Since 2011, ArtiFlex has been hard at work building a strong reputation as a leading manufacturer in a niche field of the automotive industry. While Tier One tooling and stamping companies specialize in high volume output, ArtiFlex has concentrated on low volume specialty production—manufacturing for out-of-production past model vehicles and low volume derivative models, creating low volume parts to be shipped to dealers and repair shops worldwide. As the automotive and manufacturing industries evolve, ArtiFlex is working to build ever better and more efficient processes to ensure that its clients are in good hands.
Automotive progress as a driving force for high-tech upgrades
From Nissan to BMW to the Detroit Three, some of the biggest names in automotive manufacturing depend on ArtiFlex for their lower volume parts. So when the automotive industry starts to introduce newer designs and materials like high strength steel into its designs, it’s up to ArtiFlex to keep pace and anticipate the needs of its consumers. According to Steve Delmoro, Director of Business Development at ArtiFlex, this evolution in auto design has led to significant capital investments over the past year.
“From the automotive stamping standpoint—which is our primary production business, in large automotive body panels like fenders, hoods, body sides—we’re seeing a strengthening of the automotive market from where we were five years ago until now, and additionally we’re also seeing a need for more updated equipment,” says Delmoro. ArtiFlex has satisfied this need for more updated equipment with a $10 million strategic capital investment, installing three large new high tonnage hydraulic stamping presses to replace outdated existing draw presses. At this time, one of these new presses is already installed and in operation—a second press is halfway through installation, and the third will be commissioned in the fourth quarter of 2015.
“The investment is in response to our core customers,” Delmoro explains. “The major auto makers are our largest customers. They are growing—and we are growing with them. Some of their designs for new tooling would not fit with our existing equipment. We were running into areas where we were not able to manage tonnage required. So these presses that we’re installing run up to 2,500 tons, which is quite a bit more than the 1,000 ton presses that they’re replacing.”
Several strategic investments are currently in the works at ArtiFlex. In addition to its work on new high powered presses, the company has also invested in increasing its incorporation of automated processes in its presses and welded assembly areas. According to Delmoro, the reasons for investing more heavily in automation are threefold.
“First and foremost it would be quality,” he says, noting that the repeatability aspect of automation is a strong way to inspire greater confidence in consistency and quality levels for clients. ArtiFlex has also been greatly inspired by LEAN manufacturing strategies and the challenge of reducing costs while increasing throughput and optimizing operations for maximum yields.
There is a strong safety aspect to this decision as well. Delmoro explains that much of its automation works to keep its employees safe from the more demanding facets of manufacturing work.
“We do work with a lot of sharp metal objects and heavy parts,” he says. “When we have fewer and fewer operations where the employee is exposed to these areas, there are fewer and fewer chances that the employee could get accidentally hurt. Not to mention our aging population—the repetitiveness of picking up a 40-lb part multiple times a minute is not something that’s conducive to their long term health.” Through automation, these workers are able to stay productive and safe in the long run.
Investing in people
That aging population that Delmoro mentioned is an industry-wide issue that has been weighing heavily on the ArtiFlex team. “We’re no different than most others in the industry right now, in that finding the right skilled trade is a challenge,” says Delmoro, noting that skilled workers trained in tooling and die areas are the scarcest. “We tend to see a demographic that’s aging in that skill set, and not replacing itself.”
In addition to its increased interest in automation, ArtiFlex has also implemented several human resources programs in order to attract and train skilled workers in the fields of both tooling and technical engineering as automation ramps up. “We’ve got older presses, and we’re moving to new ones. It takes a little different mindset, a little different training,” says Delmoro. “We are embarking on aggressive education and a campaign to bring in new talent as we continue to grow both our business size in terms of both revenue and our head count.”
This campaign consists of work with local colleges and community centers, along with the North Central Workforce Alliance of Ohio and the Wayne County Business Advisory Council. Most important of all is ArtiFlex’s own robust in-house journeyman apprenticeship program. “I think our strategy has to be: you’re not going to necessarily hire all on the outside, so you had better be training in house to meet the demand that we see moving forward,” says Delmoro. “It’s only going to get more and more critical as the population ages and fewer young people go into these skilled trade areas. We can’t train people fast enough, and that’s what we’re working after—that, and to find young people that have a desire to go into those skills.”
Only the beginning
With so many projects underway, it may seem like ArtiFlex has its hands full. But with its niche low volume specialization, multitasking is one of the company’s greatest strengths. As Delmoro explains, these investments are only the beginning of growth for ArtiFlex.
“I don’t believe this is the end of our capacity and our capital investment—I think this is an initial phase,” says Delmoro. “I think there will possibly be more presses and other operational investments, whether it’s in robotics, lasers or even potentially even facility upgrades. I believe there is a continued appetite from our customers to say, ‘how do we allow our good suppliers to continue to grow?’”