This technical information has been contributed by
Kenmode Precision Metal Stamping

Quality? It's a Living Thing

Kenmode employees are thoroughly trained in all aspects of quality management, reflecting a company-wide commitment to quality at all levels of operation, from the shop floor to executive management
Photo Courtesy of Kenmode Precision Metal Stamping

Mark Shortt
Editorial Director
Design-2-Part Magazine

A precision metal stamping company "lives quality" through its company-wide commitment to excellence and customer satisfaction

The term "quality" is discussed in many different contexts, including manufacturing, and it means different things to different people. But Kenmode Precision Metal Stamping's co-founders, Werner Moders and Kenneth Haber, had a straightforward philosophy that has remained vital to the firm's operations since the beginning. They strove to build Kenmode's customer base by strictly adhering to standards of "uncompromised quality and performance" and by pursuing "customer satisfaction through continuous improvement." For Kenmode, quality, customer satisfaction, and continuous improvement are intertwined and have been keys to the company's continued growth through the years.

"Quality is giving the customer what they want at a cost competitive price," said Ken Wojcik, vice president of operations at Kenmode Precision Metal Stamping, in an interview. "In this day and age, that's conformance to the requirements."

Wojcik, a veteran of the manufacturing industry, remembers a time when you could sell quality to prospective customers. Today, he said, that's no longer the case. "At one time, you could go to your customers and say, ‘We have good quality systems.' But today, it's an expectation; our customers expect it. As part of doing business with you, they do not expect to get a defective part. They want to make sure that you have systems that are going to guarantee them that they're going to have a continued supply of good product, from start to finish. So in my opinion, whatever we do, we do for the quality of the part and the satisfaction of our customer, and it's just a given."

Kenmode ( is a family owned company that has been giving customers what they want since 1960. Werner Moders is still involved with the company as CEO and his son, Kurt, heads up operations as president. The company employs about 145 people at its 85,000-square-foot plant in Algonquin, Illinois, where it runs two shifts daily to make a variety of custom parts for the automotive, medical device, electronics, and consumer electronics industries. The company stamps parts out of materials that include steel, stainless steel, copper-based alloys, brass, bronze, and beryllium copper, as well as a host of medical-grade alloys and noble metals.

"We manufacture parts in all different types of shapes and configurations to close tolerances—and I'm basically talking thousandths of an inch," said Wojcik. "We use all progressive dies, but we do some limited light assembly and things of that nature that coincide with the products we stamp."

Kenmode's stamping equipment includes 63 parts presses with capabilities ranging from 10 ton all the way up to 200 tons. "Our speeds go all the way up to over 1200 strokes per minute on some jobs for the connector industry," said Wojcik. "For automotive parts, we may run anywhere between 40 and 80 strokes a minute on the 200-ton presses."

The company recently opened a new tooling department, where it operates state-of-the art CNC milling machines and wire EDM machines to produce its own tooling in-house, and also has a tool maintenance department.

"We basically go out and we quote jobs for the production—the stamping—of parts," said Wojcik. "We quote the job, we quote the tooling, and we design and build the tool for the manufacture of the part, which I think makes us unique. We're not just a tool builder who builds a tool to make the part, and then you've got to go and develop it. We do all of that in-house, and once we get into the production phase, we then continually maintain the product."

According to Tim Lynch, vice president of sales and marketing at Kenmode, the company is fortunate because its owners are willing to make significant investments back into the organization, and have invested heavily over the last several years. "We're known in the industry for being tight tolerance, high precision metal stampers, and we like to view ourselves also as being the innovators in the industry," said Lynch. "So we try to stay a step in front of our competition by investing in new technologies and things of that nature."
Another area in which Kenmode invests readily is the training of its employees. The company operates an apprenticeship program for tool and die makers, for example, and makes sure its employees are thoroughly trained in all aspects of quality management. It's all part of Kenmode's company-wide commitment to quality at all levels of its operation, from the shop floor to executive management.

"We have a very good quality system, and all of our people throughout the organization are committed to quality and participate in the quality of our systems and products that we produce," said Wojcik.  Pat Kenkel, director of quality at Kenmode, agreed. "Our quality management system is truly a management system; it's not just the quality department poking around," he said.

Kenmode has compiled—and made available online—several e-books that outline what an OEM should be looking for when evaluating a potential supplier's capabilities for delivering quality parts. One, entitled Top 10 OEM Demands and Decision Points for Selecting Precision Metal Stampers, makes the case that a metal stamper that values quality will not just meet standard quality expectations, but will live them. "The metal stamper should be able to demonstrate that it operates a total quality assurance program that begins with part design and prototyping and carries through to the end product and packaging," it reads.

Another e-book, A Checklist for Quality—Seven Questions to Gauge Quality in Metal Stamping Suppliers, makes the point that although quality is often discussed in quantifiable terms, such as technical specifications and zero defects, it's also partly intangible because it involves the more general term "excellence." When evaluating a supplier's quality credentials, therefore, it's equally important to determine whether the company demonstrates a "total commitment to excellence at all levels," as it is to evaluate "objective information and statistics on quality-related practices," the e-book states. "A metal stamping company will only deliver lasting value as a supplier when it demonstrates both best operational practices and a dedication to excellence," it concludes.

Metrics Play Key Role in Quality Management System

Metrics are essential to Kenmode's quality management system, according to Kenkel, who said that managers are required to report on them at Kenmode's monthly management meetings. "What gets measured gets improved, and we're working on that constantly," he said. "We've modified our metrics over the last five or six years and continue to do so; we've added different metrics this year than we did last year."

The company tracks a variety of metrics to measure quality performance, from parts per million (PPM) defect rate to corrective actions. "We're obviously watching our PPMs, both internally and externally; our customer incident rates; our on-time delivery," said Kenkel. "But we also look at all the internal quality metrics, and in each functional area, we're looking at efficiencies; we're looking at completed preventive maintenance; work orders done every month. Are we on time? All that's presented every month in our team meetings.

"We're also watching the sales guys, what they're doing; how many quotes? Are they turning quotes in an appropriate time to our customer? Are our corrective actions being turned in an appropriate time? So it's a pretty detailed metrics system that we've got."

How Customers Define Quality

How do Kenmode's customers define quality? That depends on who the customer is, whether it's a medical device manufacturer that requires compliance with federal regulations, or an automotive company with its own strict standards, according to Kenkel. Although the answer will vary with different companies, it's perhaps best summed up in what Kenmode strives to provide all of them: customer satisfaction. The company sends out an annual survey that tracks customer satisfaction and serves as the basis for Kenmode's continuous improvement efforts.

"What we've found with all customers is that you really have to try to please them," said Kenkel. "They want good parts on time, but I also think they want collaborative engineering up front. Our quoting department doesn't just spit out quotes; they actually redesign products and recommend easier manufacturability, and that's big. If we can build a lower cost tool because we've eliminated a station, or if there's something in our tool design that can extend tool life between sharpenings, all that lowers the overall cost of the product."

Kenkel said that many of Kenmode's customer report cards laud the company's service and response. "A lot of that comes from customer service, but it also comes from the quality department. When there is an issue, are you responding appropriately? We get a lot of compliments back when we respond to quality issues the same day. That's a given expectation for my department, but I'm amazed because there must be people out there that aren't responding in 24 hours. And that's just a little thing that people remember, but it helps define the quality."

Lynch agreed. "We get a lot of kudos from our customers for that," he added. "Our response time is unbelievable compared to the industry."

"When we talk about quality control, it's not only the processes; it's the capabilities," said Wojcik. "We do a lot of automated inspection—non-contact video type inspections of parts. We also have the capability of touch probe CMM. So we try to inspect the part where we have to, as our customer will.

"The second thing that's very important is defining the customers' requirements up front. We spend a lot of time upfront in preventive type actions trying to just do that—defining their requirements. When we get a job, we get a group together, a cross functional team that reviews the piece part drawing and all of the applicable specifications and requirements for the part. If there are any questions or concerns over tolerancing, or how a part's dimensioned, or an interpretation of a note or a geometrics tolerance, or a control feature, we mark up a drawing and we lay it out with red blocks and red lettering. It's all computerized and we put it on the drawing, and we send that off to the customer requesting their input.

"In some cases, we may be looking at opening up a tolerance; in other cases, we may be looking for guidance on how they're going to inspect the part. So once we design and build the tool, we're not arguing these things that are in the design already; we've designed those problems out. We take a lot of time upfront defining those requirements. The vast majority of our customers, after they've gone through the process, are very happy about it."

In-House Tool and Die Building Contributes to Quality

A metal stamper that designs and builds its own tools and dies in house will have better control over quality, according to Wojcik.

"It's important because if you go outside and you contract to have a tool built, that's exactly what they're going to do: They're going to build a tool to the design that you've approved. What we do is we build a die that's designed around the implementation of sensor technology. There are sensors that we put into a tool that we own that not only verify that the tool is functioning properly and keep it from a tool crash, but we also do measurements in the tool; we also do feature locations and also processes outside of the tool, like conveyors and feeds and straighteners, to make sure that all those peripheral equipment or operations are functioning properly.

"So we spend a lot of time designing that all into the tool. And we design it for manufacturing. For example, when we do a design review, we look at ease of maintenance. How can we design this tool so that this feature of the tool is easy to be taken out—in the press, maybe—and sharpened and then put back in? So there are things that we put into the tool that a typical person or a typical die building facility probably would not do."

Kenkel added that when people hear the words "quality control processes," they typically think "statistical process control," or SPC. But at Kenmode, quality control processes are defined differently, he said.

"We define it as good, robust contract review, which is what Ken explained," he said. "A component of that is the sensor technology, which is really protecting the tool, and also the whole, entire process that's guarding against any malfunctions or misfires in the process."

Kenmode's Checklist for Quality discusses some of the advanced technologies that are used to ensure quality. The best metal stamping suppliers employ advanced quality control equipment that includes automated inspection equipment, such as in-die sensors and video inspection systems that provide instant measurements and transmit records throughout the manufacturing process; statistical process control (SPC) systems that use statistical methods to track the manufacturing process in real time and SPC software to automatically chart variances from the norm; and coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) that precisely measure the part within the tightest manufacturing tolerances and check geometric dimensions and tolerances specified, before entering the data into the SPC system for real time, automatic review of charts.

Technologies also include optical vision systems, which take non-contact video measurements of part dimensions with resolutions to 0.000020 inch and then enter the data into the SPC system; functional gauges and custom gauges, ranging from handheld digital gauges that match the form, fit, and function of a component, to high-tech multi-sensor metrology systems that combine multiple laser and touch probe sensors to perform micro measurements; and in-die detection sensor systems, which are used to protect tools from damage and to verify product conformance.  

Kenkel said that in addition to having a well-staffed lab, Kenmode uses a variety of advanced measurement and inspection technology that automatically enters data into the company's SPC system. "The technology that we're using isn't necessarily unique to Kenmode, but I think that we have a lab that's better than most," he said. "We've got vision systems; we've got CMM technology that's on the leading edge of technology. We use OGPs, Browne & Sharpe, and we think we've got the best in the industry."

For quality management software, the company uses what he called a "homegrown" system that combines its MRP ERP system with its SPC and data collection systems.

Another important indicator of quality is the company's demonstration of a commitment to zero defects. But Wojcik said that in addition to implementing preventive actions to ensure quality, a company must demonstrate that it is willing to respond quickly to customer complaints and take whatever corrective actions are necessary to resolve the problem. Complaints of defective parts from Kenmode's customers are minimal, he said, but when they occur, the company takes them seriously.

"We'll start to do a containment function," he said. "We'll go through and we'll verify the lots; we'll work on the corrective action and possible causes for those defects. We'll put in some form of corrective action and then afterwards, we go through another sort or verification step to verify that the problem has been resolved. Sometimes, it takes a period of time to get this done, but we are committed to it and we understand the need for giving our customers 100 percent good parts."

One of the things that helps Kenmode be successful, Kenkel said, is that corrective actions are issued to the process owner. "We don't have a quality engineer out there leading the team, trying to figure out what the issue is. We have the department head; we have the manager of that press room physically looking at what the issues are. The tooling manager, if it's a tooling issue, he's got his team that's looking at it. So it's not just a quality department off to the side that's pushing this thing called quality; it's the people in charge leading the charge."

There are times when they do not find a root cause, Wojcik said, but they continue to look. They also look at similar, or like, processes. "If we've got a corrective action that we've instituted on one program, we'll look at like programs to see if we've got the same issues," he said.

"We have seven press rooms; we have two tool rooms, and we have display boards, if you will, in each area," said Wojcik. "So when a defective part is produced or a customer has a quality concern, it gets posted. Now, our people are not locked in to one department; they will migrate from department to department as needed. So, not only do we post these photographs, or quality alerts, if you will, in the department where the product was produced, we also have a general knowledge board, where, as people are walking back and forth throughout the day, they can see what kinds of problems our customers have had in other areas. So, definitely, part of our culture here is to make people aware of issues that we have in all areas."

To ensure that its commitment to quality reaches throughout its entire organization, Kenmode conducts quality training at all levels of operations. It begins with an orientation that Kenkel put together to give new hires what he called "a short indoctrination, if you will" into what Kenmode's quality systems—ISO 9001, ISO/TS16949, and ISO 13485—entail. 

"At that point, I go through what our customer expectations are and how we monitor how we're doing with our customers. It's kind of a 30,000-foot overview with all employees. So I could have an engineer in that room; I could have an operator, I could have an inspector. We offer classroom training every year; we go out to local community colleges and bring in things like SPC, things like GD&T (geometric dimensioning and tolerancing), blueprint reading. We offer technical training here; that's Ken's area."

As an example, Wojcik said, Kenmode's toolmakers have gone through training on the sensor technologies used by the company. "They know how to install them, they know how they work, and they know how they function," he said. "All of the toolmakers in both tool rooms have gone through that training. Our machine operators go through training: This encompasses the components of a punch press; all the peripheral equipment; all the different materials; how a die works; how the slugs are cut; how the parts are formed; features of the part—how to look at them, what they're looking at, what causes a burr; what causes variation in a form. And then the big thing that we're really, really hard on is training them for safety—how to be safe in the plant, how to report unsafe conditions. So all of our setup people, all of our operators have gone through this classroom training."

Lynch told the story of an auditor who, before leaving home to go to Kenmode, told his wife that he was expecting not necessarily a simple audit, but a good audit. "He said ‘I know that these guys (Kenmode) not only have good quality systems, but they practice it day in and day out.' That's nice to hear because even when we go through an audit, we're not sitting here scrambling, running around, and trying to get documentation done. We live and breathe it and practice it day in and day out. We've had kudos from some major medical customers, saying, ‘usually I come in here and I tell you guys what you could do better. But I came in here and actually learned some things from you guys that I'd like to implement.' It was very nice to hear."

Know What You Need and How to Get It

Engineering and purchasing managers at OEM and product manufacturing companies consistently say that quality is at the top of their list of concerns when they evaluate the capabilities of their suppliers and potential suppliers. Here are seven questions, courtesy of Kenmode Precision Metal Stamping, to ask when sourcing your next project:

What quality control processes are in place?

What equipment is used to ensure quality? (Are they leveraging advanced technology?)

What information technology is used and how is data shared?

What quality certifications do they hold?

What industry –specific experience do they have, and do they adhere to industry standards?

Are employees at all levels regularly trained on new quality standards?

Does the company demonstrate a commitment to zero defects?

Source:  A Checklist for Quality—Seven Questions to Gauge Quality in Metal Stamping Suppliers, by Kenmode Precision Metal Stamping/Kenmode Tool and Engineering, Algonquin, Illinois.

Top 10 Quality Indicators

Kenmode has outlined, in a guide designed specifically for medical device manufacturers, ten quality indicators for selecting metal stamping suppliers. Here are the company's top ten indicators of a quality-driven metal stamping company:

Top management commitment and company-wide engagement in quality

Adherence to global quality standards: ISO 9001 and ISO 13485

Engineering, design, and tool build expertise in house

Risk management for complex products

Robust launch and qualification processes

Prevention-focused process control

Rigorous change control processes

Careful supplier selection, monitoring, and evaluation

Timely and effective corrective and preventive actions (CAPA)

Quality training at all levels

Source: Ten Quality Indicators for Selecting Metal Stamping Suppliers—A Guide Designed Specifically for Medical Device Manufacturers, by Kenmode Precision Metal Stamping/Kenmode Tool and Engineering, Algonquin, Illinois.

This technical information has been contributed by
Kenmode Precision Metal Stamping

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