma management practices. “The concept is to apply these philosophies to every department in your organization,” says Altman. “It’s a way to measure every process in the company to determine whether you are getting better or worse.”
Six-Sigma practices attack problem areas by using statistical techniques that focus on narrowing the variations in any company process. “For example, you can measure how often you have errors in invoicing, and then you determine why these errors are occurring,” explains Altman. “You examine the variations causing those errors and then work to minimize those variations. The result is that you are continually reducing errors and defects.” This system requires continuous employee training, resulting in maximized productivity and quality. Swift-Cor’s use of lean manufacturing and Six-Sigma meshes perfectly with the Tru-Circle corporate philosophy.
As Swift-Cor anticipates its new corporate name, it has its eye firmly fixed on an even brighter future of continued growth. “We will continue to offer major OEMs the opportunity to totally off-load the manufacturing side of a portion of their business,” says Altman. “Our unique blend of technical and engineering expertise, supply-chain management and manufacturing capabilities will change our role so that we are involved in our customers’ programs earlier in the development stages.”
Although not able to discuss details of the company’s future growth plans, Altman can say that Swift-Cor plans “to grow significantly not only within our existing facilities, but in other strategically prominent geographical regions. That might include an acquisition or a start-up.”