Midwest Tool and Cutlery Expands its Commercial Business
Forged platter has just received its final hammer blow from the 1,500-pound Chambersburg board hammer. Its next stop is the hot trim area, where it will be trimmed and pierced with one press stroke.
On a quiet side street in Kalkaska, Mich., in the upper part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula sits the Midwest Tool and Cutlery Company’s Forge Division plant. The shallow-cavity hot drop-forge facility may not be well known to many outside Kalkaska, but every day thousands of contractors and tradesmen use Midwest Snips® products forged at this facility to build residential and commercial buildings and for a wide range of industrial, automotive and plant MRO applications. This is particularly true for applications using hand tools to work sheet metal used in applications such as heating and cooling systems, metal roofing, metal siding and auto-body work.
The Forge Division is one of three comprising Midwest Tool and Cutlery Company. The other two divisions include the main manufacturing facility in Sturgis, Mich., which houses the corporate office, as well as hand-tool finishing and assembly operations including heat treatment, edge set, black oxide line, etc. Shipments for North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East – currently generating more than 2,400 orders per month – all come out of this facility. The Tool and Die Division in Caledonia, Ohio, which was acquired in 2009, manufactures key components of the company’s siding and fence tools and also contains a commercial water-jet cutting operation.
Midwest Tool and Cutlery Company’s Forge Division
Midwest’s Forge Division was established in 1978 with the acquisition of the Allegheney Forge Company. The parent company’s goal was to bring this key aspect of hand-tool manufacturing in-house in order to lower costs and ensure product quality. Primarily because of the low-cost source of natural gas used for the plant’s slot furnaces in the area at that time, the plant’s equipment was relocated to the Kalkaska area.
Plant Manager Stan Payne began his career in the forging industry in 1974 and joined Midwest in 1978. Payne has spent his entire career either running forgings himself or teaching others how to do it. After Midwest bought the forge, he relocated to Kalkaska to start setting up the recently acquired equipment in an unfinished building.
The Forge Division produces an assortment of “captive” forged parts for the production of finished hand tools
“I remember having to shovel snow out of the equipment foundations after the roof was finished,” Payne said. He’s been plant manager since April 1996 and has a strong background in forge-die and trim-tool design. Payne makes training a top priority to ensure that safety and quality of work are ongoing improvement efforts. Most recently, Payne directed the successful effort for ISO 9001:2008 certification, which was finalized effective July 1, 2010. The plant is also certified as a Small Business Administration (SBA) Hub Zone business.
Plant Operations and Equipment
Steel, which is purchased domestically directly from the mill or from other sources, flows into the plant in various round bar sizes. Common sizes currently range from 0.5-1.0 inch diameter based on final forged part dimensions.
Bars are stored on site in an indoor material storage facility then cut to length in the shear. Billets up to 1.0-inch-diameter round are induction heated. Larger diameters up to 10-pound capacity are slot-furnace heated. Forgings can be hot or cold trim processed in one of 13 trim/punch presses with capacity range from 28-110 tons. A capital-investment program is under way that would expand induction heating capacity. Specifications on the size and weight of forgings that can be produced at the plant are given in Table 1.
Products are forged by nine forging hammers with capacities ranging from 1,000-4,000 pounds (Table 2). Forged products can be processed in two batch annealing ovens and shot blast by two 6-feet3 machines. The on-site die and trim tool maintenance department handles minor repairs and maintenance to keep things running smoothly.
Expanding into Commercial Forging Business
The forge division has historically concentrated on “captive” operations (e.g., its main customer was the Sturgis plant). Thus, in addition to having to meet standards for very high quality for the company’s OEM customers and its own Midwest Snips products, it’s also well equipped for high-volume operation. As part of a strategic review of its business, Midwest Tool and Cutlery identified an expansion of commercial forging work as a key opportunity. The company has seen increased interest in this part of the business as other manufacturers look to shorten their supply lines and improve quality compared to, for example, forging products sourced offshore. The recent quality certification was in part driven by this strategic review.
“Achieving ISO 9001:2008 certification is an important milestone for the Forge Division. It illustrates to customers worldwide our strong commitment to quality and to our U.S. manufacturing facilities and workforce,” said Stephen Deter, CEO and president of privately owned Midwest Tool and Cutlery Company.
“We are expanding our efforts beyond our captive product line (Midwest Snips®) into the commercial forging market with our capability to produce small, forged metal components to a wide range of industries. Where component strength is essential, forgings cannot be matched by castings or stampings,” Payne said.
“If our efforts are successful, it would mean additional personnel and equipment requirements. The ISO 9001:2008 certification gives potential customers confidence that they are dealing with a company that has a sound quality-management system and could open more doors for the Forge Division. Our goal by the middle of 2011 is to expand to a second shift, which could mean more jobs for Kalkaska.”
Workers process 0.5- to 1.0-inch-diameter bar stock into parts for the production of hand tools.
The current slump in the U.S. economy has hit the entire U.S. manufacturing sector hard, particularly the manufacturing belt in the upper Midwest and in Michigan. If the plan unfolds and new jobs are added, this would certainly be good news for this small Midwest town.