Embracing the Trend towards Automation
What does an old-school industry like industrial manufacturing do to keep up with the times? If you’re Vickers Engineering, you turn to automation. Although Vickers—a precision machining company based out of New Troy, Michigan—is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, the company is committed to upgrading to state-of-the-art technology. The company has been investing around $3 million a year to stay ahead of the technological game.
But before we find out just what Vickers is investing in, a little more about the company and its leadership. Vickers works with its customers—who provide the design and specifications of metal components —to buy material, machine, paint, and perform light assembly on parts for the automotive, oil and gas, military, and industrial industries.
Although Matt Tyler, current-day CEO, is not part of the original Vickers family, he runs the human side of the business in a way that reflects its original family-owned origins.
“Scott Gourlay and I bought the company from the second generation of Vickers over the last 15 years,” he said. “But one thing we knew we would never change about the company is one of its strengths: its family culture. How we treat customers and our employees will never change.”
Tyler does not come from a machining or technical background, but knew he had the capacity—with a business partner—to buy, run, and grow a small company.
“Our team has a pretty simple recipe for success: listen to the customer, and do what you say you’re going to do. I’m amazed that customers can’t find machining partners that are willing to do everything it takes to get things done. We go above and beyond the call of duty, and learn from our customers every day.”
With the human side of the business locked down, Tyler turned his attention to a segment of the industry that was evolving quickly: automation.
Vickers’ facilities contain 100 CNC (computer numeric control) machining centers and several automated machining cells housed in two SW Michigan plants, which total 170,000 sq ft. The commitment toward automation with the use of FANUC robots has given the company a huge advantage in the field, allowing Vickers to compete on a global scale with high-volume needs. The company’s CNC machines work in groups of two to eight in any particular cell, with each cell designed to accommodate the production of single part or a family of parts. A standalone FANUC robot moves the part throughout the cell, while the CNC machines process the part to its dimensional specification.
“Investment in automation has been the key to our growth strategy these last four years,” Tyler shared. “It’s transformed our competitiveness. Granted, it’s not common in our line of work for a company this size to have the internal automation capabilities we’ve developed.”
Investment in automation has been the key to our growth strategy these last four years. It’s transformed our competitiveness. Granted, it’s not common in our line of work for a company this size to have the internal automation capabilities we’ve developed.
– Matt Tyler, CEO
CNCs are extremely expensive, and most of our machines are less than five years old. But it’s worth it. We’re hitting a 2.1 PPM in 2015—for every million parts we ship, only two pieces come back to us. We’re really proud of that figure, and we know we can improve.”
The company’s approach to business outside of technology is built around an amalgamation of Tier-1 best practice and several lean strategies. This was not necessarily the goal when Tyler took over the business, but has developed since, largely due to client feedback.
“We routinely ask our customers: ‘What would the perfect supplier do? What would that relationship look like?’ We ignored the standards in the industry, and stayed away from the way things have always been done and listened to our customers.
“We took risks, and have been aggressive with our strategies, and have been successful because of it.”
Many companies, he continued, were too afraid to make mistakes. Vickers Engineering has set a precedence of learning from what didn’t work, and making the things that did work, work better.
“We’ve always known what this business was capable of,” Tyler said. “It’s evolved over time into what it is today. With no set target industry or customer from the beginning, we’ve been able to go along with the wave and find our way. Now, we feel our road is clear and there is significant growth ahead for us.”
Growth for Vickers these past few years has been largely attributed to the choice to invest in technology. This organic growth is a pillar for the business, with Tyler commenting that the company plans to grow organically until it can’t grow anymore.
“However, any opportunity that would make the company better will be considered,” he said. “So acquisitions are not out of the question. But, as of right now we can grow in the industries we currently serve, so we’re going to focus our efforts there for the time being. But targeting new industries isn’t far behind.”
Although Vickers’ technological investment and organic growth strategies are strong, Vickers’ goals for the future are not succinctly defined. The company and its leadership is strong and is focused on taking risks and being aggressive in the market. The most important part of the recipe however, is the customer.
“We’ll always listen to our customer, and always provide what they need,” Tyler said. “What else does a company need to be successful?”
Established in 1970, Vickers has evolved into a world class Precision Machining Company. While experiencing compounding growth, Vickers has been able to maintain its core values: quality, reliability, outstanding people, and superior customer service.
Currently, the Vickers team consists of a broad range of talent, serving a diverse mix of industries and product lines. From machinists and quality engineers to customer specific program managers, the people of Vickers are always learning, and striving to raise the expectation level in the eyes of our customers.
With over 100 CNC Machining Centers and several automated machining cells housed in our two plants, totaling 170,000 sq ft, Vickers services the Automotive, Oil & Gas, Agriculture, Defense and Industrial markets.