Detroit Tool Metal Products (DTMP) has an instinct for survival. The company’s founder, George Carr, left his hometown of Lebanon, Mo., just prior to World War II, to travel to Detroit to earn his fortune in the tool and die business. The young entrepreneur set up his own business there and thrived. But he pined for what he left behind in Lebanon, so he returned home after some time to re-establish his business there.
When the war broke out, however, rationing almost closed him down. Fledgling businesses like the new one he had begun in Lebanon were not qualified to receive raw materials. “He couldn’t get materials allocated to his company, and he thought hard about how he was going to survive,” says Jeff Morris, DTMP’s sales manager. “So he quickly changed the name of his company back to Detroit Tool, the name he had been using when he first began the business in Detroit.” That’s how a company called Detroit Tool Metal Products came to be located in Lebanon, Mo.
Now more than 50 years old, DTMP is a leading full-service provider of precision metal stampings and fabrication capabilities to Fortune 500 and other major manufacturers — companies that accept nothing less than superior quality. “As a contract manufacturer, we strive to work with companies like these because they demand excellence from their suppliers,” says Morris. “Their scheduling is predictable and their successful position in the marketplace provides DTMP with a high level of financial security.”
Tooled for Strength
In today’s unpredictable economy, having a diverse customer base can sometimes mean the difference between success and failure. DTMP stands firm against the vagaries of this fickle manufacturing climate by providing precision components to industrial giants like Kenworth and Peterbilt in the heavy truck industry; John Deere and Case Tractor in agriculture; and Maytag, York and International Comfort Products in the appliance industry.
DTMP offers a broad range of manufacturing capabilities to its varied customer base. Not only does the company provide superior stamping expertise, but it also performs soft-tooled or fabrication services to its customers. “Having both of these capabilities within our organization is unusual in the industry,” says Morris. “Most companies are either stamping houses or they are fabrication houses. It’s rare for a company to have both capabilities, particularly to the level we offer.”
DTMP’s presses, which measure up to 1,600 tons and have press beds of up to 14 feet, have enabled the company to serve niche markets requiring large-size presses for stamping processes. Its fabrication equipment includes turret punches, lasers, press brakes and a full array of welding equipment and modular assembly services.
When OEMs need to develop prototypes, they look for companies that can cut the time and cost to develop these designs. Often, the design-to-market time line is very short, particularly with consumer products. DTMP’s prototype department can help companies determine if a design idea will work as planned. “Changes can be incorporated into the design of the part and the development of the die while the die is being manufactured,” says Morris. “Our prototypes help our customers’ engineers prove out their design and verify that the part is just what they require.”
Once the part design is finalized, DTMP can verify that the production part meets all of the customer’s specifications. DTMP’s quality-assurance and prototype departments work together to produce what is known as a PPAP, a first-article or first-part approval. This process includes measuring and documenting all the dimensions of the part. DTMP’s inspection equipment includes a 12-foot stationary coordinate measuring machine (CMM) and a portable CMM with 12 feet of measurement capability.
Even with the current economic slowdown, DTMP reports strong sales — mainly because of its diverse customer base, which has helped keep the company healthy. “We’ve been very fortunate because over the last 18 months, many industrial segments have suffered,” says Morris.
Outsourcing: the Next Level
One area promising significant future growth for the company is providing subassemblies to its customers. “Most of our customers are becoming assembly companies rather than full manufacturing companies in the traditional sense,” says Morris. “The automotive industry is a prime example. Years ago, automotive companies produced all of their own stampings as well as the subassemblies. Today, they are receiving subassemblies as they look to eliminate a lot of the traditional manufacturing. And that’s where we come in. We want to provide those manufacturing services along with the modular assemblies our customers require.”
To that end, the company has already performed a number of assembly projects, and plans to take its current outsourcing business to a higher level. For example, DTMP supplied Case Tractor with a steel tube frame for the doors of its tractors. “We now provide them with the entire door assembly, which includes the glass, a whole array of hardware and purchased parts like knobs, locks and actuators,” Morris says. “We then deliver the complete assembly in a specialized container to their tractor plant in Fargo, N.D.”
DTMP even has its own transportation fleet of seven tractors, 14 trailers and several smaller trucks to better serve its customers. “More and more of our customers rely on daily deliveries. In emergency situations, some even ask us to produce and ship parts the same day, and we make a point of offering that flexibility to our customers,” says Morris.
The Backing to Go Forward
As for technological innovations, the company is driven by its customers’ requirements and stands ready for any capital investments or improvements. DTMP now enjoys the backing of Capital for Business, the St. Louis-based investment group — which, along with the management team, purchased the company from DT Industries in June 2001. “So with this new venture capital ownership, DTMP is ready for that new subassembly business,” says Morris.
Another reason for the company’s readiness is its ISO 9002 certification and the QS 9000 certification for which it will soon apply. DTMP’s most important asset is its work force of 250 people. “We really shine in our work ethic here in the Ozarks,” says Morris, who also notes that the average tenure for employees is about 10 years. “We have lots of grandfathers, fathers and sons working here, and we are the oldest major employer in town.”
DTMP looks forward to further growth, even while its customers reduce their supplier base. “They are looking for companies like us which are large enough to support all of their manufacturing requirements, and which are well funded enough to make capital improvements for new technologies,” says Morris.