Volume 11 | Issue 2 | Year 2008

Empire Die Casting Co., Inc. offers its customers cost savings through lean manufacturing, programmed releases and just-in-time inventory programs. Moreover, by reducing its own operational costs and improving process efficiencies, Empire’s range and depth of specialized technical experience and production capabilities becomes even more cost attractive to world leading manufacturers requiring die cast parts engineered in aluminum, zinc and magnesium alloys, in sizes ranging from a few ounces to 20 pounds or more.
Founded in 1948, still privately owned with President Rick Rogel a majority owner and employing about 200, Empire services are marketed by an internal sales force in conjunction with independent outside sales representatives to 30 states, with a growing overseas presence. “About 5 to 10 percent of our business is now international,” notes Ken Simko, manager of cost accounting and energy management. “As our customers increase their global business, we expect a corresponding rise in overseas sales.”

Empire Die Casting Co., Inc. services a diverse range of industries. These include medical equipment, aerospace, telecommunications, power tools, consumer electronics, tier two and three automotive, construction equipment, computers and food processing, among others.

Simko emphasizes Empire’s range of capabilities encompassing engineering and design as well as total manufacturing – from tooling to production to finishing – makes the company a value-added supplier of consistent quality in a timely fashion at a fair price. “We provide one-stop shopping for the best products at the least cost,” Simko says. “These days, it’s tough to compete against China, which as we all know excels at churning out high volumes of basic kinds of parts. Empire, in contrast, supplies higher quality and offers benefits you don’t get from a supplier who focuses only being the cheapest.”

This doesn’t mean Empire isn’t concerned about expense. Just the opposite, in fact. “We prove our costs,” Simko says. “Every customer has complete access to our production processes and how we justify our expenses. Our philosophy is that the more our customers know about not only the costs of die casting, but what it actually involves in terms of production, the better we can meet specific needs from both product performance and pricing standpoints.”

Empire maintains an ISO 9001 certified 200,000-square-foot factory in the Cleveland/Akron suburb of Macedonia, Ohio. It plans to pursue TS16949 and ISO: 14001 in February 2008, with a completion date set for December 2008. “At one time we used to operate three separate plants, but decided to consolidate all our operations into one large facility because it was less expensive,” Simko says. “We operate over 40 die casting cells, most of which are computer connected to our central production management center and maintain a complete in-house tool and die shop, machining and secondary finishing operations.”

He also notes, “All our in-house die makers have achieved their journeymen die-maker certification through our company sponsored apprenticeship program. They are responsible for all advanced CAD/CAM programming, as well as the entire die making process.”

He adds that beyond the company’s advanced production capabilities, Empire also offers innovations in supporting lean manufacturing. “We can inventory and release die cast parts to customer plants on virtually any schedule to best integrate with assembly requirements. Just-in-time inventory dramatically cuts customer inventory costs while accelerating assembly throughput.”

One place where it’s hard to control costs is in regards to raw material. “One challenge has been the roller coaster effect of zinc pricing this past year. Zinc pricing has gone from .45 per pound two years ago to $2.45 per pound one year ago to $1.35 recently,” Simko notes. “When you’re supplying product under contract and prices that you can’t control go up and down radically, it makes it very difficult to purchase metal at margins without bringing in too much metal at higher prices.”

“Die casters have historically viewed cost reduction and order process efforts as production floor issues. While we recognize that, we also understand that allowing our customers the highest possible management and control over their production orders can significantly reduce costs, order time and make Empire Die Casting Co., Inc. the easiest source to deal with.” Simko says.

GREEN EFFICIENCIES
Another area where a company can significantly control costs separate from the customer is in how it literally runs its own house. “Part of my job is to change processes so that we reduce our energy costs,” Simko points out. “We’ve reduced our total energy expenditures by 15 percent, or 250,000 BTUs. That works out to between $150,000 to $200,000 in savings.” This was accomplished with steps both large and small. Installing new T8 light bulbs to replace traditional incandescents not only resulted in 35 percent energy savings but also, according to Simko, provided brighter illumination. Something as seemingly simple as installing skylights and taking advantage of natural sunlight also reduces the need to turn lights on. By the same token, regular checking of air compressors to repair leaks as soon as they are detected also contributes to reduced electrical costs. In addition, the company is looking to convert 40 furnaces from natural gas to electrical, which cost less to operate and burn cleaner. “Obviously, it takes more energy to operate equipment that is running inefficiently,” Simko points out.

Empire was recognized last November with an Energy Champion Plant award by the U.S. Department of Energy, one of only 65 companies out of 700 participating in the energy reduction program. “There are over 300 pages of DOE documentation that you have to follow,” Simko says. “But it was worth the effort because we came up with a lot of practical suggestions to reduce our energy costs and improve our productivity. Also, in 2005 we worked with the University of Dayton, which performs industrial assessment audits of energy practices for companies here in Ohio. The audit was an invaluable resource, allowing us to piggyback ideas that have resulted in real savings.”

Improved energy efficiency remains a priority, as does overall operational effectiveness. “We automate wherever possible, with robots and computer-assisted systems that help make us more productive. We do Kaizen and Six Sigma, and we’re continually bringing in consultants to discuss process improvements. Our ‘Strategic Coalition TEAM’ approach is designed to identify and implement constant and never-ending improvements. These improvements add value and in turn these value-added benefits are passed on to our customers.”

That’s how you build an Empire.