Illinois Sheet Metal Fabricator Succeeds with Targeted Expertise, Focus on Customer Service
Just as a part goes through different stages of development, refining its way to a final, quality product, so has John Annessi developed as a businessman. In what is a true Cinderella story, Annessi started out as a janitor at Prestige Metal Products, Inc. in the early 1980s and has recently become company president with a solid vision of delivering superior customer service and keeping a tight focus on sheet metal fabrication.
He moved his way up through the ranks on the shop floor and then into management where, as plant manager, he would hire people who often asked if upward mobility at the company was possible. "You're looking at him," Annessi recently recalled with a chuckle during a phone interview. When working as vice president of operations until last January, he had an opportunity to buy out his partner, who was ready to retire. As the new president of Prestige Metal, he decided to continue to keep the focus clearly on custom sheet metal fabrication, departing from the original owner's view of taking on everything, such as machining, stamping, finishing, electrical harnesses, and plating, as well as the sheet metal. "You can't be an expert at everything and we learned that early on," he said. "You can't be a plater and painter and world's finest fabricator."
The company's website (www.prestigemetals.com) proudly proclaims the company as the "World's Finest Sheet Metal Fabricator," and Annessi takes those words seriously. He's quick to point out that this "little" 20,0000 square-foot job shop in Antioch, Ill., has parts in every McDonald's in the world. Prestige, he said, is an expert at manufacturing stainless steel, fabricating in hot/cold rolled steel, stainless steel, aluminum, and brass from shim stock to plate. Food service manufacturers, as well as railroad car manufacturers, take up the bulk of his customer base. With two flat sheet lasers at 2000 and 5200 watts, Prestige can cut sheet metal and plate fast and hold a tolerance of +/- 0.001 inch. That's important because the accuracy of the blank improves the efficiency of secondary operations, such as forming, welding, brazing, inserts, tapping, and assembly. Staying on the cutting edge with machinery--the company also offers brake forming presses of 45- to 135-ton capacity, handling up to 12 feet long--helps Prestige deliver the best quality product to its customers.
Having state-of-the-art equipment goes hand in hand with providing superior customer service, often allowing a better product to be developed at a more competitive price. Often, a customer is surprised when they find out that their product can be made, thanks to Prestige's machinery and engineering, in two pieces instead of 15 pieces. "As I moved through the ranks, I could see the advantage of being hands-on and one-on-one with your customers, and just being there for them," Annessi recalled. "We'd bring them into the shop and show them what we were doing, and talk to them about better ways to make their product."
With the lasers and the accuracy of the press brake, Prestige can often reduce the requirements for welding, the heat from which can sometimes lead to distortion. The ability to tab parts, instead of having to build a fixture for locating pieces together, saves time and money. "When you show them that technology, they're usually impressed," he said of his customers. Prestige engineers also work to get certain parts to fit on one standard size sheet, which is especially cost effective when dealing with prototypes and first articles. "You want to try and fit all that into the nested size parts, and the nesting software makes that a lot better. When you show them what your nesting capabilities are, you can take these different parts and fit them onto a sheet nice and neat and clean and all together, which utilizes the material better," Annessi said.
Customers don't always realize that material is such a big cost factor, he explained. "So when you show them that if we make these changes, we can fit all of these parts into this square footage of material instead of what you were doing before, they say ‘wow.' The bottom line is it's savings for them and they still get a good quality part; most of the time, it's a better quality part."
A food service OEM came to Prestige with a housing for a product that was a stainless steel assembly. The OEM's vendor was failing completely, and they looked to Prestige for help. "They had this one part that they were really having difficulty with. There was a lot of warpage and it was made out of six different pieces, all welded as an assembly," Annessi said, explaining that this added a lot of heat and distortion. The unit had to be square, with clean edges, and polished to a continuous finish. The previous vendor was failing to make the bends such that the welded edges matched to keep the unit square. The challenge was to make the blanks such that more bending and less welding made it easier to keep the final assembly square.
Prestige redesigned it with tab locks into a two-piece assembly, down from a six-piece part welded together. "We were able, with the lasers and the press brakes, to cut extremely accurate blanks with tabs that locked the two pieces together perfectly, and then weld the assembly together with probably a quarter of the welding that was going into it previously," he said. The customer was so pleased with the changes that Prestige has now been manufacturing the part for four years, he added.
Annessi attributes much of the success of that project to his experienced workers. The company employs 20, some of whom have been with Prestige for 30 years or more, and those who have been there for 10 or 12 years are considered the "new guys."
Prestige does much prototyping and first articles, and some of the larger companies that it deals with send the production work overseas. But Annessi sees a reshoring trend fueled by quality, money, and speed. "With us, they don't have to deal with the delay times," he said, explaining that one customer who had off-shored had a cargo container come in that was full of water, and another that contained materials of the wrong thickness. "And they don't have to put all of their money out there. That seems to be a big thing now. Even though they do smaller quantities (with us) and it may be a bit more expensive, they don't have to put all the money out there. They don't have to worry about lead times and waiting for the slow boat to come over."
An OEM might get parts cheaper from China, but they have to put all of this money upfront, Annessi added. Whereas, job shops like Prestige can turn parts around fast. "And there's the ability for them to come here and talk and be hands-on and make changes," he said, explaining that quick changes on a short, initial run, such as making a flange a quarter of an inch longer, can mean a lot of cost and time savings for the OEM. "But if the order is from overseas and it's in the thousands, then he's stuck with what he's got."
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