As Southco celebrates a century as a quality manufacturer and 55 years in the field of access hardware and latches, president and chairman Stephen J. Kelly describes some of the noteworthy developments that have given more design engineers access to better solutions that have greater value.
Design News: This year, Southco is celebrating its 100th anniversary. How has fastening technology changed over the years, and what have been some of the most significant recent developments?
Kelly: Higher quality, less expensive products, achieved through better design and manufacturing techniques. Plastics are also playing an increasingly important role in the development of new access hardware technology. The combination of strength, functionality, and moldability of these materials is allowing us to introduce new and innovative products that simply could not be designed using traditional materials.
I would have to say, however, that probably the most pro found change to take place in the market in recent years is that design engineers are no longer focusing on upfront purchase price when it comes to selecting access hardware. More and more engineers realize that when it comes to access hardware, they have to look at the total installed cost in order to make the best economic decision.
Q: Can you give us an example of what you mean?
A: Sure. Suppose you have a hatch cover for a boat. Well, if the design engineer chooses a pair of hinges and a separate bracket to hold the hatch, it may appear to be cheaper in the short run. But it is going to cost the manufacturer money to install more components. As a result, more design engineers are asking us to come up with latching schemes that are integral to the part, eliminating the need to pay someone to do more installation work.
Q: Has this recognition of total- installed-cost changed the way you sell products to engineers?
A: It is a completely different mindset. In the past, we had sales people running around with big catalogs taking orders for standard products. Today, customized products make up a significant portion of our sales, and that figure is growing. Customized or modified products obviously require more applications engineering and, as a consequence, everyone on our direct sales force has a technical degree. In addition, we no longer depend solely on marketing to direct our product development efforts. We require all product design engineers to go out and talk to the people buying and using our products. That way, they have a better understanding of what our customers want and need.
Q: Can you give us a sneak preview of some of the upcoming technological developments in access hardware that design engineers can expect to see in the next few years?
A: Since everyone wants faster processing speeds, less scrap, and higher quality parts, we are going to see many more products being made by non-traditional manufacturing processes. In fact, Southco has an engineering staff dedicated solely to the development of new manufacturing techniques.
The drive is also toward miniaturization of parts, without losing any of the strength or functionality. We'll also see the development of new resins with improved properties and new ways to produce metal parts.
Q: Southco recently introduced its ZOOMģ interactive product selection guide on CD-ROM. How is this helping engineers in the access hardware selection process?
A: We recognize that when engineers need something, they need it now, and web-based services are helping us deliver the information within minutes, in some cases. The major advantage of our interactive product selector and other e-capabilities is the time savings. Southco's interactive product selection guide helps engineers select the best fastening solution in minutes. Engineers can also download CAD drawings directly off of our web site, which saves time by eliminating the need to create their own drawings or request a sample. We also offer web-based support 24 hours a day, seven days a week via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.††††
'When it comes to access hardware, total installed cost is the key.' Stephen J. Kelly is president and chairman of Southco and affiliated companies, headquartered in Concordville, PA. This 100-year-old, rapidly growing company designs, manufactures and sells proprietary access hardware and latching systems to the electronics, transportation, machinery, and other OEM industries in more than 46 countries. A lifelong resident of the Philadelphia area, Kelly received a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Drexel University. Before joining Southco in 1989, Kelly worked as an engineering manager with Exxon's venture capital arm and served as vice president and general manager of Fischer & Porter's U.S. instrument business. Kelly remains very involved in technical matters and visits with Southco customers around the world regularly.