As the final step in the metal manufacturing process for its customers before final assembly or sale, Qualtek Manufacturing continuously strives to improve lead time. “In our world, lead time is the most important thing and pressure from the customer is always there because we are getting parts often when they are already late,” says Vice President of Business Development Chris Fagnant.
The Colorado Springs, Colo.-based contract manufacturer specializes in metal manufacturing solutions and boasts stamping, heat-treating, vertical heat-treating, finishing and wire electrical discharge machine capabilities. “It’s a big deal understanding how metals form and react,” Fagnant adds. “Understanding basic chemical properties and adjusting the material for maximum efficiency and excellent performance is our focus, and how we differentiate ourselves.”
For more than 50 years, Qualtek Manufacturing has been providing metal manufacturing solutions to customers in the medical, clean energy, aerospace and industrial industries. Although its expertise in metals helps put it ahead of the competition, Qualtek Manufacturing maintains its customer base through vertical integration.
For example, the company not only provides stamping for one of its customers but it also executes a deburr operation, completes passivation, packages and ships the product. This cuts the lead time down from three to four months to shipping parts weekly. “We are able to deliver short lead times by vertically integrating,” Fagnant adds. “That’s the stuff we pride ourselves on offering from the supply chain side.”
Qualtek Manufacturing is known for its metal-stamping capabilities and servo-driven presses that ensure quality is built into all stamping processes. The company purchased two servo-driven presses, one in 2009 and one in 2010, which Fagnant says gave it a “big head start on the competition.” “We are still not even touching the surface of what those presses are capable of,” he adds. “It has taken tool and die to another level and is attracting future tool and die makers. Those presses do a lot of the work, last longer, react more predictably and deliver a better finished product.”
Qualtek Manufacturing plans to look for more ways to make the most of the technology and will transition all of its presses to servo presses in the future. The state-of-the-art technology is the future of the manufacturing industry, Fagnant believes, and he adds that the company will be well positioned because it was an early adopter and will have a longer working knowledge of the presses.
Servo-driven technology is just one way Qualtek Manufacturing works to achieve zero defects. The company also maintains quality through defect prevention, continuous improvement and statistical analysis. Qualtek Manufacturing is ISO 9001:2008, ISO 140001, AS9100 and OSHA SHARP certified. “The fact that we are an ISO 9001:2008-certified company that drives all of the processes around delivering on quality no matter what department,” Fagnant explains.
Qualtek Manufacturing also ensures quality by using the SmartScope optical tester that performs dimensional and geometrical testing in minutes, eliminating the days and hours spent ensuring quality by hand. One part may have 20 to 30 critical measurements and dimensions that need to be verified, and SmartScope can do so within two minutes. “This speeds up lead times, improves documentation for the customer and allows our people to spend more time running parts and less time taking measurements to ensure they did it correctly,” Fagnant adds.
Building the Workforce
State-of-the-art technology is important to stay ahead of competitors in the industry, but it does not mean much without skilled laborers to operate those machines. “We have a tool and die apprentice, and he is the only tool and die apprentice in the state of Colorado,” Fagnant attests.
To start building up the workforce, Qualtek Manufacturing rewrote and modernized its apprenticeship program last year and registered with the Colorado Department of Labor so every student finishes the program with a journeyman’s card. The company’s ultimate goal is to help rebuild the manufacturing workforce by training from within, partnering with local school districts and participating in STEM programs. Qualtek is also encouraging other manufacturers to get involved.
“We helped form the Pikes Peak Regional Manufacturing Group, which is a partnership group of companies that holds monthly meetings,” Fagnant explains. “We look at what is affecting us, and the workforce is always at the top of the list. As an industry we say that we can’t find good people, but at the same time we aren’t necessarily supporting all the programs that would allow us to develop qualified candidates coming out of high school.”
Qualtek Manufacturing is working to become a leader in the industry by breathing life back into manufacturing in the United States. Fagnant says the company wants to re-shore products to the United States by becoming more efficient and employing more automation. “We need to stay competitive so we don’t run into an economic downturn that lasts 20 to 30 years because we don’t have the ability to make anything,” he adds. “We want to help build the supply chain in the United States so it can handle being the world’s No. 1 manufacturer.”