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Deco Products Company
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Quality is High Priority for Precision Zinc Die Caster
The company utilizes a variety of evaluation and monitoring systems to ensure quality and repeatability
Quality is capable of being programmed, monitored, measured, simulated, documented, and validated. But what differentiates low, moderate, and high quality? Most people who work in contract manufacturing have some notion of how quality differs from part to part, and component to component, but what does it really mean to offer the highest level of quality on a repeatable basis?
Unlike years ago, there are very stringent rules and requirements nowadays for creating quality parts and products every time precision CNC machinery goes through a process cycle. There are now ISO certifications and specific industry certifications, as well as guidelines from trade associations, Mil-specs and corporate mandates, and unwritten mandates from the global marketplace. Most excuses for poor quality become a moot point when documentation is reviewed for adherence to quality specs.
A zinc die casting company in America's heartland is able to prove its ability to provide high-quality parts on a repeatable basis. Deco Products, an ISO 9001:2008 certified contract manufacturer in Decorah, Iowa, has built a reputation for churning out quality parts, subassemblies, and finished products for the automotive, electrical, heating and air conditioning, plumbing, trucking, water sports, and office furniture industries.
Company officials report that Deco (www.Decoprod.com) can handle a wide variety of production volumes, starting with a good-sized, small run of approximately 1,500 parts.The usual medium-sized run is about 10,000 to 25,000 parts or components; moreover, if requested, the company can handle production runs into the millions of pieces. Besides conventional hot chamber zinc die casting, Deco provides CNC machining, hydraulic trimming, assembly, and testing. In addition, the company offers secondary and finishing processes that include powder coating, vibratory tumbling, polishing, and electroplating.
With a wide variety of primary and secondary and finishing processes in-house, Deco can easily be considered a one-stop manufacturing shop. "We have all of the capabilities we need under one roof," says Jim Raptes, the company's Eastern regional sales manager. "All too often, in the past, you had to find a die caster, then you had to send it out for machining or plating, or various add-on processes that needed to be done to the component. Over time, under the direction of Chris Storlie, Deco's general manager, we decided to bring all of those capabilities to the OEM as a one-stop shop. This was important to our customers because when we ship the product, we are totally responsible for all of the processes that the part needs."
The utilization of shot monitoring software is one way that Deco Products is able to keep on top of quality issues before they happen. "Shot monitoring helps us with optimizing machine performance, and good machine performance leads to better parts. It also improves consistency and repeatability," says Mike Murphy, the company's engineering manager.
The shot monitoring system is actually hooked directly to three different facets of the shot system on any given die cast machine. The shot monitoring software takes process readings that are then relayed to another software system. The shot monitoring equipment is a portable unit that can be hooked up to different die casting machines as needed.
"We can use the shot monitoring data to make graphs," says Randy Tangen, Deco's operations manager. "The shot monitoring is done real-time during the shot process. We're looking at velocity, a fill time of 25 milliseconds, zinc pressures, hydraulic pressures, and the flow rate of the molten metal. All of these things determine whether it will be a good shot. By looking at it from part to part, we can determine whether or not the machine is running quality parts consistently. This all has to do with repeatability; since we have multiple die casting machines, and parts may run in different machines at different times, the shot monitoring helps us make sure we're getting the same results on a part on any machine, any time that it's run."
Mold Fill Simulation Enhances Quality and Efficiency
Deco's engineers are also able to bring about higher quality, added efficiencies, and cost effectiveness to its die casting processes with Flow-3D Cast, a mold fill simulation program that can simulate mold cavity filling and, therefore, anticipate production problems before they happen.
"The whole idea is to optimize our operation so the processes are repeatable and robust," Mike Murphy points out. "The main focus of our engineering group is to make sure that the design is such that it can be tooled well and will run well without problems. For example, mold flow analysis is really here to make us a more efficient company, to get to a good finished product in a quicker, more efficient way. We're also here to support the quality control department and the process engineering side, so we can assist them in working with our customers."
The dedicated software simulates what's going on inside of the mold during filling. "We enter what the mold cavity looks like and the mold design into the software with all of the shot parameters, and then we can simulate the cavity filling," says Murphy. "This way, we can find problem areas before they happen."
Another benefit, according to Murphy, is that engineers can use the simulation program on initial tool design to optimize the runner and gate system to fill the part cavity more efficiently. Therefore, the company's engineers are able to improve tool design greatly from the beginning of the design process. "Then, when we get the tooling built, some of the trial and error that historically went on is out of the way," Murphy says. "So we're able to fill and get a good part finish much more easily, and more predictability with the mold fill software. And it validates part requirements that we have to adhere to. This software is a good way to validate if a part is going to work well for us. We have a number of legacy part molds here, and as we encounter problems on these older parts, we're able to use the software to improve situations with those parts as well."
Deco's clients represent numerous industries and their capabilities vary greatly. Initial design and design assistance are engineering services that Deco provides to them, for both custom and standard parts. "We collaborate with customers to help them with their designs in-house," says Murphy. "Sometimes, we have to get their ideas off of a napkin. If someone comes in with a rough sketch, we can basically design a complete part for them. One of our main focuses is to be able to work with our customers no matter what their capabilities are."
Die Casting, Secondary Machining Are Enhanced with Automation
Automation plays an expansive role in Deco's production operations. Cost effectiveness and a quicker time to market are evident in operations that have been automated.
"Automation starts with our die cast machine line," says Randy Tangen. "In some areas, we have automation to deliver the zinc to the die cast machine. In our larger machines, automation starts with extractors that take the part out of the die cast machine and then drop it on a cooling conveyor, which takes it to a trim and machining cell. On our die cast machines, we also have automated reciprocators that spray die release agents on the die before every shot. And, with some of these types of automation, we're able to run multiple machines with fewer operators. The operators can actually monitor the machines rather than manually operating them."
During the last seven years, Deco has developed an army of small, automated secondary machining centers that work in conjunction with its trim presses. "We're able to cut down on the moving of parts throughout the building for secondary operations," says Tangen. "So it's less moving of parts and less scrap. We've developed one-off machining centers for a lot of the mobile parts that we run. These are dedicated, in-house-built machining centers for a particular part, or a particular group of parts. We have an operator that loads and unloads the machines."
Deco uses hot-oil die heaters on its die casting machines to accelerate production times and bring about consistency, repeatability, and uniform processing. "Basically, we're capable of running hot oil in any of our die casting machines," says Mike Murphy. "The hot oil units basically circulate hot oil through the mold. And because it's thermostatically-controlled, we can set the temperature. It benefits us because we can get the molds up to a good operating temperature much more quickly by preheating the molds. This helps to reduce our scrap and helps us hold our operating temperatures, which, again, goes back to consistency and reducing part variation. In addition, we get a more uniform mold temperature and it helps get the zinc to fill into all of the mold areas."
Tangen remarks that one of the major benefits of the hot oil units is for producing thin-wall and small-part castings that require a decorative finish. "We're able to bring the mold temperature up higher than what we could with just a regular zinc fill," he says. "So this helps us fill the thin walls and deep holes."
Deco has several major quality assurance systems and safeguards in place to ensure high levels of consistent quality. First and foremost is the company's adherence to ISO 9001:2008. "Besides our ISO certification, we also work with our customers on their PPAP (production part approval process)," says Murphy. "We are also familiar with many of the environmental regulations, such as RoHS (The European Union Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive) compliance. We have a pretty up-to-date QA department. We have a CMM, gages, a comparator, and a spectrometer. We have in-process inspections, and we use a wireless connection for that on the floor at the machine. We can tie right into a control plan so we know what to measure for each part."
Quality assurance at Deco Products can be handled at a work station in real time. "It cuts back on paperwork, and we can tap into data as the part is being made," says Murphy. "An inspector is able to pull up the current information and know exactly what to check on a part, but also, in the office, it's possible to pull up the latest inspection information. The inspections that occur at each workstation are documented. We have some customers that will ask for certification documentation for the measurements we're taking on select features of their parts, which we can provide for them."
Continuous Improvement Team Tackles Problems and Ideas
The die casting company has undertaken a formal program of efficiency improvement initiatives to address potential problems and issues, and also to float new ideas that could create a more efficient workplace. "In the last couple of years, we've created a Continuous Improvement Team," says Tangen. "We funnel things through to the department heads from the team to make improvements."
The improvement team that Deco put together consists of two specialized staff members that analyze and interpret these ideas full-time. Murphy says that many of these ideas end up being put into operation. "In a company with a couple of hundred people, there are a lot of ideas floating around for things to improve," he says. "So the team is set up to take these ideas and filter out the best opportunities for us to pursue. They address the ideas and keep them being reviewed and worked on until they become reality. We're a lean company, so we practice improvement throughout the company."
A Thriving Export Business
Many contract manufacturers have jumped on the export bandwagon during the last several years to take advantage of the ever-increasing markets opening up in developing countries. Deco Products is an integral part of this trend, as it continues to export its standard and customized castings to countries all over the world.
"A portion of the castings that we export are custom die castings, and quite a few are one particular casting," Jim Raptes remarks. "Some of this exporting is also enjoyed by companies that are based in North America, which have set up operations offshore. When they set up offshore, even when they do go out to find a die caster, whether it be India, Asia, or Europe, they are still finding Deco. We are still providing the best quality at the best price. Another area of exports that we find to be a growing market is Mexico itself. We have a very good outbound program there, and an excellent, high-quality engineering group down there. We are exporting custom parts to them. We also have distributors throughout North America that we ship products to. They'll then ship them to Mexico, Europe, and South America."
Company officials maintain that about 25% of the company's sales are derived from exports. "From a sales and marketing perspective, we take a look at the global opportunities to grow our business; it is a very global market today," Raptes responds. "We can't be blindfolded and think the work is only in our backyard. So we do see opportunities globally these days. Right now, I think the strongest opportunity is Mexico, as well as here in the States."
The exporting of parts and products is not without a fair amount of challenges when shipping them across the globe. "Typically, we have language barriers, and the financial transaction itself is sometimes a barrier," says Al Frydenlund, Deco's sales and marketing manager. "A lot of customers that we are dealing with outside the United States are from OEMs inside the United States. They might be adept at importing from the United States and they might not be. We typically ship to warehouses that are right on the border, and then they pull the products across the border, so we don't usually have to deal with customs and tariffs. We do ship directly to some countries. We export to Australia, Poland, France, England, Canada, Brazil, Costa Rica, Germany, and China."
Many things factor into the reasons why Deco has been so successful at exporting parts and products to foreign countries. The most obvious is the company's track record with quality, on-time delivery, and customer service. "What should be known is that while we have enjoyed growth with exporting, a lot of it has been done by word of mouth, or because of our great level of quality and on-time delivery," says Raptes. "This information has been shared from customer to customer. We are looking at adding agents, putting people on the ground that will help us even more. In Asia and Europe, they are known as agents, although they handle sales and marketing tasks."
Custom and Standard Door and Window Hardware
The company also produces an extensive line of standard and custom door and window hardware for a variety of products, including mounting keepers, latches, and door locks.
"We've been producing window and door hardware for 50 years, since the beginning of the company," affirms Jason Murphy, the company's window and door hardware sales manager. "We manufacture our own line of standard products, as well as custom window and door components for OEMs. Our biggest sellers are sash locks and mounting keepers, tilt latches, pivot bars, and storm window and door hardware. We have a good mix of products that we've offered for a number of years, as well as innovating and creating new products to keep up with the current market."
The fluctuating American housing market has much to do with the sales of Deco's window and door hardware. "Over the next five years, we envision our window and door hardware to be in more demand," Jason Murphy predicts. "The housing market has been depressed over the past five years, but we see that starting to turn around right now and continuing for the next five years as a growth driver for us. We think that we're positioned well in the market for that. We've had some of our competitors go out of business. As home values start to increase and new housing continues to increase, we see the door and window hardware being a benefactor of that growth," he continued. "We have a large quantity of standard parts in window and door hardware, but it's a pretty healthy mix of about 50/50 between standard and custom components."
Deco also manufactures hundreds of different styles of patented Fast Lok® hose clamps. The buckles that lock the clamps into place are usually made from stainless steel, cold-formed steel, or galvanized steel. "We buy the steel and strapping, and there is a process that we go through to blank and roll the strapping to uniform lengths and diameters," says Tangen. "We can use galvanized steel strapping or stainless steel strapping, and we make them in 3/8-inch widths on up to 5/8-inch and 3/4-inch. The diameters of the hose clamps go anywhere from 13/16 inch up to 20 inches."
Deco manufactures a line of hose clamp tools in several sizes for simple applications, or for more demanding high-use applications. "We've been told over the years that our hose clamp tools are the best in the industry," says Al Frydenlund. "Some clamps are used for semi-high-pressure piping in the oil and gas and auto industries, and there are a ton of other applications."
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