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Profiting from Partnership

By: Lou Kren

Wednesday, April 01, 2009
 
Can’t find business opportunities? Why not create them? One to do that is through partnering in research and development, a philosophy wholeheartedly adopted by American Trim, LCC. The company, headquartered in Lima, OH, supplies formed metal parts—stampings and rollformed components—to the transportation and appliance industries. “But it does much more than make parts and welded assemblies,” writes MetalForming editor Brad Kuvin in his feature article beginning on page 12. What’s the “much more?”

“We’re more than a supplier—we work with our customers as research and development partners,” John Swigard, American Trim’s director of marketing, explains in the article. “There are a lot of opportunities to perform research and development in metalforming, finishing and coating technologies (the company’s self-described core competencies), but by working with our customers we can ensure that the projects we invest in produce tangible, useable results.”

American Trim prides itself on innovation, teaming with government groups, learning institutions and customers to advance technologies in practical s. That became apparent to me some time back during a visit to the company for an article I authored on appliance trends (Sleeker Shapes for White Goods, February 2004).

At that time, American Trim, in the same partnership mode, was working to boost appliance demand. Throughout the 1990s, appliance design had stagnated, and a lack of excitement dropped prices and flattened sales.

“Then came Neptune,” I wrote. “In 1997, Maytag introduced the high-end futuristic washer and dryer line, boasting sophisticated electronics and contoured styling. Sales soared and the industry recognized that appliances could be luxury items. Today, washers feature stain sensors; myriad temperature settings for soak, wash and rinse; and consoles reminiscent of Star Trek.”

“Manufactures feel pressure to distinguish themselves to the consumer,” an American Trim official told me. “Appliance manufacturers must innovate. If not, products become commodities and prices decrease.”

Through an inhouse research, design and development unit, the company worked with its appliance and transportation customers back then to develop new part designs and methods of manufacture, with a side benefit of enabling technology transfer from one segment to the other.

For example, using its expertise in producing appliance consoles, the company suggested modifications in tooling designed to form heavy-truck bumpers. In electric-range models, I was told by an American Trim VP, burner and oven controls are located on a console at the rear of the cooktop, whereas burner controls for gas models locate at the front of the cooktop. That required building of complex matrix piercing dies in order to change out punches to produce the consoles for both gas and electric ranges. Bumper designs are similar, with holes for tow hooks and air intake.

Given its experience in appliance, American Trim developed a matrix piercing die that allows changes to hole shapes and locations in bumpers, needed for style changes from model year to model year. If a customer wants to change bumper styling a bit, it may have had to spend $2 million on a new tool. But given this new die, for the cost of new punches—about $80,000—die setters just change punches to accept the new hole shapes.

These days, as Brad writes this month, American Trim still benefits from the R&D partnership through projects such as large-part PVD coating and high-velocity electromagnetic forming. And the company has a long-time and well-deserved reputation for partnership success.

Read how that’s done, and think about how to create your own opportunities for new business.

 

See also: American Trim


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