Andrew Galbach knows his way around both the boardroom and manufacturing floor. The American Precision Fabricators president, founder and owner started his career in manufacturing as a machine operator in 1989 before deciding to break out on his own. He founded American Precision Fabricators in 1996 and, for the first six months, was its sole employee.
After several expansions, the company ultimately opened its current 68,000-square-foot plant more than five years ago.
The company manufactures refrigerator doors, trash compactor front panels, air conditioning component parts and other products for clients including Whirlpool, Carrier, Trane, Johnson Controls, and Baldor Corporation, Galbach says.
American Precision Fabricators also helped develop a heat pump water heater for Rheem manufacturing that is new to the market
and sold in Home Depot locations nationwide.
“I guess what separates us is our people and our ability to work with customers and communicate with them as to what they really need,” Galbach says.
“I came from the shop floor and I know what can really be done to take care of our customers’ needs,” he adds. “One day I’m working with a local plant manager, purchasing manager, or engineer, the next I’m out there on the shop floor or out on the line helping solve problems.”
Galbach says he has a talented staff willing to go the extra mile for their customers. They use e-mail, texting and video conferencing to communicate with their customers. Many of their larger customers allow them to access their forecast, quality records, and part updates from their own networks. “This allows us to make on-the-fly changes in production,” he adds.
Expanding His Reach
Galbach has big plans to expand his business even further.
In March of 2009, he attended the Design 2-Part industrial equipment trade show in Grapevine, Texas to promote his business. While there,
he met the now 86-year-old Hugh Wayman, inventor of the trailer mounted, solar-powered livestock feeder, “The AutoWayman.”
Wayman, who had been building the feeders with the help of a small welding shop for some time, was looking for a larger sheet metal shop to help him with construction. American Precision Fabricators took on the job and, in February of 2010, purchased the patent for the solar-powered auto feeder: U.S. patent 6,889,630: “Trailer mounted automatic livestock feeding apparatus.”
“[Wayman] was selling [feeders] from the back of his truck,” Galbach says. “We did market research, and came up with 680,000 potential customers in the U.S. alone.”
“For 15 years, we’ve been manufacturing other people’s component parts, and now we have our own product not only to build, but also to market,” he adds. A website is online for the product at www.SolarFeeders.com.
Each feeder can hold up to 2,500 pounds of food – including cubes, pellets or grain – and can feed 20 head of cattle for a week. American Precision Fabricators is working on designing three different sizes of the feeder as well. “We sold a feeder to Wilson Farmers Coop in Nashville, and they asked if we could develop a 6000-pound Auto Feeder, so we put it on the drawing board,” Galbach says.
“This is going to revolutionize the way farmers feed and take care of their livestock,” he adds. “By regulating feed times and weight, farmers will save money on feed and fuel, getting that feed to their animals, and allowing them to do more with the time they have. Not to mention not having to haul all those bags of feed in the winter time.”
Galbach says if sales go as expected, his company may build a new plant solely to construct the feeders. Component parts would be made in the current facility and then transferred to the new location for assembly, also to be located in Fort Smith, Ark. “This will allow us to grow our feeder business and also continue to take care of our current customers, the ones that helped us get here,” he adds.
Building as Needed
The company uses four Amada Turret Punch presses, as well as press brakes, and folding machines. Precision has a press brake bending capability to 16 feet and 175 tons. The company also has extensive welding and finishing capabilities including painting and powder coating.
All Precision machines are programmed using TekSoft Cad Cam systems, Galbach says.
Data collection on the shop floor is done through the E2 Shop System by Shoptech. The company adopts the just-in-time/Kanban approach to its inventory systems.
“Except for a few critical components, we essentially carry no inventory; we build as needed,” he adds.
The company tries to find employees who are already experienced in the manufacturing industry, and also hires temporary workers through an employment agency.
Temp hires are evaluated throughout their first 90 days on the job on the basis of their attendance, attention to detail, ability to work with others, and to see if they show a general desire for the company to do well, Galbach says.
Workers who make the cut are then hired permanently and trained further. “I’ve used more than 2,000 temp employees in 15 years just to find the 40 excellent employees we have today,” he adds.
Galbach applies a realistic approach to management.
“We have to make money, we have to get product to our customers on time without any problems,” he says. “Lean (management) is fantastic, but we have different customers with different needs, we do what it takes to meet those needs.”
‘Never Give Up’
Like most manufacturers, American Precision Fabricators faced difficult challenges in 2009 brought on by the economy and competition from overseas companies.
Galbach says the downturn led him to take a look at the products and parts his shop was producing.
“High-volume, smaller parts are easier to get from China (or other countries), but the more complex and difficult the part, the more difficult it is to ship from overseas or a long distance,” he adds.
The company is focusing on larger, lower-volume parts – particularly pre-painted parts and products that are more cost effective to build and ship domestically, Galbach says. “The SolarFeeders fit this position perfectly.”
No inventory of these parts is kept.
“What we’ve made today, we’re shipping tomorrow,” Galbach adds.
Galbach believes in perseverance in the face of economic challenges.
“My advice (to manufacturers) would be to never stop, never give up and continue to motivate people regardless of how many you have left,” he says.