Like many manufacturers recovering from the recession, Pace Industries’ St. Paul, Minn., division is in the midst of “rightsizing” its operations to remain profitable. However, that doesn’t mean the aluminum die caster has a lesser need for qualified, experienced manufacturing employees. “The biggest difficulty since growing is finding the people to do the work,” Division President John Coats explains. “As surprising as it may sound, it takes a long time to find 10 people. They don’t like hard industries like this or are not suited for them. This has been a struggle since the spring when business jumped considerably.”
In response to the labor shortage in the area, this division launched an apprenticeship program in conjunction with the state of Minnesota at the beginning of 2011.
According to Coats, this is just one of the many ways Pace Industries is making itself more attractive to recruit and retain the top people in the industry.
“I’m most proud that the corporation has introduced a lot of programs that are people-based,” Coats says. “There is the marketplace chaplain program and many other concepts that help grow people and make them more productive.”
“The thing I’m most proud of is the corporation has taken the initiative to make this happen because they really care about individuals,” Coats adds. “This shows where Pace is going as a whole.”
This division – which is located in the St. Paul suburb of Arden Hills, Minn. – was founded as St. Paul Metalcraft in 1960. At that time, the operation focused on producing small zinc and aluminum parts using unique die configurations.
The company was acquired by Pace Inc. in the 1990s, which was later purchased
by worldwide leader Leggett and Platt. Leggett and Platt later sold off its die cast division, which included the St. Paul facility as well as 11 other companies and two tool and die shops.
Today, the St. Paul division of Pace employs 120 people in a 98,500-square-foot facility. The operation specializes in producing aluminum die castings for highly cosmetic, complex and difficult-to-fill parts using flash-free, net-shape production methods.
The St. Paul office serves numerous sectors, including appliance, automotive, avionics, electrical, furniture, home and building hardware, hydraulics, industrial, instrumentation, lighting, medical, motors, ordinance and computer hardware, plumbing, valves, fittings, power and hand tools, prototyping, sports crafts, and telecommunications.
The division’s die cast equipment includes aluminum die cast machines with capacities between 350 and 900 tons; automatic ladles; glass bead metal cleaners; and vacuum units.
The operation’s secondary equipment includes trim presses with capacities from 6 to 50 tons; CNC machining centers; milling machines; tapping units, drill presses; and indexes. For finishing, St. Paul utilizes vibrating machines, sanders and buffers.
Coats says the division focuses on medium- to low-volume parts.
Pace Industries continues to drive waste and inefficiency out of its operations to improve the bottom line in the wake of the economic crash of late 2008.
“Capacity in die casting has decreased the last several years for a variety of reasons, and we’re having to adapt to that,” Coats says. “We continue to try to improve our delivery, quality and costs. To be out in front of the market is key to growing the business.”
While die casting capacity has decreased, customer demands for perfection certainly have not. Coats says clients still expect zero PPM from every order, and the St. Paul division is striving to meet that demand by working toward its TS 16949 certification for the automotive industry.
“They do not to want products they have to sort through or look at,” he explains. “We are striving to move in that direction.”
Making the Products
At the St. Paul division, Pace Industry can produce up to five different alloys of aluminum based on customer specifications.
The aluminum is melted down in furnaces before injected into machines that force it into a die, which forms several parts at a time based on the number of cavities.
From there, the excess is trimmed away for reuse and the product moves on to the next operation process. Based on the customer specifications, the St. Paul operation also has the capabilities to assemble parts with washers, rubber gaskets and heating coils, as well as a variety of additional small assemblies.
In the ongoing attempt to right-size its operations, Coats says the St. Paul division is pursuing options for robotic automation to increase consistency in its products.
“We’re looking at consolidating some of the work as well as trying to improve the quality of our outside processes,” Coats says.
Bevy of Services
Pace Industries prides itself on offering a variety of services through locations throughout North America.
Pace’s Airo division in Loyalhanna, Pa., was founded for producing aluminum die cast compressor blades for the nuclear industry, the company says. Since then, that division has grown to serve a variety of specialized markets through its custom-designed, 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.
Its capabilities include tool design and construction, impregnating, pressure testing, chromating, painting and assembly. “With our technical background, experienced staff and management team, the Airo Division can become your single-source for precise aluminum die cast products,” the company says.
The division’s impregnation services is what separates Pace from the competition since few die casters offer this capability. This process seals porosity in any metal casting that must be pressure tight, and the treatment is applicable to iron, steel, copper, brass, bronze, aluminum and magnesium alloys, according to Pace. The company also says quantities from one to several thousand pieces can be treated.
“Castings used in pressure applications are usually pressure tested to determine if the casting leaks and therefore requires impregnation, or to verify that an impregnated casting has been sealed,” Pace Industries says. “Airo Division provides ‘air check’ testing for low pressure applications and ‘hydrostatic’ testing for high pressure applications. All pressure testing fixtures are designed and built in our own tool shop.”
The Airo division also has installed a complete new chromating line with an overhead crane system. According to Pace Industries, chromating is a surface treatment given to die castings to increase their resistance to corrosion. The coating also serves as a primer for base paint or dyes.
South of the Border
Located four hours south of El Paso, Texas, Pace Industries’ Chihuahua, Mexico, division was founded in 1998. Through this division, the company serves as a leader in the Mexico aluminum industry by providing extensive value-added services like painting, machining, assembly, impregnation and chromating.
Pace Chihuahua has expanded its capabilities and services for customers through a 200,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.
Its machining capabilities include simple drill and tap operations and complex CNC operations, the company says. Finishing services include trimming, deburring, shot blasting, vibratory, tumbling, painting, chromating and impregnating. This division also provides full machined and assembled components packaged according to customer specifications, the company says.
Serving the Midwest
Pace Industries’ Grafton, Wis., division was founded in 1947 and today is comprised of four facilities totalling 400,000 square feet of manufacturing space as well as 100,000 square feet of warehouse space.
This ISO-certified division specializes in the manufacture of complex high pressure die castings, machining, painting, polishing, testing and assembly. This division began lean manufacturing in 2008.