Frazier & Frazier Knows Its Way
Shannon Wetzel, Managing Editor
Click here to see this story as it appears in the July 2017 issue of Modern Casting
Charles (Chuck) Frazier’s office walls are like many walls of family-owned metalcasting facilities. They are covered with pictures from the past—early memories of a business just starting and futures being built. Frazier also keeps the birth certificates of him, his uncles, and grandparents displayed. A shelf in the corner carries a collection of books and other trinkets.
“I keep those birth certificates on the wall so I know I put my britches on the same way everybody else does,” said Frazier, president of Frazier & Frazier Industries (Coolidge, Texas). “My father was a molder. He ran a foundry for another man, but he always wanted his own foundry. This community wanted some industry, so my dad got a little loan, bought an closed school’s gym and began hammering and making molds.”
The foundry was started in 1972, right after Frazier served four years in the U.S. Navy. He worked with his father, the senior Charles Frazier, making ductile iron castings without a lab—watching the chemistries using chill wedges. Along with the metallurgical knowledge, Frazier’s dad instilled in him the importance of customer service and dedication to the community, and those pillars have remained in the company.
“I think the reason we stayed in business this whole time is because we felt customer service was paramount,” Frazier said. “Above all things: customer service. To be a world-class operation, you have to move your quality continuously to a higher level. You can’t be satisfied with yesterday’s quality. Then in terms of people, you have to invest in training and treat your employees with dignity and respect.”
With two shifts running around the clock at the iron casting facility, a team-based management approach fosters ongoing training and communication across departments. On the equipment side, the metalcasting facility has invested in robotics and automation for molding, coremaking and grinding to keep up with customer demands. But the focus remains on the customer relationship and employee training.
“All employees have aspirations and dreams, they want to be a somebody,” Frazier said. “So we try to make sure we have a place for people to belong. Everything is team-based and we emphasize training.”
At Frazier & Frazier, customer service means delivering quality parts, responding quickly to requests, and helping problem solve in clutch situations. It supplies iron castings up to 200 lbs. to industries like agriculture, energy, construction, water works and power transmission.
“If a customer calls today and said, ‘Look guys, I got to have this part in two days,’ we’ll turn the schedule upside down to accommodate, and I think that’s what we mean by taking care of the customer,” said Lee Ann Ewing, secretary treasurer at Frazier & Frazier.
Frazier pulled out a letter from a customer from earlier in the week: “This is typical of what we get.”
The letter praised the metalcasting facility for its work on a recent job.
“I think we get those because we are so customer-driven,” Ewing said. “We do what it takes to get them what they need.”
Part of Frazier’s customer service is as simple as making himself and the rest of the management available.
“A human being answers the phone here, and they never ask who’s calling because what does that matter? I will speak to anybody,” Frazier said. “We return calls, text messages and emails immediately.”
Frazier also emphasizes management presence on the plant floor. The metalcasting facility has automated data collecting systems in place, but supervisors and management are encouraged to leave their offices to see, hear and even feel what’s happening in the operation.
“I don’t want a written report, I want a vocal report,” Frazier said. “If you don’t go out on the floor, you aren’t going to be a world class supplier.”
Ewing pulled up a scrap report from the day before.
“Yes, this is in the computer, but we still take the copy to the floor. We aren’t just looking at a monitor in our office,” she said. “Like Chuck says, we need to ‘get a handful of sand.’”
Frazier believes data tells part of the story, but being physically present at the line can tell the rest. He wants his employees to be able to read the data while also understanding why changes might occur in the statistical trends. He wants them to know how to readjust the inputs and why those modifications would fix the issue.
“I want the furnace operator to know what he’s charging,” he said. “I want him to know he’s not just making ductile iron, he’s making an engineered iron. It is engineered and designed for a specific function. It is supposed to fail at a certain tensile strength, it’s supposed to yield at a certain tensile strength, it is supposed to have a certain percentage of elongation, and there’s a reason for all that. I want him to know all those things, not just how to run a magnet over it to get a magnet full of pig iron and a magnet full of that other material.”
The best way Frazier & Frazier has found to do this is through its focus on keeping managers and supervisors on the shop floor and emphasizing the team approach to decision making and training.
“The supervisor is supposed to be right in the middle telling his people not just what to do but why to do what they are doing,” he said. “And they all understand about customer service, from the janitor to the coremaker to the molder. They know who the customers are, what the parts are, and why they need to be done a certain way.”
Ewing said the teams at Frazier & Frazier help instill a sense of community in the plant that resonates to the surrounding area, as well. Coolidge is a small town with a population of 1,000 people in the mostly rural Limestone County, about an hour and a half south of Dallas. Frazier & Frazier Industries is one of the larger employers in the area and participates in many local drives, organizations and events. Ewing pulls out another letter also received that week. It’s from a community member, thanking the company for its involvement.
“We pride ourselves in taking care of the area, the community and the people here, as well,” she said.
Frazier nodded. “Because that is what you are supposed to do. People lose track of that.”
The offices and buildings at Frazier & Frazier are not fancy but the organization runs sophisticated operational systems and keeps a bustling, well-staffed full metal and sand lab.
Konico McLennan runs the IT systems, and his job is to interface the company’s technology with the people who use it. McLennan has been at Frazier & Frazier for 16 years, and though his job is computer-based, he is required to be as present on the shop floor as the rest of the staff. His challenge is to improve the operation’s efficiency and quality through automation while keeping the technology’s complexity commiserate with the abilities of the people using it.
“We want a robot, but we want a robot people can operate,” Frazier said. “We want a lab, but we want a lab people can understand.”
McLennan tells the executive team what’s possible to automate, and the team decides whether it’s an avenue best traveled.
“We have to stay current but we don’t get too caught up in the technology,” Frazier said. “It needs to be operator friendly.”
McLennan said he looks at the network from the philosophy of system complexity leads to production simplicity.
“The more complex a system is internally, the easier it is for the people using it,” He said. “We are a lot more automated than we used to be. Our automation is not where we are eliminating people. It is more of an assistant to the people—another set of hands.”
Frazier & Frazier is ISO 9001:2008. Busy technicians in the metal and green sand labs conduct tests throughout their shift and keep track of the data points to make sure they fall within specification for a given part. Tight records are kept so that in the event of a defect, Frazier & Frazier is able pinpoint for the customer when and how it occurred and the immediate steps taken to correct it. Scrap rates generally come in under 5% and often under 3%.
In addition to the labs, Frazier & Frazier uses a portable coordinate measuring machine for part layout and portable Bhn hardness testers which supports specialized customer requirements. Investments over the years—from testing to melting to employee training—are made with the goal of gaining better control for better quality parts. According to Frazier, this emphasis will continue as the customer demands it. And that will be the company’s formula for the future.
“We will grow as our customer requires us to grow, but we are going to do it in a sustainable way,” Frazier said.