Top Craft Tool Inc. understands that customers are in need of automated manufacturing equipment and parts in shorter time frames. President Gary Kimmen acknowledges this as an opportunity and insists on providing superior quality while adapting to customers’ schedule challenges.
Kimmen’s focus has been to keep Top Craft Tool’s customer base diversified, serving the military, aerospace, energy and automotive industries. Diversification and the focus on customer value have helped Top Craft thrive through 44 years of economic cycles and industry changes. The company’s success is attributed to the experience and know-how that Top Craft’s leaders and staff have brought to every customer job for nearly five decades.
Top Craft Tool designs and builds specialized machines, tooling and automation equipment, fixtures and gages. Beyond these products and services, Kimmen’s aim is to partner with his customers in all areas of processing. “For example, one of our fixture customers shared his frustration on how to get more parts to the production line faster with less load on the operator,” Kimmen relates. “We introduced him to Top Craft’s custom-designed ‘Pick & Go’ unit.”
The Pick & Go’s magnetic arm extracts metal parts out of a bin and places them on a conveyor, saving time, money and unnecessary strain on the employee. “Our customer increased production by 30 percent and realized a payback in under one year,” Kimmen maintains. He finds it rewarding to share his knowledge and expertise in day-to-day customer relationships and help them improve their processes.
One of Top Craft’s larger military customers tracks its supply chain with a supplier effectiveness rating that focuses on quality and service. “Top Craft scored a 97.5 percent overall, with quality at 99.5 percent and delivery at 100 percent,” Kimmen says. “As a small business in the industry, it is critical for Top Craft to achieve these levels of performance.”
Begins at Home
Kimmen understands that the road to success begins at home. “Training and development is key to our employees’ overall skills and capabilities,” he emphasizes. “Employees at Top Craft do a tremendous job with the lean training they received, using the continuous improvement methods in day-to-day operations.” Taking before-and-after photos as visuals to show how they improved their individual work stations has created a healthy rivalry among departments.
The quality control department has recently been re-engineered to improve ergonomics and process time. Updating equipment and adding a portable, computerized measurement device called a FaroArm from Faro Technologies Inc. – used to perform 3-D inspections of parts and assemblies – gives Top Craft’s quality control inspector improved skills for excellence.
Top Craft’s next project is the addition of building space, scheduled for this summer. “We are at full capacity and will utilize the additional 4,000 square feet quickly,” Kimmen explains. “This investment will provide Top Craft with continued opportunity to meet the growing demands of their customers.”
Global Tooling Alliance
Top Craft Tool Inc. has been working with other manufacturing companies in Michigan to find new opportunities for shared growth by becoming a member of the Global Tooling Alliance (GTA). “Approximately five years ago, the state put a program in place to assist struggling tool and die companies in Michigan hurt by the economic downturn,” Kimmen recalls. “The state offered tax breaks to companies willing to meet monthly to share resources.”
GTA members support each other by exchanging information and ideas, as well as sharing customer referrals and leads. In addition, they participate in automotive and military manufacturing trade shows to share costs and present a stronger combined image to the manufacturing industry.
Kimmen’s thoughts on outsourcing to China are simple. “What do you do if the outsourced parts have problems?” Kimmen asks. “Our industry is discovering that the extra costs and time to fix quality issues and make them right are enormous. While outsourcing may have been an alternative solution at the time, the results are proving otherwise.”
His passion for the business is immediately evident. “Companies that have outsourced jobs to China are missing the ‘heartbeat’ of what made manufacturing in this country great,” he declares. “My dad began this business, loved what he did and taught his sons everything he knew. I love this industry, and those roots run deep. The value I bring to my customer relationships simply cannot come from overseas.”