Today’s manufacturers constantly strive to produce their products as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible while aiming for the highest levels of quality. Although the components of this equation might appear to work against each other, solutions do exist – especially if you are a forward-thinking company like Piper Impact of New Albany, Miss.
Piper Impact is truly a rare breed of manufacturer, experienced as it is in cold-forged impact extruding. “We are unique in the industry in that of all the other players in the market, we are the only company maintaining a balance between work in both aluminum and steel products,” says Jeff Petry, president. “Most companies are into one or the other almost exclusively.” Piper also has the capabilities and experience to produce components from copper and magnesium.
Piper Impact’s largest market is the motor vehicle industry, from automobiles to Class 8 trucks. The company also is a major supplier of an array of products from ordnance and high-pressure cylinders to the commercial and medical industries.
Petry notes that cold forging is an underutilized technology, mostly due to a lack of understanding of the technology’s advantages, the most outstanding of which is the inherent strength of components produced by cold-forging techniques. “When you impact extrude a part in the cold state, you are forging the material so that its grain tends to flow throughout the shape design,” explains Petry. “That important grain flow, in addition to the work hardening we do, produces parts much stronger than either casting or stamping can produce.”
• Near-net Shapes
Another important benefit of this technology is the precision or tolerances that can be held, delivering more accurate near-net shapes. “Hot or warm forging must undergo considerable secondary operations to produce finished components, whereas impact extrusions require minimal machining. Additionally, warm and hot forgings usually require follow-up heat treating to improve the strength of components,” Petry explains.
These tighter tolerances mean good news for customers because they require fewer secondary operations and less machining, reducing costs and benefiting that very important bottom line.
“Although cold-forged impact extrusion technology has been around for several generations, it is an under-used technology,” says Petry. Piper Impact wants to change all of that. The company not only competes with other impact extruders, but it competes against companies offering alternative technologies such as casting, stamping, hot- or warm forging. “What we like to do is get in with designers early on in the design process so we can work with them to leverage the advantages of a cold-forged part,” says Petry.
The company is doing just this with a major automotive manufacturer that has had serious and ongoing problems with the strength of a casting done by another company. “It’s a new and challenging application for a cold-forged part,” notes Petry. Currently being sampled and tested, this new product will resolve the customer’s problems and be in production during the 2003 model year. “This is the way we like to work. What we really do here is sell solutions that work for our customers,” Petry says.
Arsenal of Capabilities
“We bring the greatest value to our customers in cold-forged impact extrusion,” Petry says. “Today, more and more, our customers want to buy a finished component, whereas 10 years ago customers were looking for just a forging with the idea that they would do all of the machining themselves.” About 80 percent of components Piper Impact sends out its factory doors are machine finished and ready for the customers’ own assembly lines. The other 20 percent of components are machine finished by the customers themselves. “Everything we make is custom-engineered – and we can produce components for our customers from high volumes to low volumes,” Petry says.
With a wide range of design, engineering, and manufacturing expertise and capabilities, Piper Impact produces strong, lightweight, and near-net shape critical components to its vehicular customers. Products in this market include airbag canisters, shock housings, air conditioning components, and universal joint yokes.
Piper Impact is also preparing to launch several advanced shock-absorber housings for major automotive manufacturers, Petry says. It also will launch a new air-bag component for the company’s major customer. For ordnance markets, Piper Impact manufactures cartridge cases, flare cases, signal cases, mortar cones, HEAT components and tail booms. One of the largest markets in this segment is providing medium-caliber cartridge cases, which are the back end of the ammunition used in the military’s tanks and planes.
Piper Impact expects significant growth in the high-pressure cylinders it manufactures for numerous industries, including medical applications and some interesting niche applications. One of these involves a safety device used by mountain climbers. “It’s a device with a rip cord that, when pulled, releases a huge balloon so that mountain climbers can keep on top of the snow during an avalanche and it prevents them from being buried under the snow,” explains Petry. “There are really a lot of new opportunities out there for us to develop solutions for our customers.”
Manufacturing capabilities include impact extrusion, machining flexibility, in-house tool-and-die, in-house engineering, heat treating, non-destructive testing, painting, and quality control. The company uses lean manufacturing processes for greater production efficiencies. “Customers expect prices to be flat to declining every year, so you have to maintain aggressive and continuous improvements to take cost out of the manufacturing process,” Petry says. “Our goal is to accelerate the speed of product flow through our plants in order to reduce costs and improve quality.”
To this end, the company employs cellular manufacturing techniques. “This allows us to be a lot more responsive to our customers because their schedules are always changing and we have to react to those changes,” says Petry. Understanding its customers’ unique and timely needs, Piper Impact has created high-volume and low-volume manufacturing areas in order to be even more responsive to customers.
Piper Impact traces its beginnings to 1958, when it was a division of Mallory Battery Company in Memphis, Tenn. The division was not really doing all that well until 1963, when entrepreneur Paul Piper, Sr. bought it and placed it on firm footing, growing the business with a strong presence in ordnance. Today, the company (with revenues of $80 million to $90 million) is a division of Quanex, which acquired Piper in 1996. “We have their good, solid financial backing that allows us to invest in our future,” says Petry. “We have this great advantage over our competitors, many of whom are stand-alone, private companies.”
Its management strategy is a well-thought-out philosophy of balance. “Our mission statement emphasizes our goal to provide superior and balanced returns to all stakeholders,” explains Petry. “What we mean by this is our shareholders, our customers, and our employees.” Using an equilateral triangle for this vision, Petry notes that each of the vectors of the triangle must be in balance with the others. “We want to keep that triangle in balance every day in each of the decisions we make here.”
Piper Impact lives and breathes its commitment to quality and excellence every day. This is evident not only in the superior products it manufactures, but in the Excellence Award it recently received from the Mississippi Quality Awards Program, designed to encourage the application of continuous improvement principles and the sharing of best practices. “We are honored to be recognized for our achievements,” says Petry. “It’s been a good year at Piper as recent efforts to improve quality and reduce costs are paying off.”
With two manufacturing facilities in New Albany totaling about 750,000 square feet, Piper Impact stands prepared to not only maintain its leadership role in the industry – but to grow that lead. “We plan to grow the whole market so that we will be participating in a larger marketplace,” Petry says. The company plans to do this by continuing to offer full services from prototype through finished products through excellent customer service. It will also aim to be more proactive in applications engineering and sales.