COSHOCTON — An emphasis on customer service and efficiency have been two primary factors that have kept SanCasT running in tough economic times.
General Manager Don Hutchins said the company can’t compete with overseas firms when it comes to lower price points because of lower pay, but it can surpass them in the fields of quality and customer service.
He also uses ‘lean’ as a keyword. A business running lean doesn’t mean making cuts, but improving efficiency and reducing waste to run faster without sacrificing quality and safety. Safety is a top priority at SanCasT, and Hutchins is proud the factory hasn’t had a lost-time accident in more than nine years.
The foundry makes thousands of parts annually in various product lines for railroad, construction, mining and other industries. Hutchins said the business is split about in half between railroad business and all others. This also includes making brake drums for Amish buggies primarily sold in Holmes County.
It has about 120 commercial customers and more than a dozen rail customers. Additionally, the SanCasT warehouse stores and ships parts from other connected facilities to customers across the globe.
Hutchins said in the past 10 years, SanCasT has expanded to different industries and international markets. The company specializes in iron casts, and that gives it a niche market as companies that need certain iron items and sizes are difficult to find elsewhere.
Efficiency and safety
SanCasT is in its 37th year of operation. It has 50 employees, down from 65 full and part-time employees in 2007. Hutchins said the company is doing more business now than it was in 2007 with less people because of efficiency improvements.
“It wasn’t a strategy to remove those people, in part it was a residual effect of the ebb and flow of a recession and coming out of a recession,” he said. “You made some efficiency changes during a recession so you didn’t have as large a need for the same amount of employees.”
The capital S, C and T in the name SanCasT is a reference to the company’s parent firm, Standard Car Truck Co. based in Illinois. More than three years ago, Westinghouse Air Brake Technologies Corp., or Wabtec, in Pennsylvania bought Standard Car Truck.
“Both Standard Car Truck and Wabtec had initiatives on controlling cost and cost reductions,” Hutchins said. “They have a very formal system on quality improvement and safety. We’ve adapted that system.”
Hutchins said an annual calendar is kept to make sure the foundry keeps up on certification training for all employees, maintenance dates, safety inspections and more.
The company also documents what Hutchins calls “lessons learned” on how the factory has learned internally to increase efficiency. A file is kept with photographs and write-ups on the original situation or condition and the changes made with involvement of team members and what the improved practices were.
“Again, it’s to adapt all the lean concepts and keep us going,” he said. “We make sure it’s not a negative to safety or quality, it just enhances what we do.”
Hutchins said safety has to be a top priority with how dangerous working alongside molten metal can be. He said safety meetings are conducted weekly. Employees can make suggestions and improvements are made where possible. The first thing a new employee does is a safety orientation, Hutchins said.
“You really want everybody to feel like it’s important to work next to someone who adapts the same idea of safety and is watching out for the other person,” he said. “You want management to be sincerely involved in a safety program.”
Hutchins said the foundry recycles more than 90 percent of its sands and irons to be used to make new items. There is no hazardous waste stream out of the plant. Gas and electricity demands also have been reduced in the past few years by improving technology on the floor, he said.
One example of labor and material saving technology the plant instituted about six years ago is solid modeling software that allows it to make simulations for new products before casting. Hutchins said what engineers come up with on the drawing board doesn’t always work in practical application. The program can determine where an item might have defects as it cools from a liquid to a solid. Computer aided drafting is used to draw the model and parameters are set in the program on what kind of iron and mold is to be used.
Technical Director John Fox said previously they had no other way to test a new job or a problematic job other than actually breaking into production to run a sample. Fox then would have to cut the part in half with a saw to check it for defects, like holes where the metal didn’t fill the mold. He then would have to make changes and run another sample. He said the computer program allows him to be 90 percent sure a design will work before a sample is run to verify.
“It costs money when you take the foundry down just for a sample,” Fox said. “We estimate it costs about $1,000 every time we break into production. There are some of these jobs where the shapes and thickness varies so much, we’ve had to run upwards of 50 simulations before actually getting it right. You don’t want to have to go out here and break into production every time to test it.”
Hutchins said in his 37 years in the foundry business he’s seen many foreign nations take a run at getting into the market, but none have stuck as resources go to other ventures and wages in the countries go up as they develop. He said a division of General Electric in Dayton that makes mining starters went to China with its casting needs about five years ago but came back to SanCasT in 2011.
“They couldn’t get good quality and good delivery on a consistent basis. They came back to us, and we didn’t have to drop our price point at all, because our service is outstanding,” Hutchins said.
SanCasT for the past four years has delivered all purchase orders on time 100 percent to all customers, Hutchins said. He said service is the company’s main edge. He said one to two new customers and 15 to 30 different part numbers per year are added.
“We’ll never beat foreign competition on price, but our people really jump through hoops to give good service. This helps us stay, because a lot of our new sales are repeat sales with new products to existing customers,” he said.