Online Tool Enables Company To Refocus

Perma-Brass, Inc. (Plymouth, Michigan) has had to make strategic changes in its manufacturing in order to survive. These changes included implementing new technologies, such as MFG.com (Atlanta, Georgia), to find new customers.


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Like many other small- to medium-sized companies that have seen their customers move their supply base or their entire operation to China and elsewhere, Perma-Brass, Inc. (Plymouth, Wisconsin) has had to make strategic changes in its manufacturing in order to survive. These changes included implementing new technologies, such as MFG.com (Atlanta, Georgia), to find new customers.

When Perma-Brass’ jobs began moving offshore, the company went through a period of introspection, where its personnel looked at its core strengths—skills and processes that it used in its everyday business since it opened its doors in 1992. It was then the staff discovered how to shift the company’s focus on the domestic markets that could use the skills, equipment and personnel it had been providing customers who moved to China.

“This is where MFG.com has made a difference,” says Ken Puls, Perma-Brass president. “It has allowed us to find customers in markets and industries we would never have found otherwise.”

Perma-Brass occupies approximately 18,000 square feet and employs about 30 people. Primarily known for its brass casting and finishing operations, the company is fully vertically integrated—raw material comes in one end of the plant and finished parts go out the shipping department. It houses a gamut of machines, from sand casting machines to CNC horizontal and vertical machining centers, CNC turning centers and CNC Swiss screw machines for small-diameter and long parts.

The company not only still serves the markets that moved overseas, but now it’s looking at these markets’ needs for more complex and lower-volume parts. Throughout the last 6 years, it has begun pursuing the production machining side of the business.

“We do quite a bit of production machining in all types of materials, including brass, stainless steel, all steel alloys and aluminum,” Mr. Puls explains. “We also subcontract any necessary processes, such as heat treating, anodizing, plating, chrome, hard chrome and nickel processes.”

According to Mr. Puls, today the company tries to bid on closer-tolerance work—work not likely to go overseas—where quality requirements and application requirements are of a higher level, demanding top-notch machining and inspection technology. Perma-Brass no longer competes for the “lower-level, easy work,” but instead, emphasizes its technology expertise.

“Recently, we’re concentrating on moving toward military and aerospace-type applications—basically small arms components where we do CNC milling and turning to strict tolerances and dimensional control, heat treating and various types of plating and assembly,” Mr. Puls explains.

The company was able to find these types of customers to broaden its customer base by using MFG.com. According to Mr. Puls, the company used traditional methods of looking for customers—manufacturing directors, registries, independent sales reps—for years. With the discovery of MFG.com, however, the use of those resources ended.

An online application for OEMs and suppliers of engineered-to-order components, MFG.com matches buyer requirements with potential suppliers possessing the right expertise, credentials and capacity for the job being sourced.

In the first couple months of using MFG.com, Perma-Brass landed a contract that exceeded $400,000 on an annual basis with good potential for growth, and since then, the company has landed quite a few other contracts as well. “We’re extremely pleased,” Mr. Puls says. “The site enables us to contact customers, buyers and decision makers who are interested in having someone manufacture parts for them, and we can immediately see if their requirements line up with our capabilities.”

Mr. Puls says MFG.com is a very efficient way of finding customers instead of making a lot of phone calls or having a sales rep try to interpret what Perma-Brass does and then understand a customer’s needs and how the company can help. “You get direct contact from customers who are sincere and want the work done. The results have been remarkable, which is not to say that using the site doesn’t require time and work. Like any other new technology, it requires a learning curve—albeit a short one—and the commitment to use it.”

He continues, “Basically, you can go to the site and, 5 minutes later, begin quoting jobs you know your shop has the capability to match with the customer’s needs. We’re on it almost daily and quote every time we’re on it.”

One of the strengths of MFG.com, Mr. Puls says, is that it quickly allows users to see what kind of work is out there and what industries the work is coming from, and it’s easy to use. “You can get company profiles, and you can then do more research about them and see if they’re truly a good fit,” he says. “This kind of info is very valuable, as well as the time saved. Also, rather than throwing out a bid on any turning job at an hourly rate, we’re trying to refine our capabilities with the customers we want to work for. We’re going after the more sophisticated, technical, multiprocess jobs where we have other core strengths, and MFG.com allows us to see all that work in one spot.”