The world may have changed a great deal over the past seventy years, but at HEMCO Gage, quality remains the company’s top priority. HEMCO continues to earn the business of repeat customers and attract new clients for its superior-quality service, decades of experience and because its products, quite simply, last much longer than those of the competition.
Vice president for the past decade, Mike Hop has seen HEMCO’s evolution over the past thirty-eight years. Hop worked his way through the system, starting off fresh out of high school with entry-level positions in the chrome plating department. Hop knows the business inside and out and believes much of the company’s strength comes from the hard-earned reputation of its product.
“We sell through distribution, and our marketing approach is that we give you something to sell, and that is the quality and a longer-lasting gage,” he says. “We sell our gages sometimes at prices above our competitors, but we offer two to four times the wear life, so we sell to customers who appreciate value.”
The industry sectors purchasing gages from the company are practically limitless and include the oilfield industry, aeronautics, nuclear, agriculture, computers and industrial machinery – literally all businesses using anything that has a thread.
“I often describe to people that anything made of metal – in which you put a hole in something with a thread in it, or you have a part with a thread on it – you use our product, and you will find our product in those shops,” says Chris Wysong, Hemco Gage’s President. The company’s products have seen growth in a number of areas, including medical implants and other devices.
Along with superior selection, friendly and knowledgeable customer service and an unwavering commitment to quality, the reasons customers keep coming back to HEMCO are simple: its products last much longer than gages made by competitors and save money.
The exact plating process is a closely-guarded secret – in fact, the company chose not to patent it, because that would reveal how it is carried out – and one which gives HEMCO its prominent position in the marketplace.
“We ferociously protect it by not allowing people into that area of that facility and not explaining a whole lot about how it is done, because it is a core strategic and competitive advantage for us,” says Wysong. “In fact, team members sign non-disclosure agreements when they join the organization.”
President for the past decade, Wysong joined HEMCO twenty years ago, starting off in materials, and working his way up the company. He is proud of the company and its many accomplishments over the past seventy years.
HEMCO Gage has a rich history. Formed by Henry Morse in 1946, just a year after the end of the Second World War, HEMCO started by designing and selling gold-plated jewelry. Out of this, came the company being retained to manufacture gold-plated fountain pen nibs, which needed to be very smooth to ensure the proper flow of ink. The company founder took summer vacations with his family in Holland, Michigan and was so impressed with the area that he decided to relocate the company from Detroit.
Technology changes, and in time, cheaper disposable plastic pens came along. As sales of fountain pens declined, Morse realized his company – with its highly skilled employees and specialized plating equipment – needed to re-evaluate its focus. Knowing the precise amount of gold used for plating pen nibs, Morse applied this knowledge to other items, such as manufacturing tools or gages.
Working closely with engineers, Morse soon developed the highly precise, proprietary, chrome-plating process used by the company to this day. The company made thread gages for the United States military during the Korean War in the early 1950s and soon focused its efforts on manufacturing thread and cylindrical, adding the Ekonogage by HEMCO pin gage line.
HEMCO Gage is capable of manufacturing gages with incredibly precise tolerances, some as minute as millionths of an inch. Selling through industrial distributors and manufacturing representatives, many of HEMCO’s clients are extremely well-known enterprises, including Caterpillar and John Deere. Customers have come to rely on HEMCO Gage’s quality and the time-tested processes which enable the company to create products which are highly accurate and guaranteed against chipping, cracking and peeling. Not requiring calibration as often as competitor’s gages means that customers save money in the long run.
The company produces extremely high quality gages which can last in some cases 400 percent longer than other chrome-plated products. Its gages also have the advantage of being able to be restored to like-new condition through the company’s unique Gage Saver™ Service program – at a very reasonable cost. For the past twenty-five years, the highly effective program has allowed customers to turn-in worn gages to be restored or replaced with a new one at a discount. The program applies to a variety of gages regardless of the original manufacturer and regardless of whether the gages are standard, special, imperial or metric.
“Our products are used by a typical manufacturer to check their quality,” says Wysong. “If they are making a part that has a tapped hole manufactured into it in Georgia, and making the mating component in Phoenix, Arizona, when they bring them together in Peoria, Illinois, they will fit together and stay together properly.”
Permitted to use only ten percent of a manufacturer’s product tolerance as its product tolerance, the necessary precision can be down to millionths of an inch. To further ensure quality of its fixed limit or hard gage products, HEMCO finishes its gages by hand.
“Hand-finishing is really the skill set that we bring to the market,” comments Wysong of the company’s products, which are all made at its facilities in Michigan. “Outsourcing that wouldn’t give us an advantage, and we want to keep that advantage in our organization.”
Producing gages in batches and custom-made for special thread orders, HEMCO Gage continues to upgrade its equipment to remain competitive, and still uses much of its older machinery from when the company started for its extremely durable plating processes. Prices for gages vary, depending on the size and application. The company manufactures gages from about 1/16 of an inch all the way to 12 inches in diameter for standard thread – or special thread for use in areas such as oilfield and aerospace. A small set of HEMCO gages is about $100, while a set of specialized large gages can be up to $10,000.
To further grow the company and meet the needs of its many customers, HEMCO Gage acquired the Ekonogage pin gage product line back in 2010. A popular line with a solid reputation, the acquisition of Ekonogage has enabled HEMCO to bolster its vast inventory, including sets and libraries along with individual pin gages ready for immediate shipment in a number of sizes.
“We felt Ekonogage fit with our existing product, which has a high quality reputation as well,” says Hop. The company was relocated from the northern Chicago area to HEMCO’s facilities in Holland, Michigan. Ekonogage was acquired because of its reputation for quality pin gauges with high tolerances and reputation in military, aerospace and medical markets.
Remaining a privately-owned enterprise, HEMCO Gage celebrates its seventieth anniversary next year and plans to commemorate the event by acknowledging past and present staff – some of whom have been with the company for decades. It will also be honoring relationships with its distributors as a number of them have been working alongside HEMCO for almost sixty years.
A key employer in Michigan for many years, HEMCO does not face the typical up-and-down cycles of the marketplace, as the company is active in many sectors, and its products are highly specialized. Proud of its many accomplishments over the decades, HEMCO buys steel produced in the U.S., as that guarantees particular chemical contents of the steel.
Producing extremely high quality, labor-intensive products requires much more than the right machinery and materials; it is the cumulative result of many years of first-hand local experience, not cheaper gages made offshore. One of the challenges is in finding new staff with a willingness to learn how to operate machinery that operates within very fine tolerances.
“We think it is critical to America’s competitive advantage in the world to keep this knowledge in the United States, rather than relying on other countries to provide us with the measuring tools to measure whether our products are right or wrong,” says Wysong of the company.
“One of the things that makes us different from our competitors is our deep knowledge base – how to measure your product properly and well to ensure that you are making it the right way.”
With decades of precision gage-making experience, a highly skilled staff and the respect of countless customers, suppliers and distributors, HEMCO Gage looks forward to meeting the needs of a variety of industries in the years to come.