Despite its location in Cedar Springs, MI—a state that has been hard hit by the economic downturn—CS Tool Engineering, Inc. has landed the 2010 Leadtime Leader Award Small Shop Honorable Mention by constantly investing in technology and offering its customers complete customer service with leadtimes between 10 and 12 weeks. As CS Tool Operations Manager Donald Snow aptly puts it, “We are in the business of customer service, we just happen to build molds.”
Plastic injection and compression molds, precision machining, TIG welding, laser welding, gun drilling, custom EDMing and project management in the automotive, furniture, aero-space and consumer goods markets are among the services this 40-employee shop offers. “Our philosophy is to continue to build mutually beneficial relationships with our customers through our honesty, integrity and our dedication to their complete satisfaction,” Snow comments. “We also focus on consistency with our pricing—whether we are in slow times or busy times.”
Technology Trims Leadtimes
CS Tool firmly believes in investing in technology. In the past two years, the company has brought in a large 3+2 axis high-speed machining center that has had a huge impact on reducing machining setups. “This also has helped reduce some of our required EDM processes as we can now machine these difficult areas in most molds,” Snow explains. “Having in-house laser welding has helped reduce engineering changes and mold repair leadtimes. With this technology we are able to better control where and how much weld is applied to a mold—reducing and/or eliminating machining steps and allowing minimal benching to put a mold back into production.
“We also purchased a slightly used Parpas from an auction when a local shop closed—our first multi-axis CNC machine,” Snow adds. “Through that technology and our other multi-axis, high-speed machining centers we are cutting our normal 10- to 12-week leadtime down to a goal of eight to 10 weeks. We also maintain these leadtimes by holding weekly tool meetings with the management team. We review each job’s progress from the week before, study the financials of each job relative to its build budget, and decide if any outsourcing needs to occur to maintain promised deliveries along with reviewing engineering change jobs that we also have delivery commitments on. Adjustments to our work hours and schedules happen as a result of those meetings.”
According to CS Tool Finance Director Cindy Baas, the company’s philosophy of putting customer service first is evident in their marketing and business strategies. “We just completed a major update of our website that highlights all of our areas of expertise,” Baas says. “We also work continuously with our collaborative, The Whitehall Township Tooling Coalition (wttcmi.com), to jointly market our company with the other group members.”
Government contracting, aerospace and precision machining are new market segments CS Tool is focusing on. Baas points out that thanks to the Whitehall coalition, the company has been running small machining jobs for other members within the collaborative. “And, due to the current economic downturn and closing of many tool and die shops, we have picked up several new customers,” she comments.
Crucial to CS Tool’s value-add services is the addition of Mold Flow filling simulations “without the wait required in dealing with third-party providers,” Baas notes. “We also use web-meeting software and 3-D Adobe Acrobat writing software to easily share solids databases with our customers for reviews and changes. Some of these software enhancements are a small investment, but reap many benefits relative to helping reduce our mold leadtimes.”
Baas notes that CS Tool has a flexible management style that has helped tremendously with employee retention. “We understand that our employees are one of our most valuable assets and we try to work with them to accommodate their needs so that they are able to give 100 percent when they are at work,” she emphasizes. “Their dedication to getting jobs done on time and with the quality that we are known for has helped to develop the good relationships that we currently have with our customers.”
A mix of seasoned veterans work in harmony with the younger generation to get the job done. “Each new mold build has a kick-off meeting in which the project manager pulls together the group of people who will be involved in the construction of that job,” Snow explains. “From the mold design, that group of people (lead toolmaker, programmer, EDM lead person, CAD/CAM supervisor, etc.) studies the mold design and the hours quoted to build the job. From that meeting we establish—to the best of our ability and experience—what the build ‘order’ of events will be, with targeted hours for each of those processes needed to complete the mold. Attention to minimizing machine setups, what to machine, what to EDM, inserting, ejection, cooling are all looked at for that job. All of our molds are not necessarily constructed in the same way every time. We need to work lean and fast so we involve all of the team in understanding and sharing how the tool will be constructed and what the job’s budgeted hours are.
The Whitehall collaborative also acts as an extension of the company. “We work effectively with our collaborative members to utilize each other’s abilities and work staff,” Snow notes, “By working together with our collaborative members, we help each other smooth out the peaks and valleys that are often associated with this trade. Having access to each others staff and resources expands each of our company’s abilities to meet customer needs.”
“Our current and future business strategy focuses on meeting our customers’ changing needs,” Baas points out. “We will continue to offer attention to detail and personal customer service to our customers. We realize the importance of working lean and continuing to invest in the latest technology that will offer a competitive, high-quality product.”
On a global scale, the company has entered into an agreement with Persico (persico.com) of Nembro, Italy—a company that designs and builds compression forming molds that are exported to and used in North America. “We act as their North American company for those tools as it relates to service, maintenance and engineering change support,” Snow states. “Having this relationship has opened up new opportunities for CS Tool to demonstrate our customer service. As for our other global activities, we will begin to use some offshore tool making in the fabrication of smaller components used in our new tooling builds. Maintaining timing is critical and with short deliveries we have made more use of our local tooling coalition members to help in this area.”
Snow adds that future plans also include acquiring—and training—the next generation of toolmakers. “This is more of a process of seeking out those youthful individuals who may possess a mechanical aptitude but have been discouraged away from pursuing a ‘manufacturing’ skilled trade,” Snow elaborates. “One of the major obstacles in finding the younger, next generation of employee is the negative press that manufacturing gets as many unskilled manufacturing jobs are now being outsourced to low cost countries. The tooling industry falls under manufacturing, but we are part of the high technology segment of research and development. How many challenging product designs would actually be produced in mass quantities without the skilled and innovative moldmaker/toolmaker? As a high-tech industry, we must seek out and mentor this next generation of future employees in the satisfaction and rewards of becoming a moldmaker/ toolmaker.
“We plan to usher in the next generation by instilling the philosophies that have made us a successful tool shop today,” Snow concludes. “Honesty, integrity and hard work are some of the foundational values that started this company—and will continue to run this company.”