After 11 continuous years of growing between 30 and 40% per year, Accurate Assembly, Cleveland, OH, believes it is ready for the real growth that recent changes in its manufacturing will make possible.
Accurate is made up of three divisions that have numerous customers in common. The oldest of the three, founded in 1986, provides packaging services, primarily for high-volume retail companies. The second and largest division designs, prototypes and manufactures display racks, mostly in wire or metal. The racks are used primarily for point-of-purchase displays in mass retail outlets and specialty applications, including trade show exhibits. The third division plays a major role in assuring the eye appeal and service life of the display racks. Accurate believes this division provides the most promising growth opportunities.
This third division is a powder coater. At one time, packaging was the company's bread and butter, but now it is the powder coating line, which allows Accurate to pursue projects that are not only strategically desirable but good "door openers" for its other divisions as well.
Approximately 85% of Accurate's display racks are wire or combination fabrications coated with high-performance powders. The remaining 15% are PVC or tubular piping. The company's claim to fame has historically been racking designs that showcase toys, cosmetics, snack foods and bakery items in a unique and eye catching manner. Accurate also supplies food industry racks used in coolers. "Creativity is king," proclaimed co-owner Jim Jacobs. "What we hear most often from customers who are new with us is, `Wow! We didn't even think of that.'"
Accurate's original powder coating line employed a large cartridge booth that satisfied the company's production needs and allowed it to pursue a limited amount of outside work. In time, however, the system was unable to keep pace with even internal production demands. Plus, the powder coating line's reputation for high-quality finishing and quick turnaround times had created a healthy demand from several area manufacturers. "Essentially, we had a ready market of companies who manufactured everything from tools to trailer hitches. Every day we didn't tap into it was money out the door that we could never recover," said Mr. Jacobs.
After an evaluation of the powder coating line, Accurate felt satisfied with the performance of the guns it had been using. Therefore, Mr. Jacobs and his partner contacted the gun manufacturer, inquiring about purchasing more guns as well as feed systems and controls. "We told them we were acting as our own general contractor on this. We wanted to agree on a plan and get the electrostatics running on a fast rack, about three weeks. What we found, unfortunately, was a vendor not well-geared to that kind of reaction time or to dealing with what it obviously considered a small customer."
The company then contacted a second vendor. "We felt it could probably do what we needed, but we didn't have a good comfort level with its proposal," explained Mr. Jacobs. "Frankly, there was a little too much complexity involved in its technology."
To minimize costs, the vendor had proposed a six-gun system with an oscillator. "Our experience," said Mr. Jacobs, "was that four guns per side would be preferable. It's simple and straightforward. We wanted our manager to be able to manage production, not to meddle with add-ons. We've learned that technology you don't really need can become counterproductive."
Two additional suppliers with readily available inventory were contacted. One of these, Ionics Engineering Corp., ultimately received the nod of Accurate's management. Don Tyler, sales manager for the equipment supplier, managed the project. "Although we are best known for high-performance automotive systems," he explained, "we were well-suited to Accurate's program. We believe in giving customers response, respect and lots of support. I believed that the booth it had installed needed eight guns for proper coverage. That was the only way we quoted this package. Systems perform as units, and helping to make certain everything functions as a unit is one of the most important things we provide."
Accurate's management met with the supplier at its Cleveland plant and at the supplier's headquarters. Conversations continued a week later during the Powder Coating show. According to Mr. Jacobs, "By the time we left Indianapolis, we'd had lots of opportunity to check references and develop a comfort level about its technology, price and ability to compete the start up."
Installation of a GX5000 electrostatic powder coating system was completed in one day. It included eight guns, four on each side. "We had to modify our booth somewhat because we had placed the gun openings too close to the air intake," said Mr. Jacobs. We removed the booth side panels and replaced them with polycarbonate panels with slots cut in them in such a way that there was sufficient distance from gun to intake. The configuration is applicable to any product Accurate wants to coat. Depending on the product, any combination of guns can be activated.
On the afternoon following the initial startup, Accurate powder coated production parts. Ten workdays later the company achieved and maintained continuous production at its target rate of three shifts, five days a week. "One shift is dedicated to our products, two are for outsourcing," stated Mr. Jacobs.
The Accurate system begins with a five-stage pretreatment process: mild alkaline spray cleaner; tap rinse; iron phosphate immersion; rinse; non-chrome sealing rinse; and DI water rinse. The system is inherently "green" because the rinses are counterflowed to conserve water and chemicals. Effluent is filtered for solids and pH adjusted then released to the drain.
The three major colors, white, black and almond, are reclaimed individually. Minor and specialty colors are reclaimed in a common drum and applied to shelving. "That customer cares only about corrosion protection, not color, so it's a perfect fit for us," said Mr. Jacobs.
With its powder line at full production, the company is poised to grow its outsource work. One of its best opportunities is the manufacture and powder coating of transport racks for automotive Tier I suppliers. Tolerances for automotive work are narrow, but the SPC program currently implemented at Accurate will help it meet these requirements.
Other plans relative to automotive programs include the installation of humidity and salt-spray testing. "Being an automotive Tier II supplier is something we're well positioned to do," stated Mr. Jacobs. "And it's just the beginning. The bigger goal is to reach out to several specialty target markets, to identify companies in diverse industries who'll each be 5 to 7% of our total revenue. That will keep us flexible, and I think that will be our greatest strength."
In June 1999, the company completed the consolidation of its three Cleveland plants into one 17,000-sq-ft facility, gaining another important advantage, the ability to move parts and people between departments rather than between buildings.
"At this point," stated Mr. Jacobs, "the sales message for our display company is seamless. Customers will benefit substantially in terms of the ease, convenience, cost and lead-time by working with us. Just tell us your application, and we'll engineer, prototype, make, powder coat, package and ship it. The overall idea is to build long-term relationships, to become an integral part of customer teams. We think the way to do that is to be responsive, agile, cost effective and cooperative. That's what we looked for in a vendor, and we think that's how all successful suppliers will work in the future."