One of the challenges facing automotive designers and engineers today is manufacturing reliable and durable vehicles with increased fuel economy. One of the ways to achieve these goals is using specialty materials that are lightweight yet strong. CIP, Inc., is more than familiar with these challenges, continually delivering superior engineered products. The Santa Fe Springs, Calif., company has more than 40 years’ experience as a major supplier of fasteners to the automotive industry.
This fact did not go unnoticed by Illinois Tool Works (ITW), a leading global and diversified manufacturing company. ITW is organized into about 600 decentralized business units in 43 countries and employs 55,000 people, all dedicated to bringing value-added products and innovative customer solutions to industries throughout the world.
“We were acquired by ITW about three years ago and because of the acquisition, CIP is able to take on product development projects we weren’t able to deal with previously,” says John Fischer, vice president of sales and marketing. The company is now known as ITW CIP. “Not only does ITW have the financial resources, but they offer additional technical expertise for our product development we didn’t have when we were a much smaller company.” The technical expertise is found in ITW’s Technology Center, staffed by 150 skilled professionals.
ITW CIP’s products are manufactured from spring steel, which affords proof load and strength characteristics exceeding those of solid steel nuts while significantly reducing the weight of these products. Before the acquisition, CIP already had a global network of manufacturing facilities producing a variety of fastening options. About 85 percent of the company’s business is with the automotive industry. ITW CIP also supplies products to the electronics, appliance and agriculture industries.
The company manufactures nut plates in its 200,000 square-foot ITW CIP stamping facility located in California. These products are larger plate-shaped components, which might have multiple draws or single draws. “They are designed specifically for particular applications, so they are more specially engineered products,” says Fischer. “We try to be very creative in designing them as we build more value into each one of these designs.”
The added value includes designing the plate into a reinforcement component so the part can replace a doubler normally assembled to the door for added strength. Another value-added design in the plate is a half-section, or flange, designed to extrude the body metal and absorb energy during a crash. “If you were to weld nuts to the door rather than using one of our plates, those nuts could tear through the door, causing the door to fail or to fly open. So the integrity of the fastening is maintained during a crash using our plates,” says Fischer.
“On our parts, because they are spring steel, as you tighten the bolt into one of our parts, it will compress because of the spring-steel material and it springs inward,” he explains. “The whole joint may take a deflection or compliance of up to four times, so there’s more compliance in the joint.”
When fine particles of paint, grease or dirt become trapped in the joint during assembly, normal use could wear away those particles, thereby increasing the load in that joint. “So what we offer is a much more robust joint design with our products,” says Fischer.
New Product, Better Process
ITW CIP’s newly engineered U-nut is a stamped-metal, U-shaped clip acting as a self-wrenching nut. It has numerous applications in vehicles in joining or mounting parts. The U-nuts are produced in its 100,000 square-foot Gallatin, Tenn., facility. “We offer an entire line of these products in a variety of sizes,” says Fischer.
For more than two years, CIP’s multidiscipline team worked with engineers from the ITW Technical Center to re-engineer the U-nut and to develop a tool to speed the application process. The U-nuts were redesigned in order to be snapped together in collated strips for use in an application tool. A newly designed pneumatic application tool applies a U-nut at up to five times faster than the current method.
The new collated U-nut and assembly tool will increase assembly productivity while reducing the ergonomic problems associated with repetitive hand application. “This is a significant product improvement for our customers, and it represents yet another example of ITW CIP’s value-added creativity and innovation in developing new and advanced products that can perform more than one function,” says Fischer.
The foundation of ITW CIP’s philosophy is the 80/20 concept. “Any issue you tackle can be looked at in terms of 80 percent of the problem is probably contained in one area and the remaining 20 percent of all other problems could be contained in a multitude of other areas,” explains Fischer. “This concept allows you to pay attention to the most significant parts of the business and the issues at hand, rather than trying to shotgun everything.”
This concept is used throughout the organization by its 355 employees. “For example, in sales we look at our customer base to make sure we are giving 80 percent of our attention to our customers with the most potential. We also use this concept in manufacturing,” continues Fischer. For example, ITW CIP examines the quality of its products in terms of defects in parts per million. By employing the 80/20 concept, it has a very low defect rate compared to its competitors because it resolves the biggest quality issues containing 80 percent of a problem.
“About 80 percent of the volume of products we manufacture represents about 20 percent of our part numbers,” says Fischer. “So it makes sense from a manufacturing standpoint to work with our customers to evolve a higher percentage of all of our parts into that 20 percent. We can therefore do a lot of standardization. That means we can increase our manufacturing efficiencies, bringing additional value to our customers.
“The acquisition has brought CIP more sophistication and the ability to deal with and move forward on such projects as the collated U-nut,” says Fischer. “We were embraced by ITW and we quickly learned how to better manage our company and to deal with issues such as improving quality, delivery and value — all of the things our customers consider important.”
Resources for the Future
Fischer himself actually developed the idea for the collated U-nut several years before the acquisition. “But CIP just didn’t have the resources to move that project forward. This is something that probably wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t become part of ITW,” he says.
ITW CIP currently supplies about 750 different U-nuts. “So if the collated U-nut program is as successful as I believe it will be, we can bring that number down to around 10 or 15 different U-nut styles. Instead of having all special nuts for specific applications, we will be able to use a standard nut to cover a wide range of panels, and they will all go on easily because of the mechanical assist — meaning greater production efficiencies and lower costs for our customers,” notes Fischer.
ITW CIP is growing at about 10 percent annually and reported $100 million in revenues in 2000. Fischer says the company views the highest potential for future growth in the “transplant” automotive manufacturers such as Nissan, Toyota and Honda. “They are beginning to see the value of our products for their vehicles,” he says. He also notes that ITW CIP has already been working with Nissan, and several projects are coming to fruition as this technology spreads worldwide. “ITW CIP is in a position to become a major supplier of choice because of the breadth of our product offering,” Fischer states.