Local Company Takes A Different Approach

August 1, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — The tool and die industry has been handed a bunch of lemons over the past few years, but some companies are manufacturing lemonade. One is Die Tech Services Inc.

Die Tech Services is a tool and die contractor that also provides technical support to automotive OEMs and their suppliers. The company, which was founded in 2002 with six contract die makers and four customers, has grown to a roster of 40 contract die-makers and six administrative staff — and 50 percent sales growth each year since 2002. The company’s workers are spread throughout the U.S. as well as in China and Iraq.

“We had a great first quarter. We had 38, 39 people working in the field,” said Ron Bourque, general manager. “It’s off and on because the assignments are temporary in nature.”

“It carried over from last year into this year,” said Jim Warner, president. “One of our customers said, ‘How many die shops do you know that have 24 die makers working.’”

Even after six years, Warner said companies still look at DTS as a new business. Most companies think of DTS as a temp service, because employees are typically hired into a company on a job-to-job basis.

However, unlike temp services, DTS employees are paid and hold benefits through DTS rather than the company using their services.

“Everybody doesn’t know about us. We’re still kind of secret,” said Warner. “We’re kind of like a temp service. We work in that way because we’re temporarily in a facility.”

Warner said that some of the employees have been with the company since 2002. Bourque said he thinks of DTS as a contracting service since it hires “permanent full-time employees.”

Even though DTS competes with local tool and die shops for some of the same talent, the firm also keeps local shops busy by helping them get jobs. On average, a tool and die shop only lands about 5 percent of the work it quotes for, said Warner. DTS allows companies to bid for bigger jobs or to handle any influx of work that was not expected.

“There are a couple of die shops that set up their business plan to us,” said Warner. “Meaning that they’ll keep on 10 guys and when it picks up, instead of trying to hire somebody, they’ll come to us and we’ll be there for two to three months, and the cost is a wash.”

Warner explained that the time and money a company spends on hiring, training and eventually laying someone off when work slows down takes about a month and doesn’t save any money — whereas a DTS contract worker is able to start working the next day.

DTS not only supplies workers to help with die build and construction, but also with stamping launches to make sure the company has “quality runs.” Some of this includes preventive maintenance to ensure quality.

Warner explained that many shops in the South have a need for tool and die, but do not have the level of skilled workers found in the North, particularly in Michigan and the surrounding Midwest states.

Spartanburg Steel Products in South Carolina provides an example.

Spartanburg produces underbody components for automobiles and employs 550 people.

The company was experiencing an average of 52 hours of downtime per month due to tooling issues.

“SSP has many talented people, but many of those expected to maintain or repair tooling had never performed that work outside of the company,” said Randy Grimes, tool and die manager. “They have never learned the fundamentals of die making through a formal apprenticeship program.”

The company saw downtime reduced by 2.9 percent, repair orders reduced by 66 percent, and a 30 percent improvement in proactive versus reactive repairs.

Grimes said that DTS was instrumental in making this happen.

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