O’Fallon Casting’s Decade of Growth
In its 10 years as O’Fallon Casting, the investment caster’s annual sales have grown from $10 million to $25 million.
Shannon Wetzel, Senior Editor
(Click here to see the story as it appears in January's Modern Casting.)
As O’Fallon Casting General Manager Vince Gimeno gives a tour of the investment casting facility in O’Fallon, Mo., he stops by each employee’s station to chat or share an inside joke. They are happy to see him. The mood in the facility is reflective of the changes Gimeno and owner Barry Hadley implemented over the last decade to grow the company and improve the process, quality and work environment.
Walls have been torn down in the offices and the shop floor, giving the facility an open, airy feeling. Doors have been replaced with automatic glass sliding doors to make it feel even more open. Wall space is covered with high-quality posters and signage. Some of the signs depict production information, others highlight castings O’Fallon Casting has made and their end-use. Gimeno points out the company has a photography club, so if an employee takes a good photo, they’ll make a poster from it. During the tour, he insists on introducing each technician and that they have their picture taken. The equipment—while important and still pointed out—is secondary.
Barry Hadley purchased O’Fallon Casting in 2003, and brought along Gimeno as general manager. Hadley and Gimeno had worked together for several years in other casting facilities and saw the opportunity in O’Fallon.The investment casting company was a good company with stable business, but it hadn’t grown in more than 10 years.
In the first meeting at their new business, Hadley and Gimeno told the employees of their vision to make O’Fallon Casting world class. It wasn’t just lip service. Hadley and Gimeno began proving they meant business that first year by engaging in small improvement projects, $10,000 at a time. The first project: updating the entry hallway into the production facility.
“We put in new floor and ceiling tiles and painted the walls,” Gimeno said. “Why spend the money on a hallway? We wanted to provide a better work environment and project a better image.”
From there, the projects grew in scale. New lighting was installed to make the plant brighter and more energy efficient. Hadley and Gimeno focused on infrastructure such as replacing the ancient A/C. While installing a new roof, dormers were added to provide natural light and ventilation. A new water filtration system was installed that recycled the plant’s water, cutting usage by more than half.
“We were using 1.5 million gallons of water a month!” Gimeno said. The drastic reduction led to O’Fallon Casting winning “2005 Manufacturer of the Year” for the City of O’Fallon and a “Gold Award” from the State of Missouri.
Improvement projects continued. Hadley and Gimeno modernized the wax department, ending the practice of transferring wax in buckets and replacing it with an automated wax recycling system. When they bought the plant, employees were hand-dipping the trees, so the company first purchased second-hand robots and rebuilt them for automatic dipping. Eventually the used robots were replaced with new, state-of-the-art ones, as more money became available.
“We had a transition where our employees went from shell builders to technicians,” Gimeno said. “Once they felt comfortable with the robots, we bought new Shellomatic ABB robots.” Total investment in the shell department was about $2 million.
The building was painted inside and out. Teams initiated 5S projects, starting with the worst of the shop, the grinding area, in 2004.
Since the investment casting business was bought in 2003, O’Fallon Casting has grown to 160 employees and from $10 million in sales to $25 million in sales. It has added equipment to increase plant capacity that now will allow the facility to produce $35 million in sales.
O’Fallon Casting’s employees—and customers—have learned to trust in Hadley and Gimeno’s vision.
“There was a cultural shift when Vince and Barry came aboard,” said Bruce Willson, O’Fallon Casting sales manager. “After the end of their first year, we could see they were committed to reinvesting the pennies we were making back into the business. Change has become a daily occurrence. Vince and Barry have the vision thing.”
“Technology Is What We Are All About”
Gimeno and Hadley knew the key to achieving the world-class status they sought was to advance technologically through automation and integration of computer systems.
“We had acquired a business with a good reputation and a strong group of core employees that only needed better tools to take them to a higher level,” Gimeno said.
Perhaps the technological changes can best be illustrated by the growth of the number of computers. In 2003, Gimeno said O’Fallon Casting had just five computers in the building. He began buying two computers a month for the company “on a journey to be paperless.” That pace quickened thanks to a sharp production employee.
“As the company is progressing, we have to look at the potential of people,” Gimeno said. “I had someone working as a manual grinder and he saw that I was buying two computers a month. He approached me and told me he knew a lot about computers and asked how much we were paying for those two computers. When I told him, he asked, ‘How about I build you three computers for the price of those two?’”
Gimeno gave the grinder a chance to prove his claim, and he succeeded. Now, nearly every workstation has a computer. Eventually, that grinder became the company’s full-time IT person.
“We gave him one challenge after another, and he kept rising to the challenge,” Gimeno said. “There is talent within a company, so much hidden talent.”
Fostering the hidden talent is part of O’Fallon Casting’s transition planning as senior managers begin to retire. Junior engineers are held responsible for introducing and implementing new technology and methods to the facility. They are given continuous improvement projects to lead in order to learn about the whole facility and process.
“Within the next 10 years all the top managers from 2003 will be retired,” Gimeno said. “Our young professionals will be running the company by then.”
In order to streamline its production, O’Fallon Casting teamed up with software company Castit to design customized production software. Launched in 2008, the Castit software is constantly being improved, and Gimeno said operators are encouraged to bring their ideas to the programmers. For example, the quotes module of the software was adapted to identify whether a part has core passages, overall dimensions, nondestructive testing requirements and metal type similar to an existing part. In another case, O’Fallon Casting was experiencing instances of operators bypassing a step in the hardness testing, so one of the operators suggested adding a requirement that the program would not move forward unless the step was performed and entered correctly and completely.
“Programmers aren’t in the trenches, so our operators are asked for their input,” Gimeno said.
O’Fallon Casting’s internal metrics, such as target for customer returns, show significant year over year improvement.
“The Castit production software is a robust quality tool,” Gimeno said. “It shows us not only who worked on a part, but also the process variables at the time the part was produced.”
The program—accessible by any operator at their work station—includes tons of reference material, such as a pre-inspection defect manual to help identify defect types and possible causes.
“We are always looking at ways of making it easier on the operator,” Gimeno said. “We have been steadily increasing our output within the same floorspace. We have grown our infrastructure to a capacity that will now sustain even greater levels of output.”
Along with the technological changes, O’Fallon Casting made changes to its sales strategy, as well. One of the main growth opportunities identified was customer education.
“We recognize that some special expertise is required when designing investment castings, and that we face intense competition from other processes that are easier to design for,” Willson said. “When armed with that special expertise, investment casting offers an incredible freedom of design that allows designers to combine multiple features, reduce the part count and significantly improve both the quality and affordability of their engineered products. O’Fallon Casting wants to help educate our customers to be better casting engineers and to avoid designing excess cost into their products.”
O’Fallon Casting stresses concurrent engineering to its customers and holds design classes in O’Fallon or at customer’s facilities. The classes teach more than just design rules of thumb; they strive to convey an understanding of the underlying reasons and the effect design decisions have on cost.
“We have a lot of engineers that graduate and get jobs in design and their exposure to castings is limited,” Gimeno said. “What we are trying to do is expose engineers to the capabilities of the investment casting process to show them they can eliminate several components that will result in significant cost savings.”
The sales and technological changes culminated this year in winning the AFS Casting of the Year competition for an intricate electronics housing made for the defense industry. The customer avoided hours of fabrication and assembly by combining multiple parts and features into a single, rigid piece. It is lighter and more precise than a comparable fabrication, and secondary machining was minimized.
“I love taking that casting to different events to show that if someone can visualize a part concept, we can generally cast it,” Willson said. “How do you design a casting? Easy. Visualize the features you need and knit the material around what you want.”
Now that the company has expanded to accommodate additional casting production, Willson and the rest of the sales team have work to do. Gimeno predicts that in the next 20 years, much of that growth will come from the forecasted growth of the aerospace market. Currently, 55 to 60 percent of O’Fallon Casting’s production is in aerospace. Other major markets include defense, medical and air and fluid flow.
Based on its track record, O’Fallon Casting appears poised to fill its capacity through customer education and continued innovation on the shop floor.