While some manufacturers may have been slowing down or, at best, staying even with past performance, National Technologies, Inc. has enjoyed a 63 percent growth rate over the last three years.
What’s its secret?
“We meet customer expectations with better engineering, better quality, and better overall value for their outsourcing dollar,” says Tom Harrington, president. “And we do it with reduced lead times.”
Easy to say, but how does this Oak Creek, Wis.-based maker of precision components for major engine OEMs such as Caterpillar, John Deere and Waukesha Engine fulfill its promise?
“The company was started in 1959, and we’ve increased and perfected our capabilities in response to the evolving needs of our customers,” Harrington says. “We’ve grown together with our customers over this more than 45-year period. We know their expectations and we have the expertise to fulfill them. Our work has been certified by some of the world’s largest OEMs, a distinction that sets us apart. We have sustained these certifications for many years, even as their requirements have become progressively more stringent.”
He notes, “We have the best technology with state-of-the-art equipment in an 80,000 square-foot facility staffed by experienced people. Our management and supervisory team combined have over 225 years of hands-on experience.” Key to meeting customer requirements is pre-production planning. Nothing is done “on-thefly,” Harrington emphasizes. “Our engineers review customer prints and decide upon the most efficient process for production. They also develop process documents for each machinist that clarify specifications, secure conversions, and highlight critical dimensions. This extra step eliminates any potential for operator error as the part moves through production.”
He adds that these pre-engineering documents anticipate potential machining distortions and develop ways to prevent them. For example, heat treating or plating can expand material sizes. To offset a variance like expansion, the process documents may tighten parameters on a first operation to allow for variances on a second. “Our planning assures that every finished part or assembly conforms exactly to print specifications,” Harrington says.
There are a number of small companies in the region that National Technologies can turn to as needed during periods of high demand. “We have the ability to outsource certain capabilities, such as fabrication or heat treatment. We’re fortunate in that there are a number of very good local suppliers and machine shops in our area. However, we only work with vendors who can follow our processes every step of the way and can satisfy our high quality standards.”
National Technologies follows Six Sigma and lean manufacturing practices to be as cost-efficient as possible. Susan Richards, Controller and Human Resource Manager, points out, “Another big factor in helping us improve our processes was that in 2004 we received ISO: 9001:2000 certification. Also a plus is the quality of our labor force. We have 125 employees, one third of which have been with the company for at least 10 years. Most of our engineers have been with us for 15 years or more. So, we have the advantage of a stable, experienced workforce. And one of the great things about being located in the Midwest is the work ethic. We conduct customer tours on a regular basis and we frequently hear that our visitors are amazed by the dedication of our workforce.”
She adds, “Technology is changing all the time, there’s always a new and better way of doing things. We want our employees to continuously improve their job skills with ongoing training, which we offer both in-house and through the Milwaukee Area Technical College, where we’ll pay the tuition for our people to attend.”
Harrington notes that while the manufacture of some high volume parts can be easily automated, “When you’re doing low volume batches, the value of a skilled machinist makes the difference in quality of the final product.”
National Technologies provides a full line of CNC (computer numerical controlled) turning capacity, including an extensive complement of Hardinge super-precision CNC turning centers employing the latest technologies for the most precise manufacturing, with a turning capacity ranging from 1/32 to 18 inches. Additional capabilities include multiple- and single-spindle screw machining, conventional turning, vertical machining, short run machining, prototype assembly, milling, honing, gear cutting and a full compliment of secondary and finish operations, including heat treat, grinding, and plating. It can make high or low volume precision components, in a range of materials from plastics to high strength alloys, steel, aluminum, brass, stainless, and cast iron.
“We provide cost-effective solutions for both high and low volume parts needs,” Harrington says. “Sometimes we can fill a need with a simple off-the-shelf part; more frequently we help design a customized, specialty part. We pride ourselves on the ability to satisfy both the most conventional parts and the most sophisticated. No matter whether it’s a simple part or complex part, quality is foremost. We have an excellent PPM (parts per million) non-conformance rate, and it’s getting better. Our objective is continuous improvement in every aspect of our business.”
Like every manufacturer, National Technologies has to confront rising and frequently unstable raw materials costs. “One way we deal with that is through re-design,” Harrington explains. “Can we make a part with less material with the same desired performance by tweaking the design and hold down the cost? But, at the end of the day, we always provide the customer with the best value for their component dollar.”
The company prides itself on its ability to provide speedy turnaround without sacrificing quality. “We do all our tooling in-house, so we not only have the flexibility to re-tool our equipment quickly, we have complete control over the process, so there’s no extra layers of dealing with an outside supplier. Also, our focus on process coupled with our equipment and experienced engineers and machinists enables us to respond promptly, even with low volume orders,” Richards says. “We have the latest CAD (computer aided design), quality (PPAP) reporting, and process improvement software to expedite what it takes to design a part, and then execute that design efficiently and expeditiously.”
Indeed, Harrington notes, “We do a lot of quick turnaround work, it’s one of the things that distinguishes the service we provide. It’s what our customers have come to expect from us.”
This is why Harrington is confident business will continue to grow, regardless of any general economic slowdown. When you have the experience and the track record in the world of machining, customers are confident that they are receiving the best quality and value for their investment. Our objective is to build on that confidence and provide the level of partnership that benefits everyone.”