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Milestones on the road

Milestones on the road

Newton, MA-Visits with dozens of OEM suppliers this year reaffirm the tremendous vitality of this business as we approach the new century.

For example, companies now joining the growing Danaher family, such as Fluke and Atlas Copco Controls, will be able to respond much faster to customers, thanks to Danaher's "pull-through" business system. The $3 billion Washington, D.C. company sends a team of experts to newly acquired companies, helping them integrate 25 "house of Danaher" tools that vastly improve manufacturing operations.

California-based Ball Screws & Actuators reports that one of its manufacturing cells yielded these results after converting to the Danaher system: 98% reduction in both inventory and work space, 92% decrease in lead times, and a 750% increase in worker productivity.

"We run a very lean manufacturing company," says Steve Randazzo, general manager for Ball Screws & Actuators, "but our morale today is higher than ever before."

Pacific Scientific, a motor and drives company bought by Danaher in 1998, has enjoyed similar gains. Notes Vice President Ken Owens: "Using the Kaizen model of change management, we've implemented one-piece flow manufacturing cells, which also utilize Kan Ban inventory control methods. As a result, we've seen significant gains in product quality and a decrease in delivery lead times."

But you don't have to be part of a manufacturing giant to effect change in the OEM. Here are some glimpses of other noteworthy advances:

Systems solutions. The Minneapolis-based Tol-O-Matic exemplifies the move among entrepreneurial OEM suppliers to transform themselves from manufacturers of narrow-line products to providers of full-range solutions. In motion control, Tol-O-Matic began with pneumatic cylinders but now also offers a variety of actuators, plus motors and controllers. And coming soon: servopneumatics.

Hot plates. Think CD-ROMs are outdated? Hardly. PHD's "Designer's Resources Selector Guide" on CD-ROM has been distributed to well over 100,000 engineers since the first release in early 1997 and remains a very hot item for engineers interested in such products as cylinders, escapements, rotary actuators, slides, and grippers. Southco also reports a huge response to its Zoom CD-ROM, which contains data on some 13,000 latch and access hardware products.

Web experts. Similarly, suppliers throughout the OEM are rushing to create new selector guides and expert systems on line that will help engineers size products, download drawings, and otherwise speed design work. A prime example is Camcar's "Joint Works," which both saves time in choosing a fastener and helps prevent "over-engineered" designs.

CAD innovators. For those who have suffered through too many tedious CAD demos, check out the "Monkey Wrench Conspiracy," a CD-ROM from Think3 (formerly CAD Lab) that uses a whimsical video-game format to showcase features of its new release. And leading the move toward "process centered" CAD is CATIA'S new Version 5, an NT product that integrates design, analysis, and kinematics features and allows ready access to data throughout a manufacturing enterprise.

Tech bargains. Still other companies drawing attention by offering lower-cost solutions to design challenges. Sophisticated photo electric sensors from companies like Banner, Sick, and Tri-Tronics can substitute for expensive vision systems. And Nook Industries in Ohio can now design lead screws with the accuracy of ground screws--at one third the price.

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