For the last seventy years, CR Metal Products has been a leading job shop metal fabricator and has extensive experience providing customers with a single-source solution for custom metal fabrication, powder coating and silkscreen printing. Vice President of Operations Mark Chadwick spoke with Business in Focus about CR Metal Products.
“We’re producing what others are manufacturing,” Chadwick says. “We are known for our ability to respond to customer’s demands quickly, at high quality levels.”
Headquartered near St. Louis, CR Metal Products oversees projects from inception through to final packaging and handover. The company boasts a number of services and specialties that have been developed and evolved over the years.
In the area of metal fabrication, the company offers cold-rolled, hot-rolled and stainless steel as well as aluminum, galvanized and galvannealed steel to its clients.
CR Metal Products has invested more than $11 million in its 150,000 square foot facility to ensure it stays abreast of the latest technology while maintaining high quality standards. Equipment in its roster includes a robotic panel bender, high-speed Trumpf and Mitsubishi lasers that can work with sizes ranging to 5 x 10 feet, a Virtek laser scanner, ten robotic welders to provide welds on aluminum and stainless steels and Strippit and Parma turret presses.
CR Metal maintains an inventory of punch tooling, countersinks, louvers and high-speed tapping equipment for turret punch operations.
With its experienced and realistic approach, CR Metal Products can handle challenging designs. Client’s parts “are programmed using a three-dimensional CAD system to ensure finished-part accuracy,” says the company. “All programs and job processes are documented in our system, allowing inexpensive and efficient revision changes for future production runs.” Parts are inspected throughout the process as well as at final inspection.
To complement whatever finishing processes a client’s product requires are sawing, welding, drilling, machining and milling services. The company also has CNC press brakes, mig and tig welders, hardware insertion machines and various surface finishing processes.
Recently, CR added two Safan servo electric high-precision press brakes, an Americor eight inch NC power roll, a RAS robotic panel bender as well as additional laser-cutting capacity.
CR Metal has also become a leader in precision bending and forming. The company maintains significant press brake capacity with capabilities up to 230 tons and 14 feet in length. “We also house small precise machines that help us handle a full range of products,” says the company website. “All of our press brakes are equipped with computer controls and back gauging that guarantee a level of excellence and versatility that is truly exceptional.”
The team’s laser cutting offerings range from “high volume fully automated systems, fed by material towers, to stand-alone lasers for short-run high-mix operations.”
Powder-coating and painting are also available in-house for customers. Silkscreen printing capabilities are also there, for the final touches that clients may need. To this end, CR Metal Products has a highly skilled in-house artwork, drawing and silkscreen manufacturing team. The company’s facility houses a dual conveyor belt 350-degree gas drying oven with manual and automatic screening of steel and aluminum parts and specializes in high-resolution, multi-color, multi-screen and half-toning capabilities.
“We’re very diverse in what we provide to our clients,” Chadwick says. “Our core goal is to supply original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) with components needed to assemble products.”
Efficiency and cost control are vital. Job processes are always being evaluated for faster and more reliable methods that will not sacrifice quality. The company also helps with cost considerations, time management and meeting a client’s delivery expectations.
“Our biggest guiding factor is the Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) model,” explains Chadwick, an emerging business model developed by Rajan Suri and highlighted in his book ‘It’s About Time.’ QRM can have a key role in addressing the challenges of a high mix low volume production environment. “In essence,” says Chadwick, “it drives everything that we do from the office to production. The quick response manufacturing model is essentially based on multi-functional cells that can start and finish part production without having to travel from one department to another. This eliminates departmentalization that is common to other companies.”
Part of this QRM model includes employees having multi-functional roles in the company. A single employee may be responsible for providing quotations, order entry and purchasing. “Instead of going from one department to another, one person can take only ten or fifteen minutes to finish a job, rather than taking several days moving through individuals’ work queues to get a project done.”
With the investment of company resources into the facility over the past few years, a revamp of the plant layout has helped the company increase its efficiency and productivity levels.
“The bulk of our QRM process comes from the plant layout,” Chadwick says. “We have moved equipment around, changing the whole workflow but based on the changing needs from customers and projects. So we have tailored the layout to meet the needs for specific projects. We’ll move press brakes and lasers and situate them properly to create automatic flow. We also have enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems on floor with electronic drawings, so there is a more nimble setup on mobile computers. Employees can look up drawings, technology, which helps workflow.”
A strong teamwork between machine operators, shop supervisors and the sales force has been responsible for the company’s accomplishments. The company’s employees undergo “constant training” in order to facilitate the culture of quick response manufacturing. Employees are trained on matters such as press brake operation and Geometric Tolerancing every week, and employees constantly review drawings and blueprints. “We’re always bouncing ideas off each other to refine processes and spread knowledge,” says Chadwick.
This dedication to teamwork and constant training has enabled the company to deal with industry challenges and maintain its relationships with its customers over the years.
“About a decade ago, there was a point in time when steel was allocated, and companies were running out,” recalls Chadwick. “During that time, our main vendor kept us going and had enough stock to keep us supplied. It was an unusual situation that doesn’t happen often, but our relationships with our vendors meant that we were prepared.”
Now sheet metal is available for clients and CR Metal is ready to serve companies that need its services. “There are enough precision metal products purchased in the U.S. to fill our shop many thousands of time over. We just need to find the right customers and supply them. The work is out there no matter the state of industry. Tough times weed out companies that aren’t as robust or quality driven, and that allows us to grow in lean times.”
To deal with future issues that may directly affect the company, CR Metal believes in being prepared. “Growth is something we’re striving for all the time,” Chadwick explains. “We’re continually adding equipment and refining our processes – putting in new policies and procedures in place. That’s what truly improves quality and on-time delivery for our customers. We don’t just have some glossed-over program that looks good on paper but doesn’t drive true change. We make every program truly have some impact on bottom line output of product. We’re constantly making changes and adjustments to our plans and striving for the proper outcome.”
The five year plans for the company include growing the company by fifty percent, and Mr. Chadwick feels that the company is prepared for this planned acceleration. “We expect a nice steady growth and we have the bulk of equipment and the space to handle that,” he says. “We also have enough manpower in the St. Louis area, so we’re ready to handle it with our processes, procedures and systems.”
Since 1946, CR Metal Products has grown from a one-man operation in a garage to a prominent leader in metal fabrication and its ever-evolving processes, such as quick response manufacturing, will help the company remain agile.
“We like to create partnerships with our customers. The relationship must be mutually beneficial or it cannot be sustained. I believe our customers agree. Our company is always here to serve folks who are the right fit.”