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Aggressive management speeds construction of diecasting system.

Aggressive Management Speeds Construction of Diecasting System

The installation of a metal diecasting system is usually a lengthy procedure due to the numerous and complex steps involved. A new diecasting plant, for example, might require 18 to 36 months to move from initial planning to casting production.

Unlike many similar construction projects, however, a major addition to an aluminum diecasting plant at Nelson Metal Products Corp, Grand Rapids, MI, was planned, designed, built and fully operational in less than a year. What's more, the project cost less than had been expected.

Corporate Background

Nelson Metal Products specializes in manufacturing customized metal products, including die cast items, for the nation's automobile industry. This specialization began developing in the 1940s, when the firm was producing non-automotive metal products such as air horns for boats and other vehicles.

Management realized its metalcasting expertise had applications in the automotive market, and started casting zinc and chrome-plated zinc items for large automobile manufacturers.

About four years ago, the company began aluminum diecasting production for Front Engine Accessory Drive (FEAD) support brackets for the Big Three auto companies.

Nelson's involvement with the FEAD program has steadily increased, now accounting for about 60% of production and 75% of total poundage at its Grandville, MI, facility.

By mid-1988, the company was producing 60,000 lb of aluminum diecast products a day, a level close to its plant capacity. At this time, a major customer asked if it would be possible for Nelson to quadruple its production of diecast aluminum. This was the kind of opportunity that makes management both eager and apprehensive--eager for the new business but apprehensive about the logistics.

Expanding production capacity to meet this increased demand would require rapid planning, design, equipment acquisition, engineering, construction and considerable project coordination.

Nelson turned to its plant manager, George Todd, to guide and direct what would become a 33,000 sq ft expansion project with eight new 1400-ton aluminum diecasting machines.

"Although this project had a certain degree of urgency, it didn't really faze me becase I had been involved with similar, though less pressing, projects in the past," Todd said. "We knew from the outset what the keys to the project would be--quality contractors, organization, delegation of decision-making and teamwork."

Todd immediately committed himself to the project and established what he called the "War Room," two cleared-out offices that would become heardquarters for key decision-making personnel and a repository for blueprints, charts, computer-assisted design equipment and other materials.

A support team of cast metal consultants, engineers and architects was then assembled. Owens-Ames-Kimball, Grand Rapids, MI, was hired as architect and genral contractor because of its experience with similar, fast-track construction projects.

For the technical aspects of the project, including material handling, workplace layout, utility systems and environmental control, Nelson hired Eichleay Engineers, Inc (Illinois) of Chicago, a firm experienced in working on tight schedules for a variety of industrial clients.

Teamwork

Planning and design had to be done quickly and accurately to meet the new system's operational deadlines.

"There was literally no time to be waiting around for final drawings if this project was going to meet our tight construction schedule," Todd said. "We simply had to make sure that we got it right the first time."

To do this, Nelson's management adopted a "team" approach for the entire project. This required input from and interaction between everyone involved in the new system's construction.

The team approach found an important application in the project's technical design. Nelson sent six employees--five diecasting machine operators and their supervisor--to the Chicago engineering firm in charge of technical design.

In describing the reasons for this move, Todd said, "Those who operate the machinery day in and day out know better than anyone else how a new system can be built better or more efficiently. Their input was very important to us. Also, by sending them to Chicago, we could save some time in terms of having to shuttle personnel back and forth between Chicago and Grand Rapids."

Nelson also found that having its employees work with the engineers increased camaraderie and helped solidify the "team" as a working unit.

"The dedication and commitment to the project by staff and outside suppliers, and their interaction throughout was very impressive," said Mel Baskin, Nelsonhs executive vice president and chief operationg officer.

Delegation of considerable decision-making authority to personnel working on the project also proved helpful. This was done out of necessity, according to Nelson's owner/president Jim Humphreys.

"Our construction schedule didn't have a lot of time for committees and review panels," he said. "On the other hand, we were extremely fortunate to have personnel and contractors on hand who were eminently qualified to make such decisions.

Nelson also employed other techniques that were critical to the project's swift and efficient completion. To ensure that all parties well aware of the latest project developments, Nelson provided regular updates in its internal company newsletter. The company also initiated weekly progress reviews with staff working on the project.

Implications

Along with its successful management techniques, Nelson Metal Products' swift response to customer demand may also have implications for the casting industry. Humphreys believes the metalcasting firms that survive in the future will be market-driven and totally responsive to the needs of their customers.

"Although we certainly had plans of our own for growth, this particular project was a direct and swift response to a marketplace need," he said. "That's where the idea originated; what we finished ten months later was the net result of that response."
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Title Annotation:Nelson Metal Products Corp.
Author:Bachenheimer, Steven A.
Publication:Modern Casting
Article Type:company profile
Date:Feb 1, 1990
Words:921
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