Sunday, May 28, 2000

From Vietnam with ambition, discipline

Engineer's company now makes molds for auto manufacturers

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        America has indeed been the land of opportunity for Daklak Do.

(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
        Less than 20 years after immigrating from Vietnam, Mr. Do heads his own automotive-tooling company and has just moved his enterprise into a new 44,000-square-foot plant in Springboro.

        His is a classic story of hard work and vision.

        “I was kicked out of school in 1975,” Mr. Do said, recalling just one of the changes the communist regime wrought in his youth. Five years later, tired of “just sitting around and watching,” he boarded a boat that took him to Indonesia. From there, he came to the United States in 1983, sponsored by some cousins in the Dayton, Ohio, area.

        Bent on continuing his education, Mr. Do enrolled in Dayton's Sinclair Community College and then completed a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Dayton. He was hired by Masland/Lear, a large manufacturer of automotive carpet, and worked in that company's plant in Pennsylvania.

        “I spent four or five years dealing with tooling,” Mr. Do said, “and I can see opportunities in tooling. In 1995, I decided to do it on my own.”

        The aspiring entrepreneur returned to Southwest Ohio and began designing and fabricating aluminum molds. He is grateful for the start he got at Lear, and for the relationships formed there.

        “It's a very good company to work for,” Mr. Do said. “They gave me a very good opportunity to grow, and Lear very much supports me.”

        Advanced Engineering began by making tools for Lear operations, and that company continues to be the toolmaker's major customer.

        Said Mr. Do: “We make molds for almost every car manufacturer: Toyota, GM, Ford, Chrysler and Isuzu. No Honda yet, but we're working on it.”

        Inside the spacious plant, several employees are testing a newly minted mold. The silver contours mimic the floor of a small sedan. A length of plastic-backed carpet is heated to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit and then placed atop the lower portion of the mold. Workers lower the head to meet the lower tool, like a set of molars coming together. To obtain the greatest heat differential, the tool is chilled to 40 degrees with running water.

        A few minutes later, the carpet is removed from the compression mold, sculpted to fit the contours of a car floor. The rough edges will be cut by high-pressure jets delivering a stream of water at 30,000 pounds per square inch.

        “We test every tool before shipping it out,” plant manager Scott Paulson said. “We'll run some prototype trials, especially if the customer doesn't have the room to do them, or is too busy.”

        Nearby, other employees are modifying a tool to meet a client's changed design.

        “Changes are a big part of our business,” Mr. Paulson said, explaining that the auto industry's pace often dictates that a tool be made for one design, then altered for another. “Luckily, we have a lot of engineers on our staff; most tool shops don't.

        “We're not locking ourselves into auto-carpet tools. We're planning to expand into instrument panels and headliners, the fabric lining the car roof.”

        Mr. Paulson joined Advanced Engineering Solutions in May 1996 when he was a co-op student at the University of Dayton. He started working there full-time while completing his degree in mechanical engineering.

        “It was a good opportunity for me,” he said. “I've learned a lot more than just tooling. Working here, I've learned how to treat customers and how to operate a business. Our main focus is customer satisfaction and delivering a tool on time that works the first time they get it.”

        But making quality tools is not Mr. Do's only goal, Mr. Paulson said. “He wants to treat his employees well and run a business with morals and integrity.”

    Daklak Do started Advanced Engineering Solutions with two employees in 1995. Two years later, his work force had expanded to 12, and the company relocated to a 14,000-square-foot building in Middletown. By 1999, Advanced Engineering Solutions was employing 34 people and was running out of space.
    Deciding to remain close to the Cincinnati-Dayton corridor, Mr. Do bought land in Springboro's developing South Tech Industrial Park. His plant was designed to accommodate the firm's rapid growth, but Mr. Do owns 7 additional acres so there's plenty more expansion potential.
    As soon as the company completes the purchase of a Coordinated Measuring Machine and Computer Numeric Controlled machine, it will increase dramatically its potential for fabricating other kinds of automotive tooling.
    Advanced Engineering Solutions Inc. is at 250 Advanced Drive, Springboro; (513) 743-6900; e-mail:
        Perhaps Mr. Do's appreciation of the opportunities afforded him by his adopted country spurs him to extend those opportunities to others.

        “Most of the people who work here have become good friends of mine,” Mr. Do acknowledged, citing the example of office administrator Teresa Bush.

        The two met 17 years ago at a common workplace, and Ms. Bush helped the new immigrant with his English. Recently, Mr. Do offered her a position in his company.

        “I left the company I worked for for 20 years and didn't bat an eye, because of who he was,” she said. “Because of where he comes from, family is important. He values not only his employees, but their families, too. Family comes first.”

        According to Ms. Bush, Mr. Do's commitment to his employees inspires their loyalty. “Take (office manager) Cathy Walton,” she said. “She's been here from the get-go, and has worked hard. We'd be nowhere without her. And I think it's significant that in five years, only one person has left.“

        Mr. Paulson said Advanced Engineering Solutions will continue to recruit new employees.

        “The people we look for are mechanically-minded toolmakers,” he said. “We want problem-solvers and people who are willing to learn. They don't necessarily need to know anything about our industry.”


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