Keeping a step ahead of the game means that companies continually have to rethink and reinvent the way they do business. At Anchor Lamina, that mindset has become a deeply ingrained business philosophy that combines resourcefulness with a vision for the future.
An international manufacturer of die sets, mold bases and related products, Anchor Lamina maintains plants in Canada, the United States and Germany. It also has launched a joint venture with a Russian company, Tantal, to serve the Eastern European market. Says Volker Hohensee, vice president and managing director for North American die-set and steel fabrication, the company has existed since the 1970s, when it was founded to follow the tool-and-die boom. Today, with more than 10,000 customers – which include other die-set and mold-base manufacturers, tool-and-die shops, metal-stamping plants, mold makers, plastic mold-processing plants and OEMs – Anchor Lamina has boomed itself, growing from a C$455,000 business in 1975 to more than C$200 million today. The capability to manufacture large-scale and complex die sets and mold bases is one of Anchor Lamina’s significant competitive advantages.
Anchor Lamina has positioned itself as one of the largest manufacturers of die sets and related components in North America, with an estimated 10 to 15 percent market share. It holds a 70 to 80 percent share of the die-set business in Canada, and an estimated 40 to 50 percent of the die-set market in the greater Detroit area.
The company operates through three units. The North American Die Set Product Group operates nine plants in North America; it manufactures die sets and provides steel and steel-plate fabrication services. The Lamina Components Product Group – based in Bellaire, Mich., with distribution warehouses in Michigan and Ohio – manufactures and distributes die-set and mold-base components for use by die-set and mold-base makers, tool-and-die makers and mold makers. The group’s products include pins, bushings, gibs, wear plates, die springs and cams. The EOC Product Group, with three plants in Germany, manufactures and distributes a full range of mold bases and related components for mold bases, mold makers and die sets, and related components for die-set makers and tool-and-die makers. Anchor Lamina’s complete product line runs the gamut from very small or economy molds – less than 40 pounds – to molds of up to 50,000 pounds.
“Our market share is 60 percent automotive and 40 percent non-automotive,” Hohensee explains. The non-automotive end includes air-conditioning units, appliances, refrigerators, jewelry and computer components.
Hohensee says it is Anchor Lamina’s production range that enables the company to keep its competitors at bay. From 1975 to 1999, he says, the tool-and-die industry grew in leaps and bounds. Bigger automobiles required more complex stamping and more progressive dies. “We were able to see that and invest in bigger equipment. We are able to make and sell complete die sets plus components,” Hohensee says.
Over the past several years, the major trends have included an increased demand for larger and more complex die sets and mold bases. To reduce production and assembly costs, manufacturers have been stamping and molding larger, more complex parts and large progressive dies – which reduce manufacturing costs by lessening the number of dies required. Anchor Lamina has responded to these changes by investing in more larger-capacity machinery.
As OEMs have gone the way of outsourcing to reduce costs, tool-and-die makers and mold makers have decreased the production of in-house die sets, mold bases and related components, and have further reduced in-house cutting and grinding services. Anchor Lamina has been able to perform these OEM services at a lower cost while producing a higher-quality product because of its modern machinery and dedicated production facilities, Hohensee explains.
Tooling for Growth
The company has a total of 11 plants, with the newest in Cambridge, Ontario, constructed four years ago and measuring 60,000 square feet. Anchor Lamina also undertook a major expansion of its Windsor, Ontario, plant, adding 50,000 square feet to this facility for a total of 120,000 square feet. “The Windsor plant is heavy into tool-and-die making,” Hohensee says. The plant expansion required a capital expenditure of C$10 million and was done, in part, to house the company’s relocated steel-cutting warehouse and plant inventory operations. In the Windsor facility, Anchor Lamina stocks steel plate in thicknesses of between 1/4 inch and 15 inches. “The ability to maintain large steel inventories assures customers of competitive prices and faster deliveries,” Hohensee says.
Anchor Lamina die sets are stress-relieved in large ovens that can accommodate loadings of 8 feet by 10 feet with a length of 30 feet. The company also specializes in the provision of stress relieving for weldments, fabrications and bases for the plastic-mold industry. The company’s CNC burning machines can handle plate sizes of up to 150 inches by 270 inches. It also operates 39 Blanchard rotary grinders, including some with a 144-inch capacity, one of the largest in manufacturing. Recent purchases of more CNC-controlled horizontal and vertical boring mills, which brings the total to 35 machines, has widened the range of services.
Hohensee believes that Anchor Lamina can continue to meet future demand and manage slowdowns in the market by sticking to its mission of offering a broad product range at the lowest cost. While North America has experienced a slowdown in the manufacture of large vehicles, Anchor Lamina’s business has continued to surge overseas. In fact, he says, demand for the company’s products from developing markets, including the former Eastern Bloc nations, Latin America and Asia, is expected to keep growing as these countries continue to develop their infrastructures. “This represents a major opportunity since the EOC product group is already active in the former East Germany,” Hohensee says.
He adds that Anchor Lamina’s strength will always be its attitude toward how it does business: “We believe in strong market positions, maintaining a reputation for quality and service, maintaining manufacturing capabilities and offering a broad product line. Our diversified sales, established distribution network and proven management team will keep us growing in the years to come.”