AarKel Tool & Die provides a complete solution. Established in 1977, the Ontario based business can deliver die cast die manufacturing, plastic injection tool manufacturing, prototype tool manufacturing, product design, tool design, CNC / EDM machining, assembly and inspection, part tryouts, and production runs.
This broad list of capabilities is what sets the business apart. “AarKel is unique because, as a tool shop, we have two different businesses units,” explains Operations Manager Larry Delaey. “We design and build both die cast and plastic tools. The diversification is unusual. There are not a lot of shops that do both plastics and die cast at our sales level.”
The company has had the two separate business units for most of its history, but the team has really ramped up its die cast focus in recent years to provide a more complete solution. “We are working to increase our design staff to support added engineering on the die cast side,” Mr. Delaey says. Much of this expansion has been in response to the team “dealing direct with the OEMs.” The underlying motivation, however, was simply “making AarKel more diverse.
Increasing operations on the die cast side was also a smart move because “die cast tends to have repeat business,” says Mr. Delaey. “When you land die cast business, the longevity is there; you have a relationship with your customer.”
The diversification is also good for employees because, with a steady stream of work, the workforce can rest assured that they will retain their jobs. “As the economy fluctuates so quickly, it is better for our people, for job security. It creates stability for the employees here.”
There has been a huge emphasis on training to ensure that employees are able to handle both sides of the business. “It allows our employees to be very diversified,” Mr. Delaey explains. “When one business picks up over the other you [have to be able to] move the people around to where the work is. The guys here have done a very good job of cross training and working lots of hours to get that done. It has been working out very well for us.”
The team’s diversified skill set also gives AarKel a clear edge over the competition. “What separates us from everyone else is that, because our people are cross trained, we can do both business units. It would be difficult for a shop to start into die cast or vice versa. But our people – our design staff, our supervisors and our middle management – they are diversified and can do both units.”
In total, AarKel Tool & Die boasts 158 dedicated, full time employees (working in 110,000 square feet of air conditioned operating space) who are all well prepared to get the job done, no matter what it is. Furthermore, the team is able to walk each customer through every step of the process on either side of the business, ensuring that each project is well managed – and customers are fully supported – from beginning to end.
Increasing die cast capabilities is not the only recent expansion that the company has enjoyed. Since AarKel Tool & Die was featured in Business in Focus last year, the business has moved its assembly die cast operations across town to where the machining and plastics operations were already located. “So now all of our assembly is done in one location,” Mr. Delaey points out. It was a large scale, time consuming move – but well worth the effort. Communication has vastly improved and the entire company runs more efficiently. “When the customers want to make engineering changes or improvements, our employees are close to one another; they can actually have communication [face to face] instead of getting on the phone. We have the guys from machining and the guys in the assembly working directly together.
The company has also invested in new, higher tech equipment. “It basically increases our throughput so our efficiencies and quality are improving with the use tool changers,” Mr. Delaey explains. “It allows us some additional unmanned machining.” The equipment also boosts quality in addition to saving time. “The quality of the work coming out those machines is very substantial.”
With the new purchases, AarKel Tool & Die now boasts a full range of leading edge equipment including EDM sinker tanks with CNC graphite machines, 5 axis high speed, large CNC machines, 5 axis IMSA dual gun drill & boring mill.
Of course, the team plans to continue bringing new equipment on board. “We are looking to change the way we process our product,” Mr. Delaey explains. The result will be reduced setup time and an increase in unmanned hours – without affecting the quality of the product. In fact, sales are expected to leap by 10 to 15 percent when the team brings on a particular type of new machinery in early to mid-2015. As with the company’s diversification strategy, this equipment expansion is all part of staying ahead. “You always want to be a leader, not a follower in the industry.”
While the company has increased its capabilities and processes, some things will definitely stay the same. Safety will always come first, no matter what; quality will also always be emphasized. “Our motto is safety for the employees, and then quality,” Mr. Delaey summarizes. This commitment to quality includes a strong focus on customer satisfaction. “We want to make sure we have happy customers and we react very quickly to our customers,” he says. “When there are issues with the tooling – and sometimes it might not even be AarKel’s issue – we still stand behind our customer and we will support them.” This commitment to customers creates a clear win-win situation. “If they can meet their timelines and their deliverables to their customer, they will always remember that we were there to help them and support them through it.”
This customer loyalty is crucial in such a competitive industry. “It is a very busy industry right now, but it is still commercially a very competitive market,” says Mr. Delaey. The biggest industry hurdle, however, is finding an experienced workforce. “It is very hard to find qualified, skilled people right now,” Mr. Delaey shares. Designers and CNC machinists are especially tough to find. To help solve the problem, the company is working with city governments and colleges throughout the region in order to promote the appropriate training and jumpstart some apprenticeships. In the meantime, AarKel Tool & Die has moved to promote and train within where needed.
The industry will always bring challenges but, with nearly 40 years in business, AarKel Tool & Die has shown that it has the ability to rise above them. With a diversified business, new equipment, and a workforce that has been well trained in-house, the company has earned a solid foothold in the industry – and is well placed to continue its steady growth.