Volume 13 | Issue 3 | Year 2010

Its name may suggest specialization, but Peterson Spring is focused on much more than industrial springs. “We manufacture a diverse line of engineered metal products,” says Don Lowe, senior vice president, sales and marketing, for the Southfield, Mich.-based enterprise.
Specifically, Peterson Spring, a division of Peterson American Corporation, established itself as a premier designer, manufacturer and supplier of not just springs but also snap-rings, wire forms, stampings, clips, clamps and various sub-assemblies. This product diversity underscores the company’s expressed growth commitment – as does its ever-increasing engineering expertise and wide-ranging geographic footprint.

Established in 1914, the company remained a family owned enterprise until it turned itself over to outside professional management in 2008. This transition shifted growth into high gear and propelled the company into the future.

Growth, especially in geographic terms, is underscored by the 2008 opening of its new manufacturing facility in Queretaro, Mexico, only one of the company’s 13 production plants. “It’s an interesting story, as we’re not new to Mexico,” relates Lowe. “We first established a plant in Mexico City in 1957. However, by 2007, we outgrew that facility as automotive and industrial markets moved south. To assume a bigger role in those markets, we needed a bigger facility to output more product. The new facility provides us much more capacity and basically tripled operation size and product offerings.”

Up and running by 2008, the expanded facility – a microcosm of the larger organization offers full capability related to production of torsion, compression and extension springs, as well as valve springs, wire forms, wire rings, stampings and various assemblies. As Lowe indicates, new plant construction came in response to growth in automotive and other manufacturing segments in North America. As Mexico has long been a key Peterson operation location, facility expansion will maintain, sustain and enhance the company’s geographical competitiveness.

“This new facility represents a large growth opportunity,” indicates Lowe.

Peterson Spring is the largest privately held spring manufacturer in North America. From the beginning, nearly a century ago, the company has assumed a vanguard position in the automotive spring industry. As it moves into the future, it retains a strong automotive focus but expands its vision. “We’re also focusing on the industrial market,” says Lowe.

The automotive market segments include power train, body and chassis. “Specifically, power train consists of valve train, for instance valve springs and fuel management,” says Lowe. The company is connecting itself to the emerging technology in power train, which focuses on higher engine outputs while maximizing fuel efficiency and minimizing emissions.

Products for power train include valve springs, variable timing components, fuel injection springs, transmission rings and converter springs, according to Lowe. In the body segment, the company addresses seating, doors, sunroofs, trunk lids, hood lids, locks and latches. In the chassis segment, the company focuses on steering, suspension and braking.

Meanwhile, its industrial activities consist of six segments including appliance, agriculture, heavy equipment, lawn and garden, medical and furniture. Within the appliance segment, the company produces clamps, clips and springs for items such as dishwashers and oven doors, says Lowe. In agriculture and heavy equipment segments, it makes valve springs for engines. In the medical and furniture segments, Peterson produces parts (such as wire forms and springs) for items such as hospital beds, wheelchairs and office chairs. For the lawn and garden segment, the company produces engine parts, such as throttle controls.

The company’s ongoing narrative began in the 1880s when August Christian Peterson, a young Norwegian, immigrated to America. Peterson studied blacksmithing and, in the early 1900s, gradually rose through the ranks of spring manufacturing, managing different plants throughout the Midwest. In 1914, confident that he could secure a large share of market demand for springs, Peterson moved his family to Detroit and formed a company in close proximity to the railroad industry and the rapidly growing automobile industry.

Peterson’s spring manufacturing business, as originally established, endured for nearly two decades, even surviving the “Great Depression.” By 1932, he established the Precision Spring Corporation, a company majority-owned by Peterson and his three younger brothers (Sigurd, Conrad and Harold). As business grew, the company remained a family oriented enterprise, with a new generation of Petersons joining the ranks.

Precision Spring prospered during the post-WWII manufacturing explosion, which saw tremendous growth in the automobile industry. By the 1960s and 1970s, the company expanded overseas through joint ventures and acquisitions. In 1978, the company divided. One half became the Peterson American Corporation (PAC). Eventually, PAC purchased all organizational assets: In 1991, the entire Peterson family of companies resided under the PAC umbrella.

PAC remains a proactive industry leader in a continuously changing manufacturing environment. With international facilities, the company possesses a geographic footprint that fosters customer focus and, in turn, competitiveness.

Currently, according to Lowe, Peterson operates 13 production facilities in the United States and overseas. The company’s U.S. plants reside in Michigan (Three Rivers, Southfield and Madison Heights); Athens, Ga.; Holland, Ohio; Northboro, Mass., and Greenville, Ill.

The U.S. plants manufacture similar products but each has its own niche, Lowe relates. For instance, Madison Heights produces small multi-coil springs (small-wire torsion and extension springs), while the Greenville facility produces similar springs but with a much larger size. “Further, we’ve positioned the plants in strategic locations that address regional needs,” he says. “For instance, the Ohio plant focuses on transmission rings.”

Outside of the United States, along with the Mexico facility, the company has a valve spring plant and transmission plant in Kingsville, Ontario. In Europe, Peterson operates a plant in the United Kingdom (Redditch, Worcestershire). “It’s a quite diverse manufacturing facility. We do small to large wires, various styles and types of springs, as well stampings and wire forms. From there, we ship to two-dozen different countries,” says Lowe, adding that Peterson organization, in total, ships to 29 countries.

In addition, the company has a facility in Ludwigsburg, Germany and two administrative facilities: the Southfield, Mich. corporate headquarters and a sales and engineering office in the United Kingdom, which services Europe.

All facilities are TS/ISO/QS certified and have earned numerous customer achievement and recognition awards, and the company is a charter member of the Spring Manufacturers Institute (SMI). The largest independent spring manufacturer in North America, Peterson employs more than 750 employees in its global locations.

“Throughout the entire organization, we demonstrate the highest level of engineering expertise,” says Lowe.

Ron Check, vice president of engineering and technology, provides the details. “We have full engineering capability to design product,” he says. “This includes computer-aided design and manufacturing software that enables us to effectively collaborate with our customers to provide solutions for any application problems.”

Organizational capacity also includes a fully outfitted metallurgical lab extensively deployed to support and optimize product development, he indicates, adding that the lab is equipped with electron microscopy, tensile testing, X-ray diffraction and digital acquisition systems.

“We also have a dynamics lab that enables use to test parts and materials,” Check reports. “Both labs are fully staffed with engineers and metallurgists.”

Lab capabilities enable Peterson to accomplish high-level liaison with suppliers. “The extensive testing conducted in the metallurgical lab relates to suppliers for specific markets,” says Check. “This enables use to either utilize or recommend what we consider to be the best products for specific applications and to work with the best suppliers – the ones that can provide certified materials that meet with the standards we demand for our products.”

In this way, Peterson restricts its associations to the suppliers that best fit its product profile, as far as quality.

The company has good reason to be so demanding. It has established a long-standing relationship in the automotive industry that has secured entrance into other industrial markets. It’s not about to compromise existing and new relationships.

Meanwhile, Peterson will delve into its toolbox and utilize all available instruments: “This includes our ability to establish strategic alliances with material suppliers, our engineering expertise and our excellent customer services,” says Lowe. “All of this resides in the large geographic footprint that we’ve established and – all factors combined – we expect to grow by leaps and bounds during the next several years.”

For sure, Peterson can afford to be optimistic. Already, it has witnessed good return on recent growth efforts, even in a depressed economy.

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