Lounging, Continuity And Commitment

Many manufacturing companies are family businesses (or began as one) and are passed down from generation to generation. On a recent trip to Switzerland, I visited what may be the "mac daddy" of family manufacturing businesses.

Some people are cat people, and that's OK. However, my domestic animal preference is a dog. My dog gives unconditional love and never minds sharing his dog house with me when I've been put there by other members of the family.

With the short break between the June/July and August issues, I took a few days off to spend time with my dog. My kids and wife were working, so my downtime was uninterrupted. Sure, I cut grass and did some chores, but mostly I chilled out. As you can see from the picture, I had the perfect companion. It was nice. However, now I'm back to work and redoubling efforts to produce a compelling magazine. Here are a couple of interesting visits I've made since the last issue.

Continuity

Many manufacturing companies are family businesses (or began as one) and are passed down from generation to generation. On a recent trip to Switzerland, I visited what may be the "mac daddy" of family manufacturing businesses.

I found the scope and longevity of this company impressive. Located in Tauffelen, not far from Bern, Laubscher Precision produces more than 3 million parts per day, making it the largest parts producer in Switzerland. While that is no small feat in itself, this company will be 160 years old in 2006. Even more impressive is that ownership has remained within one family and is now in the sixth generation. I met a member of the next generation, a young man who is learning the family business, working on the shop floor. Learning the business hands on is what this metalcutting dynasty has been doing since 1846.

Touring the shop is like attending a precision turned parts trade show. The variety of the 500 production units used to produce the shop's daily parts quota shows no favoritism; it uses whatever process or machine necessary to get the job done on time and to specification. It uses coil-fed automatics, Swiss-type automatics and CNC Swiss-type, rotary transfer, CNC multi-spindles and a host of machines used for secondary operations. With the inventory of equipment they operate, Laubscher has its own rebuild and retrofit department.

While some have rung death knell on the family-owned machine shop concept, companies like Laubscher and many shops located here in America, demonstrate that the obituary for this type of business is premature. Good luck to generation seven.

Commitment

Too often, foreign companies choose to dabble in United States' lucrative manufacturing market with minimum commitment and investment. When business is good, they hang out a shingle and start selling. If business conditions go south, they high tail it back across the ocean.

However, there are many overseas companies that choose to do the work and participate in our market with commitment and investment through thick and thin. One such company is Horn USA, Inc. (Franklin, Tennessee).

I visited the company headquarters in June, and it is evident that they continue to grow. Horn's domestic debut of its cutting tool line was presented at IMTS ‘98. Because it was successful in its native Germany and Europe, bringing the tool line to the United States seemed like a natural growth strategy.

Rather than poach off the U.S. market, Horn set up a manufacturing plant in Franklin. On the third expansion, the manufacturing capacity, which started with two production cells, has grown to 16 cells.

I had a chance to speak with Dave Fabry, Horn's commercial manager. He says, “We do a lot of custom work. Therefore, it makes sense for us to be close to the market for a quicker response. In addition, it makes imperial sizes as the standard, whereas in Germany, these would be special orders.”

In the case of Horn and numerous other foreign-owned U.S. manufacturers, I look at this way: If we can't have the home office, we'll take the hometown investment.