Upstate New York Company a Complete Subassembly Source for OEMs

A Specialist in Tubing, Machining, and Brazing Simplifies a Complicated Assembly for a Maker of Test Chambers

At one time, a complicated assembly at Thermal Product Solutions (TPS) required negotiating with many parts suppliers. It also demanded in-house tube cutting with brazing, and a building and storage capacity that stole space from other important needs. So after years of tolerating the process, which made inventory management about as complex as air traffic control at a major airport, TPS decided it was time for a change.

Now, the New Columbia, Pennsylvania manufacturer of temperature test chambers enjoys one-stop shopping. They no longer sweat subassembly deadlines, or concern themselves with tracking the availability of parts. And they're enjoying huge savings from lower inventory costs.

Instead of building ahead of time, and eating up man-hours so that we always had inventory on hand, we just place the order and get finished subassembly just in time to build the chamber, said Rick Powell, a TPS project manager for environmental cooling. "In the past, we might have had to buy twenty components just to have them sitting here when we needed them. Now, if we need five pre-built assemblies, that's all we order. And if we get an uptick in business, we order more."

The test chambers Powell oversees are used in virtually every industry you can imagine. The temperature bench-top and floor model test chambers are suited for use in electronic, military, and pharmaceutical quality assurance and reliability testing, as well as research testing and production processes. They are designed to meet the rigorous standards of today's research labs. And each chamber requires a cascade refrigeration system, a complicated 100-piece maze of copper tubing, soldered joints, and brass machined parts. "It's the meat and potatoes of our chamber," says Powell. "These are complex; they're not just two or three little tubing bends. This is a proprietary design that took thirty years to develop."

For that reason, Powell said it wasn't easy finding a company to take on his firm's subassembly burden. Several companies wanted nothing to do with the complicated procedure. Others bid too high to be acceptable. Fortunately, the solution to the problem was closer to home than they realized.

Thermal Product Solutions, a division of SPX, had been purchasing copper tubing from Spinco Metal Products, Newark, New York. The upstate New York job shop has been supplying the air-conditioning and refrigeration industry with specialized tubular and machined component parts and assemblies since 1966. More importantly, Spinco has, over the years, built a state-of-the-art facility that includes the kind of specialized tooling equipment that goes far beyond what TPS and many other firms can do. Spinco's expert capabilities meant that they could, for example, build the TPS components with fewer soldered joints, which reduced the potential for leaks. In short, they could take away TPS's pain and deliver a superior product.

"We took them a subassembly product and said we'd like them to build it," said Powell. "And they said, 'We can do it as you've designed it, or we can improve it.' They've improved it greatly, rather than just repeat what we were doing. TPS doesn't form tubing. We buy it on a roll and cut it. Spinco can actually mill that fitting and mold it into a pipe. And they reduced our soldered joints. So if we took them something with fifteen fittings, those fittings could equal thirty-five joints. They could do the same with only eight joints, because they don't use an elbow piece, they can bend the tubing."

Thermal Product Solutions now purchases about 10 different subassemblies from Spinco, and that's just fine with Spinco's owner and president, Bob Straubing. "We've been doing this kind of value-added work for the last five years," he said. "Before then, we were selling a lot of tubing and small lots of parts to our clients. When we discovered TPS was getting component parts from at least three different places and putting it all together themselves, we said, 'Why don't you let us do that?' It's what we want to do for everyone who has a complicated assembly."

Powell said that Spinco works with the vendors TPS had used to supply fittings and valves. When a part needed for assembly is no longer available, Spinco quickly proffers replacement suggestions. Also, TPS no longer has to stock parts purchased from vendors; that's Spinco's responsibility. And so is the air-traffic-control-like nightmare of tracking incoming parts.

"I don't have to figure out why we don't have a particular part," Powell says. "It's Spinco's problem. And if we get an uptick in business, we call Spinco and say we need thirty, not fifteen. Since they build ahead, they can ship them right down or change their production to meet our needs. It's a whole series of events we don't have to go through anymore."

Not that there aren't occasional bumps in the production line. A small part within the subassembly may malfunction. Perhaps it's a part purchased from a new vendor. In the past, such an event would have caused nerve-wracking slowdowns. Now TPS has a partner that has a vested interest in finding the problem fast and correcting it.

Powell said that Spinco's "transparent tracking" system and its tried-and-true quality-control standards provide peace of mind because the firm understands that a malfunction in the field can be very costly to a company like TPS. "I just know that whenever we do have a concern, they're more than willing to address it," he insists. "We don't bicker. When we've had issues, a Spinco team travels here, or we travel as a group to their plant."

Over the years, Spinco has slowly broadened its capacity without sacrificing quality. In 1994, Spinco acquired a brass refrigerant component manufacturing company. Then it expanded its facility to 50,000 square feet, so that all of its manufacturing could be accommodated under one roof. Additional capital equipment and personnel have since been added so that Spinco is able to meet the needs of large and small OEMs for machined component parts as well as tubular products, Straubing said.

"We're prepared for growth," Straubing says. "We have a great facility; we're state-of-the-art. And our veteran crew is seasoned to do what we need them to do. So we feel we're ready to say to just about anybody, 'Why don't you let us do that?'"

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