L.S. Starrett chief builds on 125 years of expertise

The L.S. Starrett Co. is nestled in the hills of western Massachusetts. The company started when Laroy S. Starrett invented and patented the combination square in 1877. In 1880, he formed his own company and since then the company has produced myriad hand and measuring tools for industrial, consumer and commercial markets. This year the company celebrates its 125th anniversary.

The L.S. Starrett Co. has a history of "firsts." Besides its introduction of new measurement tools, the company was a pioneer in global sales. The company is a public company managed by the Starrett family for five generations. The current president and CEO, Douglas A. Starrett, has been in the business for nearly 30 years. He started in the shop making tools, and took the full reigns of the company in 2001. He sat down with Quality magazine to discuss the history of his company, technology challenges, the state of manufacturing and attracting qualified workers.

Quality magazine: As a company,

The L.S. Starrett Co. has seen

a lot of change in measurement tools over the years. What is the force that drives so much of this change?

Douglas A. Starrett: Most of the change we see is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Technology drives the change in measurement equipment-better machine tools and electronics have played a role. But the underlying desire is for tools that are easier to use, faster and more efficient.

QM: How does The L.S. Starrett Co. approach the market?

DAS: We are proud of the fact that we are the only U.S. company that provides a full range of precision measurement tools and services that many competitors do not-from hand tools and

electronics-based tools to capital equipment. We can supply the end user custom configured tools and custom gages, as well as do repair and calibration.

QM: What's your view of all the consolidation among measurement tool companies?

DAS: It's part of the evolution of business. Companies look for the ability to bundle more products and services, and make them available to their customers. Consolidation doesn't stifle innovation, as many times new ideas for development come from outside the company rather than from inside.

QM: What are some of the needs of those using measurement tools?

DAS: The biggest challenge in precision tools is an increasing requirement for real-time data, especially in a lean manufacturing environment. Manufacturers have to know if they have problems in the process as soon as possible.

QM: Do you have any strategies for meeting this need?

DAS: We have a couple of beta sites testing wireless solutions. Wireless itself is not new, but currently it doesn't provide the reliability of data necessary that measuring tool users demand.

QM: How has your company addressed the global nature of manufacturing and business?

DAS: We have had a global presence since the late 1800s, so it's not new to us. We saw significant growth in our global operations starting in the 1950s and recently expanded to China. We support manufacturers all over the world with supply and service that is local to that region. For U.S. companies that have a comfort level with us here, they want us to go with them when they open plants overseas. However, being global is not without some bumps in the road, and it can cause concern from time to time.

QM: Such as?

DAS: In our past, when one country or region was experiencing a downturn, other regions would do well and make up for down years, insulating us from the cyclical nature of our business. However, during the early 1990s, as a true global economy emerged, we experienced, for the first time, a simultaneous downturn in every global region.

QM: You have a long and successful history here at The L.S. Starrett Co.

DAS: I am most proud of the fact that we strive to live by our founder's word of providing useful products and creating a business that would give people employment and an opportunity to improve their lives. We would not have been as successful were it not for the thousands of people who came through these doors and performed with pride, craftsmanship and dedication.