Sunday, April 6, 2003

General Tool leader in its industry

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

READING - At General Tool Co., success is measured as much in how results are accomplished as in the results themselves.

The company's plant is filled with impressive products: generators that power naval warships, parts that provide essential functions for space shuttles, and machines that fabricate complex aerospace components. But the achievement that tops the company's list this past year is its designation as a Best Manufacturing Practices Center of Excellence.

  The Best Manufacturing Practices Center of Excellence is in College Park, Md. It defines a best practice as a "process, technique or innovative use of resources that has a proven record of success in providing significant improvement in cost, schedule, quality, performance, safety, environment or other measurable factors which impact the health of a company."
  General Tool earned "best practice" certification for the following:
• Nonconventional inspection methods.
• Machining standards.
Deep pocket milling.
• Improving throughput in computer numerical control programming.
• Centralized tooling/cribware.
• Supply management partnership.
• Certification to National Aerospace & Defense Contractors Accreditation Program standards.
• Weld operator education and training.
• Fabrication facility.
• Roof mist cooling.
• Safety program.
• Friction stir welding.
• Cleanroom facility.
  For information about BMP, call (800) 789-4267, or visit General Tool Co. headquarters is at 101 Landy Lane. Information: 733-5500.
The BMP program is a joint effort of the Navy, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the University of Maryland. Its mission is to validate, document, publish and share best practices used throughout industry, government and academia. To do that, BMP teams conduct on-site surveys of organizations that wish to participate.

In 2002, General Tool applied for "best in class" rankings in 18 areas that range from nonconventional inspection methods to friction stir welding to weld operator education and training. It earned "best practice" status for 13 of them.

For the 56-year-old firm, the recognition was a welcome acknowledgment that its commitment to education and creative problem-solving do make a difference.

"Our claim to fame is that we can do everything from taking the raw materials and fabricating them to doing the installation. We just put in design capabilities," chief operating officer John Cozad said. "We have some things going on here that are better than most other companies."

Said Steve Pecor of client General Dynamics: "The completeness of their quality system and the way that each discipline at GTC revolves around the contents of their manual is reflected in the truly fine quality of their delivered products, and their unabashed willingness to improve on the already acceptable."

William J. Kramer Sr. and Harold S. Poe would be pleased. The two vocational education instructors launched the company in 1947, hoping to forge a profitable venture from their expertise in machining and metalworking. Their capital? An assortment of small machines and five employees. Kramer's son, William J. Kramer Jr., describes the company's first job for Procter & Gamble.

"Much of the initial work was producing, by the thousands, the metal shear pins that were used to protect P&G's large-product manufacturing machines," he said. "GTC also began working with stainless steel, which led to business with General Electric in 1948."

In its 56 years, General Tool has expanded exponentially at its Reading site and has opened an aircraft tooling division in Macon, Ga., and a tool and die division in Carbondale, Ill. It also has a plant in Woodlawn.

The company has survived and grown, Cozad said, largely because it has continued to invest in its people and champion the importance of education.

"We are a big supporter of the UC College of Engineering," he said. "We offer scholarships and have co-ops on site. Bill Kramer is on the board of directors.

"We think education is the key to success in manufacturing in the future, and we encourage all our employees to further their education."

And, just as it prides itself on solving problems for customers, General Tool has tackled its own problems aggressively.

"We embody the essence and spirit of continuous improvement," Cozad said. "We don't talk about it; we do it."

In the late 20th century, General Tool dealt with financial uncertainty, a changing customer base and the retirement of key managers. It was able to transform a ticklish start as a primary contractor for Allison Engine Co. into a positive and long-term relationship.

General Tool grew from its challenges. It began a bonus plan that allowed employees to share in monthly profits. It also enabled employees to become experts on specific projects by forming teams to focus on one customer's needs.

"Having a team of people with this combination of skills to work with makes completing a project of this kind especially rewarding," said N.J. Blaskoski, Allison's vice president of industrial engines. He was referring to General Tool's accelerated design, construction and testing of a mechanical generator starting system.

"In essence, a GTC team functions as a company within a company," Kramer explained, adding that the team approach has resulted in consistent praise and contracts from customers. And because it has nurtured mutually beneficial relationships with customers, the company doesn't have to chase after every potential job in every corner.

"Today, and for the future, GTC seeks those core customers who are committed to continuous improvement and shared success," Kramer said.

"We learned the hard lessons, and realized the pitfalls of trying to be all things to all people."


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