Deep Drawing is Low-Waste Alternative to Machining Price-Sensitive Materials
A fully assembled TOW anti-tank missile
Photo courtesy of White Sands Missile Range Museum (www.wsmr-history.org)
A New York Company Specializes in Making Parts for High-Vacuum Environments
Gasser & Sons, Inc. (www.gasser.com), an ISO 9001:2008 certified and ITAR registered manufacturer that provides precision metal forming and machining services, makes components of a TOW anti-tank missile used by the military. The company displayed examples of the deep drawn parts, including the skin of the missile and the nose, earlier this year at several Design-2-Part Shows, including the Atlanta, Secaucus, N.J., and St. Charles., Mo., events. But future orders for the components are by no means certain after the President announced his plan to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan by 2014. Just how big an impact the President's decision will have on the company's orders remains to be seen, according to Dan Singer, a sales executive with the Commack, New York-based company.
"It's probably going to be another year or so before we're really going to see what effect it has on sales, but we're seeing a lot of uncertainty," said Singer in an interview. "They (customers) are having us quote quantities anywhere from about 500 or 600 per year up to about 6,000 per year. So there's a pretty big variation in what they're looking for, and it just reflects the uncertainty of what's next [for the use of the components].
Despite the uncertainty, Singer says that Gasser is well positioned to absorb any drop in demand for the missile components that may occur. Loss of some military work won't cause the company to shut down or even lay people off. "Obviously, we don't want to be losing any business; the goal is to grow year over year," he said. "But it won't be detrimental to us, because we don't have all our eggs in one basket. We're pretty diverse, which helps us out because if one industry takes a hit, we'll still be pretty secure."
Gasser's specialties include the manufacturing of medical X-ray housings and casings; components for X-ray tubes used in medical, industrial, and security applications; and precision metal spools for the fine wire industry. The company also makes parts for the electro-optical, electrical, and electronics industries, among others. But Singer says there's a common thread in much of what Gasser does that goes beyond simply what industries the company serves. In addition to producing precision metal stampings, machined parts, and assemblies, the company specializes in deep drawing, a compression-tension metal forming process that radially draws a sheet metal flat blank into a forming die using a mechanical/hydraulic action press.
"Our parts are a more cost-effective way of making precision parts on a higher volume," Singer says. "A lot of the materials that we work, which really make deep draw an attractive process, are materials that are used in high-vacuum environments. That's really where we've made a stronghold for ourselves—in the X-ray industry, in the high-power industry. We do a lot of stuff that's used in a high-vacuum environment--real precision parts."
As an established supplier to the X-ray industry, Gasser has developed a long record of achievement in producing radiation shielding enclosures for medical and industrial X-ray housings. That experience, coupled with the demand these days for parts used in high-vacuum environments, has given Gasser ample opportunity to develop new business relationships in multiple high-growth markets.
"We've worked with every major X-ray company out there and provided them the highest of quality," Singer said. "We've made a pretty good name for ourselves in the medical field, and we're starting to see that sort of spill over into the security area as well." Potential new applications for the company's deep draw process include parts for machines that scan passengers' bags at airports.
"Right now, we're having some pretty in-depth conversations with some big players in the security X-ray industry," he continued. "That's an area that we're branching out in, and we've got some opportunity on the table that we're going to be taking advantage of, within this next year or so, to get into that area."
Why is deep drawing a preferred method for making the types of parts that Gasser produces, such as radiation shielding enclosures for medical and industrial X-ray housings? Much of the reason has to do with the materials, such as Kovar, nickel, copper, and some of the more expensive alloys, that are used in these applications. Deep drawing is not only a cost-effective way of making precision parts in higher volumes; it's also a low-waste alternative to machining these price-sensitive materials for high-vacuum environments.
"These are really price-sensitive raw materials that are affected by the metals market on a pretty regular basis," says Singer. "Obviously, from a manufacturing standpoint, you want as little waste on those as possible; you want to reduce cost as much on the raw material as you possibly can.
"What's good about our process is that we can make high, high-quality precision parts, holding tight tolerances," he continues. "The way that we make them is an alternative to machining, where there's a lot of waste. The difference with us is that our raw material starts out at almost the net size of the final product, so your waste is incredibly minimal. The more waste that you have on a cost-intensive material, the more money that you're literally throwing in the garbage. So that's really where we become very beneficial. Just on a production level of precision parts, the value-add is tremendous with the process that we have. You're saving money on your piece prices; you're saving money on raw material. It's just, all around, a good long term option."
The same need for precision parts that characterizes medical and security X-ray applications is also present in parts used for aerospace and defense applications, such as missile defense and targeting systems. "The precision and the quality that are going into those missiles are tremendous," Singer notes. "You're talking about hitting a tank that may be 12 or 15 feet by 8 or 10 feet; that's a pretty small target area. Obviously, any time you're talking about a combat environment, you want to be as accurate as possible to prevent any unnecessary casualties or collateral damage. So the quality of parts that we produce, and the precision and tolerances that we're able to hold to keep those missiles where they need to go and have good impacts on those targets—and at a cost savings to the government—is really where we are a beneficial process."
Amid talk this election year about various political platforms and policies that might benefit businesses, including manufacturers, it's easy to overlook opportunities already available to manufacturing companies through established government programs. Gasser, however, hasn't. According to Singer, the company has taken advantage of federally funded education programs that have allowed the company to send some of its press operators to school to learn such essential skills as CNC operating and basic programing.
"My generation--the under-30 generation--wasn't introduced to manufacturing as an option, really, in high school, so it's nice to see that the government is getting involved and really pushing to open the doors for the opportunity that is here. We have a lot of Baby Boomers in the industry who are going to be retiring, and a lot of positions that will need to be filled. It's good that we're seeing some of these manufacturing jobs come back from overseas, but at the same time, we need bodies to fill the positions.
"So that's one of the policies that we've seen take a good, positive effect on us. You've got a basic press operator, maybe someone who graduated high school, and now they're moving on to running CNC machines, learning how to program them. That's going to open up a lot of opportunity down the road for them."
Applying X-ray Technology to a New Area: Solar Energy
Gasser also makes metal parts for the glass-to-metal seals and ceramic-to-metal seals used in solar power generation equipment. It's an area that the company has become involved in over the last few years, and, as Singer says, "It's still pretty new for us." Basically, the ceramic-to-metal, and the glass-to-metal sealing technology that's used to create vacuum seals for tubes used in X-ray machines can also be used to make vacuum seals for receiver tubes in solar electric power plants.
"The amount of years that we've spent in that industry making a lot of those Kovar components, those metal components that are going to be sealed either to ceramic or to glass, just transfers right over to the solar industry," he explains. "It's kind of using the technology of the X-ray field in a new area."
Business Relationships versus Transactions
Regardless of which industry Gasser may be serving, the company actively seeks to develop long term partnerships built on close communication and collaborative effort. One of its key capabilities is its ability to solve customers' manufacturing problems. "That's something that we kind of put forth even before someone becomes a customer," says Singer. Having a number of degreed engineers who can provide design assistance helps Gasser get a jump on providing customers with the best possible part at the lowest possible cost. Unlike many companies, Gasser isn't content to simply respond to a prospect's request for quote (RFQ) within 24 hours.
"I know there are a lot of places out there, where, if you send a print in, they'll have a quote sent to you 24 hours later, quoting exactly your print," Singer acknowledges. "We don't see the long term value in doing something like that. We'd rather establish a relationship right off the bat, and by ‘relationship,' I mean more of a collaborative effort. When I get a request for quote, the first thing we do is get in touch with them and let them know what our process is. We really like to have technical conversations as early on in the relationship as possible."
This often means that when receiving a drawing and RFQ, Gasser will set up a conference call involving Singer, Gasser's engineering department, and the person who sent in the RFQ. "We'll pretty much roll our sleeves up, get our hands dirty, and see where we can make this part more manufacturable, where we can make any design changes that will make [the part] more cost effective to them. And basically let them know we'd rather do this now--try to save you money upfront--rather than just quote your print, and then five years down the road, the light bulb goes off and someone says, "Hey, let's try to cut costs out.' We'd rather do that right up front. It's a pretty good determining factor on where the relationship is going to go, and it's pretty well received.
"I think that nowadays, between emailing and text messaging, we've gotten pretty disconnected," he continues. "When you send in a quote, you just expect a generic response. To have an engineer call you and say, 'Hey, let's work this out, let's try to save you some money'--I think people really respect that. So we look for business relationships versus, let's say, just transactions."
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