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PMA Your Essential Partner

By: Brad Kuvin

Monday, November 01, 2010
 

Bob Clay & Brad Cardwell

In addition to the 1500-ton Eagle press displayed on the cover, Pridgeon & Clay also boasts this 1000-ton 180- by 84-in. Eagle press, which among other jobs runs the 10-station transfer die seen in the foreground. Shown with Bob Clay is die technician Brad Cardwell, a 20-yr. employee.

After Bob Clay shared with me his theme—PMA—Your Essential Partner—for his coming year at the helm of the Precision Metalforming Association, I took the liberty of crafting a definition for the term “Essential Partner.” Here’s what I came up with:

Two or more parties united in a relationship that results in the exchange of products and services perceived as absolutely necessary to the prosperity of all involved parties.

Clay, CEO of metalforming company Pridgeon & Clay, headquartered in Grand Rapids, MI, says that his company works to be an essential partner to its customers. The company is a Tier One and Tier Two automotive supplier, primarily of power-train and chassis components and assemblies.

“We mean more to our customers than just being an excellent supplier, in part by providing services for advanced engineering,” Clay stresses, “services that few other companies can offer. That’s how we can ensure we’re an essential partner in the industry, one that brings unique value and is perceived as virtually indispensable.

“That’s my goal for PMA,” Clay continues. “We’ll work to develop key offerings that come as part of being dues-paying member companies, augmented by state-of-the-art products and services that businesses deem essential.”

As CEO, Clay encourages innovation and relies on his staff to carryout his mission, and he expects the same from PMA. Along those lines, Clay notes one important new member benefit from the association, an online center for safety and loss-control resources called myPMA Risk Manager. A comprehensive library (in English and Spanish) of nearly 2000 safety policies and procedures, posters and other training documents, myPMA Risk Manager allows member companies to build custom loss-prevention programs.

 Keith o'Brien & John Beld
Pridgeon & Clay designed and built this robotic welding cell used to manufacture an auger mixer assembly that goes into the anti-pollution system of heavy diesel trucks. The cell features a Fanuc welding robot and Fronius arc-welding equipment. Shown is Keith O’Brien, vice president of global operations (left), and John Beld, production team leader.
“I encourage the magazine’s readers to log on to the association’s new website, www.pma.org, to learn more about this important member benefit,” says Clay, “and to visit the site regularly to stay informed on other new services as they’re introduced.”

Networking and Advocacy

While several Pridgeon & Clay employees are active participants taking advantage of a range of opportunities offered by PMA, Clay appreciates two particular member benefits: networking and advocacy.

“Working in sales (before rising to the level of CEO), I understood well the value of networking with my customers, but not until I attended a PMA annual meeting (in 2003) did I discover how valuable networking with my peers could be,” shares Clay.

Soon after that experience, Clay put both feet firmly in the PMA waters by attending a Washington, D.C., fly-in event, to lobby Congress during the era of President Bush’s steel tariffs.

“It was then that I realized how important it is to try to make a difference in how the government acts, in ways that affect our industry and our businesses,” Clay says.

Since that time, Clay and others from his company have participated in nearly every PMA fly-in to lobby Congress on a host of issues critical to the success of U.S. manufacturing. The events, organized by PMA’s lobbying partner Franklin Partnership and conducted in concert with the National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA), allow small groups of members to effectively meet with Congressmen from all over the country.

“Since partnering with NTMA (under the two associations’ One Voice advocacy brand), we’ve attracted around 100 industry executives to each joint fly-in,” says Clay, “which allows us to form into 20 to 25 small groups of four or five people. Each group makes five to eight visits to congressional offices during the course of the day.

“It’s amazing how effective these visits to the Hill have been,” Clay continues. “I’ve been in several meetings where we walked out afterward and felt extremely satisfied, certain that we truly enlightened the people that play a critical role in our success as an industry.”

A Sense of Urgency in Advocacy

Clay pledges to build a sense of urgency in PMA’s advocacy efforts, “because,” he says, “the issues are as critical as they have ever been. By the time the 2012 election season is in full swing, we’ve got to be fully engaged, and we need to raise a lot of money. We’re fighting tax increases and legislation hostile to manufacturing, along with unfair currency manipulation.

“I can give money to or speak with my representatives here in Western Michigan,” Clay adds, “but they (and other congressmen in manufacturing-intensive areas of the country) already ‘get it’; it’s like preaching to the choir. PMA (through its One Voice partnership with the National Tooling & Machining Association) acts as an advocate for manufacturing all over the country, reaching policymakers who may not fully understand our issues and their importance to our economy.”

One Voice advocacy efforts have paid off handsomely over the years. Here’s a snapshot of recent results:

• Lobbied hard on behalf of The Small Business Jobs Act, passed in September, that will offer immediate benefit to the thousands of small and medium-sized manufacturers who are experiencing unprecedented difficulty accessing bank loans for day-to-day operations or investment. This bill will provide long-sought support for small businesses seeking credit from banks, and help companies expand and make new investments thanks to tax incentives targeted toward small businesses.

• Stopped Employee Free Choice Act for three straight years—Despite unions spending more than $400 million since 2007 to pass the Card Check bill, we have successfully killed the bill in each year and are fighting to beat it back again in 2010.

• Developed a National Manufacturing Policy—In July 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, following OneVoice input, to establish a national manufacturing strategy.

• Access to Credit for Manufacturers Becomes Law—OneVoice took the lead for small manufacturers in Washington and proposed several solutions to the credit crisis facing small businesses. We succeeded in making this a top priority for President Obama.

• National Currency Manipulation Call-In Day—OneVoice led an effort to hold a National Currency Manipulation Call-In Day, during which thousands of manufacturers called Congressmen asking them to move on legislation to stop illegal currency manipulation by China and others. As a result, the House Ways and Means Committee passed critical legislation to give manufacturers the tools they need to fight currency manipulators.

• Tax Credit Provisions Extended—Few sections of the federal tax code support manufacturing in America. OneVoice has helped to extend the Research and Development Tax Credit 14 times, improve and extend Bonus Depreciation and Section 179 Expensing, and expand the Section 199 Domestic Production Tax Credit to 9 percent.

Bringing Ideas Back Home

The beauty of membership in PMA lies in the beholder, particularly those at companies that encourage participation in the numerous association events —educational, networking and others. Clay encourages widespread association participation by his employees, and several take advantage.

For example, Pridgeon & Clay’s European sales manager Ray Groendyk chairs the PMA West Michigan District; global operations vice president Keith O’Brien attends meetings of the PMA Next Generation Leaders Division; director of quality assurance Cathy Winterhalter actively participates on the PMA quality manager’s online discussion group and attends the association’s Quality Roundtable meetings; and director of human resources Julie Church Krafft participates on the PMA HR online discussion group and attends its HR Roundtable meetings. 

“We also send people to meetings related to safety, IT and finance,” adds Clay. “PMA offers meaningful programs to support every facet of our business.”

To learn how networking at these middle-management levels benefits Pridgeon & Clay, we caught up with director of quality assurance Cathy Winterhalter during the recent Quality Managers Roundtable, held September 22-23, at PMA headquarters in Cleveland, OH.

“Coming from the plastics industry, I’ve found that participating in PMA meetings and roundtables has allowed me to quickly get up to speed in the sheetmetal industry,” says Winterhalter. “And, at the Quality Managers Roundtables in particular, we all share, contribute and learn from each other.

“Most recently, we’ve been discussing how to reduce the cost of quality, and how to get quality out of the office and onto the shop floor,” Winterhalter continues. “I’ve been able to share with other QA managers our successes at Pridgeon & Clay, including empowering our press operators to take responsibility for the quality of their work. And, I’ve taken away from the meetings ideas from others related to reducing the cost of quality.

“For example,” says Winterhalter, “we’ve recently created common inspection criteria for each type of product we manufacture. This simplifies our processes and reduces the amount of documentation, resulting in tremendous time and cost savings.”

Learning the Industry from the Ground Up

An engineer by training, Bob Clay learned the metal-stamping industry and gained an appreciation for the value of relationships in the industry by working in outside sales for Pridgeon & Clay from 1977 through the 1990s. But before launching his sales career at the company his father helped to start in 1946, Clay cut his teeth as a teenager performing odd jobs all over the factory, eventually working in the toolroom.

After graduating from high school, in the mid-1960s Clay served a term in the Navy (he is a Vietnam veteran), then enrolled at Michigan State University. After earning a Bachelors of Science degree in civil engineering, Clay, encouraged by his father to make his own way, went to work as a dam engineer. Four years later, at the behest of his father, Clay rejoined the family business as a salesman, and in the mid-‘90s he took over as CEO.

“During my time in sales, I learned the importance of being an essential partner with customers,” shares Clay. “There’s rarely, if ever, a time when you can do too much for the customer. We believe that if our customer has a problem, we have a problem, and we work until it’s solved to everyone’s satisfaction. And to this day, I remain a steadfast advocate for our customers as company CEO.”

To become more important to its customers, Pridgeon & Clay has focused on developing exceptional engineering capabilities, shortening lead times for its customers and “providing more robust part designs, at a competitive price,” shares Clay. “We’ve been able to differentiate ourselves from commodity stampers by developing an advanced engineering facility (a separate 37,000-sq.-ft. A2LA-accredited Advanced Engineering Laboratory) that helps us develop and launch several new products each year.”

While Clay’s uncle (also named Bob Clay) has truly been the advocate at the company for its in-depth involvement with PMA, Clay quickly gained an appreciation for the numerous opportunities afforded by being an active member in his industry’s trade association.

“Pridgeon & Clay has been a PMA member company since the 1970s,” says Clay. “My uncle always has believed in the value of membership, and we make sure that several of our employees take advantage of the opportunities to network and learn.
“For me,” Clay adds, “PMA’s CEO roundtables offer particular value, and I attend as many as I can around the country. By listening to others share their experiences, I’ve been able to make better, more informed management decisions for Pridgeon & Clay.”

PMA Knows Training—The Basics and Beyond

Several education-based resources from PMA have played critical roles in Pridgeon & Clay’s success. The firm recently conducted a series of classes for its press operators called Back to Basics, using PMA Educational Foundation (PMAEF) training materials as the curriculum backbone. And it has employed the PMAEF Metalworking Skills Assessment, designed to evaluate the skills of workers with limited manufacturing experience seeking employment or training in the metalworking industry.

The plan evidently has worked, as Pridgeon & Clay earned the 2010 A.R. Hedberg Training and Education Award as part of PMA’s Awards of Excellence in Metalforming. It won the award for its on-the-job training (OJT) program for all hourly production positions.

“As a result of the OJT program, we’re experiencing increased quality and output by newly placed employees,” shares Clay. “The trainees adapt more quickly to the job, are appraised more positively and have the potential to receive monetary increases at each appraisal period.”

New from PMAEF in 2010 is the Occupational Aptitude and Knowledge Assessment program, released in January. Modular in design, the 60-item, multiple-choice assessment covers mechanical and spatial aptitudes, mathematical reasoning and measurement, communications and information, and industry understanding and behaviors. The assessment is a predictor of an applicant's potential to learn the job and function in a precision manufacturing environment. It is ideal for those entering into manufacturing training programs, apprenticeships, or applying for job vacancies as operators, assemblers and entry-level maintenance technicians.

Keeler and Keremedjiev a Dynamic Training Duo

Keith O'Brien & Steve Ramsey
Along with encouraging its employees to attend most if not all PMA webinars, Pridgeon & Clay also volunteers its employees to share their expertise by making presentations to the industry. Here, director of operations Keith O’Brien (right) partners with Steve Ramsey, lean-manufacturing specialist and Certified Master Black Belt, to conduct a webinar for PMA on Six Sigma Principles. The webinar was part of a series of events conducted by the PMA Next Gen Leadership Academy, a service of the PMA Next Generation Leaders Division.

Clay also notes two other PMA resources that he says have been critical to success in the company’s pressroom: inhouse seminars from Stu Keeler and George Keremedjiev, long-time affiliates of PMA (and contributors to MetalForming magazine).

“We recently had Stu here to address some of our engineers on stamping of advanced high-strength steels,” says Clay. “And George has been making presentations here since 2004, after I met him at a PMA event and became aware of his expertise in sensing and in-die electronics. This has helped us earn numerous industry awards (including the PMA Excellence in Process Control Award in 2009 for development of an inline measurement gauge to inspect parts for flatness around the mounting holes of a steering support bracket).

“I’d conservatively say that our presses are running 25 percent faster,” Clay adds, “without wrecks, due to the knowledge we’ve picked up from George over the years.”  MF

 

See also: Pridgeon & Clay, Inc.

Related Enterprise Zones: Presses, Tool & Die


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