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It's Not Just the Parts--it's the Service
Service with a smile: A machine operator bends parts at USA Dutch’s Elfland, N.C., plant.
Photo courtesy of USA Dutch, Inc.
Sure, they make precision parts. But a North Carolina-based precision metalworker bases its success on making its customers' lives easier, beginning with responsive service marked by a "personal touch"
Most OEMs have certain standards in mind when they search for new suppliers for their parts and components. All of them, however, expect fast turnarounds, excellent quality, and a competitive price to get high-quality products to market quickly. For contract manufacturers to meet these intense benchmarks, supply chains have become interactive partnerships, allowing contract manufacturers to become intimately connected to the OEM. One sheet metal fabrication provider, USA Dutch, Inc., has made it a priority to initiate and promote personalized interaction with its customers to meet the demands they have for excellent customer service.
USA Dutch (www.usadutchinc.com), located in Efland, North Carolina, is primarily a sheet metal fabrication supplier. However, the company also offers CNC machining to make custom parts for a variety of customers in several different industries. Parts are routinely made up to 1/4 inch and occasionally up to 3/8 inch or 1/2 inch in steel and aluminum plate. All of the typical fabrication operations are in evidence: punching, laser cutting, bending, welding, deburring, and hardware insertion, as well as the CNC machining with two CNC machining centers. Mostly steel and aluminum are fabricated on a regular basis; however, plant personnel sometimes work with galvanized steels (Galvanneal® and Galvalume®), copper, brass, and stainless steel.
Ronald Keizer, owner and president of USA Dutch, says that the company uses its machining centers mainly for parts made out of bar stock, when milling an edge, tapping, or threading, for example. "We don't look for machining work; the equipment is for parts for our fabrication customers," he said in an interview. We also make tooling in-house, for our press brake and fixturing for the machining centers and welding."
Excellent Customer Service is a Necessity in a Global Economy
Product manufacturers are not created equally; they range from very small companies to very large corporations. Consequently, their aspirations, needs, logistics, and capabilities vary widely, and the most important criteria for one may not be so earth-shaking for another. But excellent customer service is one constant that players in the global economy have come to appreciate. In today's fast-paced marketplace, how a contract manufacturer provides the necessary customer service essentials separates the wheat from the chaff. With business decisions being made more quickly these days, a contract manufacturer must interact more closely with its clients.
"When there's an issue, we jump on it," said Keizer. "Our responsiveness is one of the things that sets us apart from our competitors. If our customer is three hours away and has an issue, our salesman hops in his car and he's there. A lot of what our customers are looking for is that close attention to service. We can help them succeed with this high level of service."
Contract manufacturers are often looking for ways to lower the total cost of their customers' products through cost management and efficiencies. One of the best ways, according to Keizer is by delivering high-quality parts on time.
"The customers we're going for are small to mid-sized companies that need custom work; they're not big multinational corporations," Keizer explains. "There's one customer that we have that's been with us a couple of years. They're always talking about how much better we perform than their other vendors. But when it comes time to switching more parts over, it seems like price is the biggest factor for them. They've switched over fewer parts than we would have anticipated based on our good performance. So we're trying to sell these folks on the importance of our being on time and the quality being right, and we don't have to reject parts and hold up their production line. This is how we lower the total cost of their products. We're not incurring these gray, unaccounted for costs. We're striving to lower the total cost of our customers' products."
Commendations and awards are always nice to receive, but USA Dutch believes that the emails and phone calls they receive from their customers praising the company's efforts are worth their weight in customer service gold. "We have a banner up on the shop wall," says Keizer. "On one side, it says "You guys rock" and on the other side, it says "USA clutch." These slogans came from emails that customers sent in, so we know that we're doing a good job for them. We're more based on the relationships, so we're constantly communicating with our customers. We get feedback from them in this way. Sometimes our accounting people have lunch with their accounting people."
The tale of USA Dutch's origins is a grass roots success story similar to many that have occurred in America. When Keizer's mom married a machinist, her new husband wanted to start his own machining business. So they built a shed in the backyard, ran power to it, and began turning out a variety of parts on a lathe and a milling machine. "My family is from Holland originally, and I was born there, too," said Keizer. "I was five years old when we moved to America. My mom and her new husband casted about for a clever name for their new business. He was an American, and she was Dutch, so they came up with USA Dutch. When I first came to the company in 1995, I thought we needed to change the name by adding ‘Fabrication,' or something like that. But one of my salesmen was against it because he liked it as a talking point. So we kept it."
Person-to-Person Approach Helps Company Establish Business Relationships
One of the strengths of USA Dutch is its ability to offer a personal touch with its customer service interactions&mdasha concept that it believes is a value-added, positive benefit for its customers. "I think there is a real strength in relationships, and it helps with communication," said Keizer. "We have normal conversations with our customers; there are no guards that are up. We try to talk to somebody like they're next door. It facilitates communication and knowledge, so it's a better exchange of information, and we base our production schedule on this information. Humans are social animals, so there's a real need for social interaction. So that's a part of it too; it fills a social need for everyone."
In another effort to create more social networking, apart from the Facebook and Twitter versions, Keizer has become a member of a networking group sponsored by the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association. "I meet with a group of six sheet metal fabrication business owners from all over the U.S.," Keizer points out. "We get together once every quarter at one of the six plants. We talk about business issues and we share benchmarking numbers, financial and operational information, and whatever else is on our minds. We go out to dinner with each other, drink a little wine and have some fun. So it's a social event as well as for business and motivational needs."
Roundtable Brings Engineers Together With Peers For Networking
With a focus on design for manufacturability, USA Dutch decided to sponsor an engineering roundtable for its customers based on the social interaction concept with the six business owners. "It gives them a social outlet and chance to network with their peers to solve engineering issues," Keizer said. "And they learn design to manufacturing principles from us. We've only had one meeting, but it worked beautifully. Part of it was an effort to build relationships with our customers and to give them more value for their money. It creates a feeling of trust knowing that you can count on somebody you know. And it makes us work harder because we want to please these people more."
USA Dutch is always ready and willing to solve an engineering or manufacturing challenge for a customer. One challenge involved parts that needed two 60 degree bevels machined into the edge of a rail. The technical problem was solved by the company's engineers and machinists. "This was a rail that a wheel would ride over," Keizer revealed. "They were pieces of 7 gauge hot-rolled steel, about 12 feet long and shorter lengths as well. They came out with a design for the beveled edges. If you took a couple of the bevels out of the edge, and left a 0.0060-inch edge with two bevels coming out of it, it would then be perfect for the wheel to ride on," he continued. "So they asked us if we could make it, but we couldn't find any equipment on the market that would make something like this."
Keizer said that USA Dutch had purchased equipment before&mdasha 250 ton press brake and a CNC machining center&mdashfor use on other projects from this customer. The company was willing to make the investment for this project, but it couldn't find equipment that would work appropriately. Finally, one of its veteran machinists came up with an idea. "He decided to modify a Bridgeport milling machine," Keizer recalls. "He made a moving table with all kinds of clamps and other things. We spent thousands of dollars to make it, but at least we didn't have to buy a new $80,000 machining center. It worked great, and we used it for three or four years until they designed their product using aluminum extrusions. It was a great success."
There's a quote on the company website to the effect that USA Dutch provides "not just metal parts, but metal fabrication services." In essence, what the company offers is one-stop, full-service partnering that adds value to its customer's products.
"We're a value-added manufacturer, not just a parts manufacturer," Keizer insists. "The customer, therefore, is getting a lot of value from us. First of all they get parts, which is the tangible piece that they need to assemble into their products. They're also buying services from us, which are intangibles, like lead time, quality, and accuracy."
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