Cover Story: Goldens' Leap

By Shannon Wetzel, Senior Editor

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To view a slideshow of Goldens' photos, click here.

{mosimage}The casting facility in Cordele, Ga., was just sitting there, quiet and empty. Production at what was once a dedicated automotive supplier had been abandoned for more than two years, waiting for some other owner with some other plan to make it work.

Ninety-five miles away, George Boyd Sr., president and CEO of Goldens’ Foundry and Machine Co., Columbus, Ga., sat (along with his sons and brothers, also in management with the iron casting company), dreaming of continuing a streak of modernization. They had replaced eight manual molding machines with an automatic cope and drag line for the company’s 100-600-lb. castings in 2001, and next on the list was updating operations for castings weighing 150 lbs. or less.

The Boyds were wrestling with modernizing the line within the existing 100-year-old building, all the while, they knew what was happening to the facility in Cordele as it failed. They knew when production stopped, and they knew when it was up for sale.

In 2006, Goldens’ took a chance and made an offer because they knew they could make the facility work where previous ownership failed. By May 2007, Goldens’ had re-equipped the facility to match its casting needs, and the plant was in production.

The new facility doubled Goldens’ capacity and made the company competitive for both small and large iron castings. With the new plant, business improved 50% in 2008 with sales projected to grow 50% from $24 million with one facility the previous year to $35 million with two.

Not the A&P

Goldens’ produces castings for the construction, mechanical power transmissions, oil and heavy truck industries. An investment in the ‘80s on its machining capabilities helped it become a single-source supplier for its customers. In the late ‘90s the iron caster made a fundamental shift in production as it became harder to compete in price and lead time against other companies that were specializing in niche markets.

In order to open up more opportunities, Goldens’ had to figure out how to increase its production and decrease its labor. In doing so, George Boyd said they could no longer be the A&P supermarket of castings.

“We were not able to produce the right quantity at the price point required,” he said. “The idea was to make a capital investment to improve our competitiveness and open up some opportunities.”

Company management decided it needed to automate the production of its large castings in order to produce the demanded volumes at the right price. In doing so, Goldens’ eliminated extremely large castings from its repertoire, thereby narrowing its focus to gray and ductile iron parts between 5 and 600 lbs. In 2001, the company replaced its manual jolt and roll-over machines with a Heinrich Wagner Sinto 48 x 48-in. automatic cope and drag line. Now the company is able to compete for jobs in pump housings, construction and agriculture that they couldn’t before because of the volumes required. 

“We went from 1950s machinery to state-of-the-art equipment in one step,” Boyd said. “It was a complete success. Even on the heels of 9/11, with a drop in volume, it was worth the investment.”

The new line, which produces 20-plus molds per hour, increased throughput  more than threefold and substantially lowered the variable cost per mold. It shifted the facility from a low-volume shop to a medium volume producer of large castings.

“We tripled our capacity while reducing our costs,” Boyd said.

That same year, Goldens’ reinitiated investment in its machining capabilities, bringing the total number of CNC machines in-house to 35. More than half of the castings made at Goldens’ are machined there.{mospagebreak}

Wouldn’t It Be Nice?

After Goldens’ digested the success of the automated line for its large castings, it realized that in order to compete on castings weighing between 10 and 100 lbs. it would have to upgrade that part of the business as well. Goldens’ needed to modernize its small casting capability, where two different size automatic matchplate systems were in use. The modernization was planned for its 100-year-old building.

Meanwhile, Boyd, who had toyed with the idea of expanding through the purchase of an additional plant in the past, was aware of the automotive casting facility in Cordele and tracked its progress and closure. Because it was  very new, with modern equipment, he assumed the asking price was too high.

“We knew the plant was empty, and we knew what was in it. So we talked about it and thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice?’” Boyd said. “But we knew it was too expensive.”

The longer it sat, however, the deeper the Boyds looked at how costly it would be to change the current infrastructure in the Columbus facility to accommodate the modernization of the small castings lines. Eventually they asked the broker what the story was on the Cordele plant. After it sat untouched for 18 months, Goldens’ made an offer that was accepted.

“Over the last 10 years, we had looked at metalcasting facilities with the possibility of expanding our footprint,” Boyd said. “The Cordele plant was the closest and by far the best engineered.”

Goldens’ had to make a few adjustments to the facility, which was designed for high-volume automotive castings, in order to make it suitable for lower volume, jobbing production. The company kept the plant’s original sand and conveying equipment, but Goldens’ changed the molding line to a Savelli automated tight flask cope and drag system and installed a Gaylord Isocure core machine with plans to install a second one in the near future.

“We went the cope and drag route because in our experience that gives us better quality, requires lower maintenance, and provides more opportunities to produce a wider range of parts,” Boyd said. “The cope and drag does have higher capital costs, but we needed to replace three machines of two different flask sizes. This lowered the capital cost hurdle. It was the right choice for us.”

Goldens’ also installed a robot for core-setting for a specific job at the Cordele site. It’s the company’s first foray into robotics. “It’s not exactly us stepping into the wild blue yonder of robotics,” said John Boyd, sales manager at Goldens’ and George Boyd’s son. “But it’s our way of seeing if this type of thing fits our shop.”

The new plant operates as a satellite to the casting facility and company headquarters in Columbus. Due to Cordele’s proximity to Columbus, someone from Goldens’ headquarters usually makes it out to the new facility every day.

The facility in Cordele more than doubled Goldens’ capacity. Both plants have 150,000 sq. ft. of space, although Columbus has it stuffed in 30 rooms, compared to Cordele’s one room. The Cordele plant’s three induction furnaces also have the capacity to produce 18 tons of melt/hour—8 tons/hour more than the Columbus plant. But the tonnage currently demanded is higher in Columbus, and both plants have capacity for more.

Hundreds of patterns have been converted from the old matchplate lines to the Savelli line, and more than 100 new jobs have been sold. {mospagebreak}

This Is Personal

Part of Goldens’ staying power has come from each generation of ownership’s commitment to making the company capable of thriving in the next era. For George Boyd and his brother Tom, who is vice-president, part of that legacy was the purchase of the new facility in Cordele.

George Boyd has a fierce feeling of responsibility for the people who depend on Goldens’ for a livelihood, which include not just his three sons George Jr., John and Ed, but the rest of the 240 employees and their families. He remembers a customer who was pulling jobs out of Goldens’ to move to an offshore source. The customer could tell Boyd was becoming upset and told him not to Take it personally; it was just business. As Boyd recalled the conversation, his face became firmer. “That’s impossible,” he said vehemently. “This is personal.”

Goldens’ was founded 126 years ago by George and Tom Boyd’s great grandfather, great-great uncle and an investor. The families of those three men, now the fourth and fifth generations, are current stockholders.

Boyd’s son Ed, the vice-president of operations, can attest that the legacy behind him is a source of pride even as he feels a growing burden of responsibility, particularly as the economy worsens.

“It’s not just our family that has been in Goldens’ for generations, but a lot of the employees here have generations of families that continue the legacy,” he said. “And that’s been on the forefront of my mind even more so now [with a recessed economy]. It’s time to batten down the hatches and hope the ship doesn’t sink on our watch.”

George Boyd Jr., vice-president of administration, agreed. “I am to the point where the romantic thought of being the fifth generation is gone,” he said. “I don’t feel an obligation to my ancestors, but I do feel an obligation to the people who work for Goldens’ and to my brothers and father.”

George Boyd Sr.’s three sons all worked in the metalcasting facility growing up but started off on separate careers as young men. Eventually, they all found their way back to Goldens’.

“When each of us hit our early 30s, we started to feel the call to come in,” John Boyd said.

Similarly, Tom Boyd spent a few years seeking out what could be learned away from home, but he eventually returned to the family company. Walking through Goldens’ two facilities last November, he cheerily greeted the operators and supervisors, stopping often to discuss a particular part or job or simply for some playful teasing. “I love the foundry,” he said, taking a deep breath. “It smells good to me—like home.  {mospagebreak}

Not Again

The current economic crisis is not the first one that Goldens’ has weathered. George Boyd Sr. remembers the early 80s as the roughest time in a 100-year span for the company, and he dreads living through a similar crunch.

“Those of us that were around for the early 80s know we don’t want to experience that again,” Boyd said. The fact that Goldens’ was there and survived is little consolation, and Boyd predicts the industry will once again see substantial contraction.

In the last year, Goldens’ has struggled to increase pricing to accommodate rising operational costs. The company looks at its pricing monthly and may add surcharges accordingly but rarely increases cost. The Boyds know low-cost countries are too close of a threat, although as the value of the dollar has decreased, a lot of the advantages of foreign sourcing have been whittled away.

“We’ve had customers threatening to go to China balk because they were not seeing the savings they had hoped for while taking on too much of a risk,” John Boyd said. 

To stay ahead of the economy, Goldens’ is reviewing its operations to look for any area for potential cost-trimming, such as lowering internal reject rates and improving throughput.

“Right now our business is off, but not radically,” George Boyd Sr. said. “The next two quarters will be rough.”

Goldens’ will continue to run both its plants, which are complementary to each other and are specialized for separate types of jobs.

And, as the company has always been, it is picky about the jobs it takes on. Boyd said the company refuses to let the market set its price. 

“The ‘market’ is never anything except the lowest price that a buyer can find. At the end of the day, Goldens’ can only sell its product based on its cost, not the cost proposed by some other competitor,” he said. “We try to rely on our ability to provide competitive pricing based on our plants and reliable quality. We want to be competitive but not the lowest price because typically that’s not profitable. We’ll do what we always do—watch our bottom line and go after as much business as possible, but carefully. We aren’t taking up new work that we don’t feel confident in taking.”

Boyd said Goldens’ is committed to the two facilities and has been happy with the effect the new investment has made on production. How the recent upgrades will affect the future of the company may take another generation to determine.  MC