How Midwest Metal Products turns product innovation into success
MICHIGAN CITY, Indiana — It’s tough to find a spot in the parking lot at Midwest Metal Products. There are a lot of vehicles going in and out these days.
When a company is always upgrading, always improving, you have to expect some inconveniences now and then.
A parade of computer technicians and building contractors is the norm at Midwest, a company that says it stays on the cutting edge of its manufacturing processes.
Employees don’t look twice when a new machine comes in the door, or a wall comes down to allow new wiring to be installed. They are used to it.
“We tell people that a few rocks on the ground are no big deal if it means we can stand on them and see over the top of everybody else,” says company President Geoff Wendt. “Even when we do something pretty well, we’re always trying to find some way to do it better.”
Based in northern Indiana, Midwest Metal Products says it is the nation’s leading producer of angle rings and rolled structural sheet metal products. Its determination to keep up with advances in technology is one of the reasons why.
Operating systems are upgraded, checked and re-checked to ensure they are running at peak efficiency. Equipment is fastidiously maintained; when necessary, it is replaced. Computer programmers write code for control systems, shortening the time needed for manufacturing jobs by hours, minutes, seconds.
Improvements for the company, but ultimately it is the customer who benefits, officials say.
“Technology is advancing so quickly, you have to stay two steps ahead in order to be one step ahead,” says Tim Peterson, company controller. “I’ve been here over 20 years and Midwest has always prided itself on being one step ahead.”
Midwest Metal Products says it was one of the first ring manufacturers to install a fully adjustable automatic punching device, which allows holes to be punched quickly and accurately at no extra expense to the customer. As long as the holes fit on the ring, and the ring can fit on the punch machine, customers can get just about any hole pattern they want free.
A lot of companies would have stopped there, but Midwest says it was just getting started. Devices were added that allow rings to be measured down to a 10,000th of an inch, and the record for every ring stored in a massive database.
It’s more than just some guy with a tape measure.
“More often than not, if a customer has problems with ring size, it’s because he has rolled his duct a little big or a little small,” Wendt says. “They can’t believe it when we can tell them the measurement for every ring they received.”
More devices were added, allowing holes to be placed accurately in both the flange and collar legs of carbon steel rings. Then, even more devices were added, speeding up the entire rolling and punching process.
“Oh, yeah, there’s going to be more,” says Wendt. “The ideas are always flowing.”
Midwest Metal Products developed unique manufacturing processes and refined them over the years, cutting down the amount of scrap generated during rolling.
The end result is that less material needs to be purchased, allowing Midwest to reduce its costs, which in turn allows ring prices to be slashed. The company says it hasn’t raised prices on its standard rings since 2008.
Try going to the mall and finding a store that can say the same. More importantly, try finding a competitor, or even a customer, who can say that.
“There was a time when ring manufacturers would just automatically raise prices every year, whether there was justification for it — or not,” says company founder William Wendt, now retired. “When Midwest Metal Products came along, that practice pretty much came to a halt. We more or less tamed the market.”
Now, as customers demand faster and faster deliveries, Midwest is using its technology advances to speed things along in the factory. The company switched to just-in-time manufacturing a couple decades ago. Customers find it easy to partner with Midwest to control inventories, fill last-minute needs, and streamline their material handling processes.
And it’s easy for the employees at Midwest to work with customers, because they see the technology improvements in action, every day.
Hence the company motto: “On size, on time, all the time.”
“We’ve increased our efficiency probably 90 percent over the last 10 years,” says Geoff Wendt, the son of William Wendt. “Now the goal is to do it again, but only take five years this time.”