Greg Mann doesn’t want to brag. Although he’s proud of the company’s work, he isn’t satisfied. “We’re just getting started,” says Mann, the operations manager at Accurate Gauge & Manufacturing (Rochester Hills, MI).
The company is a precision manufacturer of carrier sub-assemblies for heavy duty truck axle suppliers. Mann, who has worked at Accurate for 48 years, said it would be a disservice to Quality’s readers if the company was seen as the ultimate manufacturing success story.
However, if they wanted to show off, the team at Accurate Gauge has plenty of examples. The scrap/rework rate hovers around 0.5%—and they’d like to go lower—while they continue to grow. The number of product shipped is on the rise, and they’ve added two new buildings in the past three years.
While Accurate Gauge is not the last word in manufacturing quality—and the Accurate Gauge of 2018 will likely look very different in 2030 or even 2020—they are clearly doing something right. For its focus on customers, attention to quality, and rigorous approach to continuous improvement, Accurate Gauge has earned its place as our 2018 Quality Plant of the Year.
Accurate Gauge at a Glance
- Rochester Hills, MI
- 158 employees
- Founded in 1966
- Precision manufacturer of carrier sub-assemblies for the heavy duty truck axle suppliers.
- The company maintains a three shift, seven days per week production schedule operating out of three plant locations.
- The overall scrap rate within all three buildings is less than 0.5% and less than 0.6% of sales.
- Warranty rejections are at zero from the customer base.
- Operators on all three shifts are actively involved in ongoing product and process training involving production, inspection, and scrap/rework improvement.
- The average employee within engineering and quality has more than 22 years of experience.
- Owner Ray Velthuysen continues to invest in the company and ensure that Accurate Gauge remains on the cutting edge of technology.
Accurate Gauge continues to invest in new equipment.
Accurate Gauge, Then and Now
If the company name looks familiar to longtime readers, you may have seen them as our 2006 Quality Plant of the Year in our small plant division. Quality Manager Darrin Soukup explained what was new. Since Quality’s last visit, they’ve made a lot of changes. The company rode out the downturn—though they had to lay people off, they never went below three shifts—expanded into three buildings and added floor space, more than doubled in staff from 72 in 2006 to the 158 today, added new customers and product lines, and adapted to the changing business climate. Customers have noticed—they’ve received several back to back years of supplier awards—and they’ve also been looking into new growth areas.
Co-founder Al Vel is seen here with Greg Mann in 1967.
The plaque with their previous Plant of the Year profile (“The Quality is in the Process”) hangs outside the conference room. The company emphasized its robust quality processes back then, but this has since evolved.
“That seems like caveman days to the way we approach it now,” Mann says. He says the company has taken control of their processes to a new level, as well as machine design, “you name it.”
In addition to the technology changes, Dennis Brophy, the quality and plant manager, retired at the end of last year after 40 years with the company. Since then, Soukup, who’s spent 19 years at the company, said he has been thinking, “What would Dennis do?”
The perishable tooling system is a new element on the plant floor.
Awards and Recognition
The company received IATF 16949:2016 registration this year. The past two years MERITOR has awarded Accurate Gauge with “Manufacturing Supplier of the Year Award” as well as noted Accurate Gauge as a Legacy Supplier within the supply chain of over 1,300+ suppliers.
Examples of quality and delivery performance:
- Axle Alliance / ConmetCo: 100% on-time, zero defects
- DAIMLER: 100% on-time, zero defects
- Volvo-MACK: 100% on-time, zero defects
All About the Customers
While there are countless reasons why the company has done well, Brophy offers a top reason. “We satisfied our customers,” Brophy says. “As customer needs changed, we’ve been able to adapt.” Brophy, Mann, and Soukup all agree that if it were not for the investments made over the years by Ray Velthuysen, none of this would have been accomplished.
“We really strive to give customers what they need even if they haven’t identified it exactly,” Mann says.
And it seems to be working. Awards from customer MERITOR involved a dozen categories, and Accurate Gauge was the only one that was a unanimous choice. This looks set to continue, Brophy notes. “We’re involved in their new products. It bodes very well for our future.”
Quality is a priority for the company.
It’s easy to see why the company inspires such loyalty both from staff and customers.
Mann recalled a customer with a major launch that planned to make it an all-Mexico project. The customer had a machining source in Mexico but asked Accurate for a quote on a low-volume project. They weren’t terribly excited by the project, but learned that this part was a mirror image of a high-volume part. They took the project. In the meantime, their customer had a crisis with their chosen supplier. “One month later we were shipping more than the original supplier,” Mann says.
“That’s what I mean by satisfying the customer,” Brophy adds.
Mann had a conversation once with a cutting-tool salesman who said that he didn’t want more than 5% of his business with any one customer. This is not the Accurate Gauge model.
“Every one of our customers knows we’re committed to them,” Mann says. And because they are so involved, they are willing to make capital investments to benefit their customer’s products.
“We grew our business over a 35 year period with essentially one customer,” Mann says. “This flies in the face of business wisdom.”
“Warren Buffet wouldn’t support that,” Soukup adds.
Click below to listen to an interview with Darrin Soukup.
Quality Mysteries Solved
Customer satisfaction sometimes involves some sleuthing. A few years ago, they sold a component to a customer who then shipped the part to India where it would be used for manufacturing there. A new supplier in India was struggling to make the dimensions. This moved up the chain of command and Accurate Gauge was told the part wasn’t in tolerance. It took 18 months to get the part back.
Eventually they found out that the inspections were not done according to the print. The dimension in question was one micron off the nominal. As Mann says, an operator told him, “This is probably the best part we ever made.”
This lead the customer to have an internal discussion after they realized they were not checking parts according to the print.
The quality field is not without its challenges, and hunting down quality solutions can be difficult. With one part, Soukup said they would joke that it depended on a full moon.
The staff considers quality throughout every aspect of their work.
“Quality plays such a large role, not just in making the part,” Soukup says. “From shipping and receiving to the RFQ stage, think of all the different components of quality.”
Soukup is always looking for ways to improve. While audits can be a challenging aspect of the quality profession—some unhelpful audits in the past have felt like a personal vendetta, he says—it usually provides ideas for the business. Being a quality manager is not for everyone, but Soukup embraces it. “I enjoy the opportunity given because I see all the areas and facets you can affect. It’s an opportunity for a key role in many areas,” Soukup says.
“Quality is the whole ball game,” Mann says. “It’s the foundation of how we do everything.”
“Everyone understands how important it is,” Brophy says. He notes that Mann has taught him to quickly analyze what has changed in a process, which was instrumental in minimizing process variations. They’ve worked well together at Accurate Gauge, which makes sense. The two became friends in fourth grade.
Walking the Floor
After hearing about the company’s growth, it seems reflected in the activity on the plant floor. Some plants seem deserted—but not Accurate Gauge. Operators are busy along each line, and the shift change makes things even busier. Many of the staff have been there as long as Soukup or longer.
In addition to the experienced staff, custom tooling is another advantage for the company. They design and build their own fixtures and workholding. With this custom approach, “you control your own destiny,” Soukup says.
We started the tour looking at a machine purchased after a visit to the 2016 IMTS and introduced last year. Accurate Gauge added a new machining probe and a twin-spindle machining center, which allows for safety inspections prior to casting and also gathers data after the part is finished. The new technology investment allows the company to probe parts faster and with better traceability.
Another new element on the plant floor is the perishable tooling system. This software allows for traceability and helps maintain tools. Since being implemented in 2006, the company has reduced its inventory of perishable tooling by 50%. They identified a reduction in tooling costs per part of more than one dollar—a noteworthy savings considering the annual amount of more than 450,000 pieces.
“The system allows Accurate Gauge to control what is withdrawn from the system under the machine/part number the operator is running and can also stop an operator from withdrawing a tool that controls a pass-thru characteristic, special characteristic, or key safety characteristic,” Soukup says. “The system will force the operator to seek his supervisor, engineering, or quality personal if the tool is deemed needed to ensure Accurate Gauge is protecting the customer. Accurate Gauge has also enabled the auto reporting function to be part of corrective action measures when looking at the systemic approach across the plant on all machines.”
The plant floor reflects changes in the market. The company adapts to the business conditions and market share among their customers.
“When someone buys a truck, we see it internally,” Soukup says.
As they continue to grow, the company is looking ahead to the next generation of manufacturing professionals. Accurate Gauge works with a supplier’s program with local high schools to invite them to tour the facility. And for new operators, the company has expanded their training process the past several years, providing new operators with a mentor. Many new operators will start work on the 3 to 11 p.m. shift or the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. one. While this can be challenging, it often allows new staff to learn more as they move between positions.
Alan Lund, managing member of Core Business Management Solutions, has worked with Accurate Gauge for more than twenty years. “They are always attentive, always interested in the next phase, the next step wherever they’re at,” says Lund.
“I like to spend my time with companies like Accurate Gauge. a) I like to have fun working with clients, and b) they are willing to listen to you and take direction and do things. They are one of my top clients.”
Currently he’s working on dashboards with the company to improve real-time reporting and analysis of data.
With every project, it seems Accurate is always working on getting better. In no way are they coasting on the success of the past 52 years.
“It’s a whole new world that we see in front of us,” says Mann, “But we’re not there yet.”
When Accurate Gage is a supplier, you can sleep easy
Accurate Gauge occupies three buildings in Rochester Hills, MI.
Rachel Heemer, a purchasing manager at Meritor Inc. (Troy, MI), explains what it’s been like working with Accurate Gauge for the past several years:
“Commercial vehicle is not automotive. It goes up and down in volume. They’ve put in the flexibility to be able to respond to those market changes, support us when things are up and things are down.
I think they handle things every day that don’t even make it to my desk. Part of the value is that they are not a high maintenance supplier, not asking or needing our attention.
When we launch new products, we need them to work quickly. They study our designs, and know what they need to do. The work that they put in upfront, in analyzing the design, understanding how they can best machine it, the work pays off when we get to launch time.
I’m glad they are being recognized. It’s very well deserved—they spent a lot of time honing their craft.”