Growing talent, investing in modern machining technology and documenting processes are the keys to more than 60 years success for Lansing, Michigan-based Franchino Mold & Engineering. In the midst of a $12 million expansion, the company is growing so it can continue exceeding their customers’ expectations.
Franchino Mold & Engineering is a die cast die and plastic injection mold manufacturer that makes molds for any industry that needs to manufacture a physical product — every sector from automotive and construction to consumer products and waste water treatment. We spoke with Todd Phillips, Mike Hetherington and Brad Rusthoven of Franchino Mold to find out more.
Learning early to diversify
Franchino Mold & Engineering was started by Richard Franchino in the unattached garage of his family’s home. The company did well for a small shop, but began exponential expansion in 1974 when Robert Franchino, a trained engineer who had worked for General Motors and Honeywell, joined the company.
Early on in the history of the company, the leadership saw the wisdom of not relying solely on the nearby auto industry. Because of its ability to diversify, the company has been able to make a variety of interesting tools — and been able to weather recessions throughout its long history.
“We know it’s important to diversify, to be able to serve many industries in a variety of ways,” said Todd Phillips, vice president of sales and engineering. “We like being able to work on many different things, and it keeps us nimble. Not all shops were as lucky. Our diversity of customers has been a major factor in our ability to hold steady through economic ups and downs. We’re doing well, focused on growing our business, buying more equipment and moving forward.”
Manufacturing their own growth
Franchino Mold is in the midst of a $12 million growth spurt — which includes building expansion, purchasing additional machines and investing in their employees through training and apprenticeships. The most recent round of growth began several years ago when a customer came to Franchino Mold with an idea that would require the company to push the boundaries of what current molding machines can make.
“Our customer came to us with a new project for a product; it was something that had never been created on such a huge scale before. We looked at it as a group and decided we could make it happen — and we did. That particular mold weighed in at 420,000 pounds, and it is the largest production aluminum tool ever built. We’re really proud of that,” said Phillips.
The mold was for a 1,530-gallon septic tank that was completed in 2014 for Infiltrator Water Technologies. The company ran production parts as soon as the mold was installed in the press, and it was such a success that Franchino is looking to go bigger next time with the same client.
In order to build such large scale tools, the company has invested heavily in machinery during the last four years, explained Mike Hetherington, vice president of operations. The most recent purchases include an SNK America-made vertical machining center with both straight and angled auto-changing heads as well as a large Tarus bridge machining center that travels around a project via gantry.
“We have just purchased an OMV formula machine with travels of 8 meters by 3.6 meters. It’s a huge machine that has huge capabilities. We’re looking to the future and know that these machines will let us make larger tools even more efficiently.”
Moving up and branching out
When building large molds or dies, you’ve got to be able to move massive tonnage of steel in large spaces, so machining isn’t the only investment Franchino Mold & Engineering has made in recent years. The company has purchased additional buildings and installed one 50-ton crane and two 25-ton cranes to complement their existing 35-ton crane. The building purchase adds nearly 65,000 square feet in a building directly adjacent to the company’s second Lansing-area plant.
“The plan is to join those two 60,000 square-foot buildings together, add cranes and manufacturing space which should happen within the next 1 ½ years. From there we will consolidate into one plant,” said Phillips. Offices will also be constructed at this combined building within the next three years. When the two buildings are joined, it will create more than 120,000 square feet of modern manufacturing space.
Franchino Mold & Engineering is growing at a pace of 10% to 15% per year, with the last four years witnessing a staff increase of 100% when the number of employees jumped from 42 to 89 — with plans for additional hires in the near future.
“We have doubled in size over the last four years and are aggressive about growing as fast as the market will bear. One of the problems that we have run into is that we need the facilities and equipment to grow, but most importantly, we need the people,” said Hetherington.
One of the most challenging parts of the manufacturing industry is finding skilled employees to run the complex and technical machines that create the tools. The industry as a whole is facing a skilled-trade worker shortage — which is only exacerbated by the current skilled laborers coming upon retirement age.
“It’s just a fact that seasoned employees with years of technical knowledge and skills can’t be replaced with a kid out of high school,” said Brad Rusthoven, human resources manager. “Our strategy is to find experienced tradesmen who can bring leadership when our most experienced workers choose to retire, while – at the same time – finding and training mechanically minded young people in the industry.
“Schools used to have machine shops and drafting classes in them,” said Rusthoven. “In the late 80s/early 90s, that vocational and technical training was slowly pulled out of high schools, and technical skills were looked down on. Today manufacturers are feeling the brunt of that decision. We have jobs, but we need skilled labor to fill them.”
Franchino Mold has always worked closely with area schools to identify and train students for skilled labor — in fact it was one of the first in the area to begin a formal training program in 1962. Today, the company has several apprenticeship programs for both machining and mold makers, taking applicants from regional technical programs as well as from those in college programs focusing on math/science/technical education.
Apprentices in the program can work to get their journeyman’s card – as well as their Associate degree – with educational costs paid by the company. It’s all part of the company’s philosophy that values training and education.
Focus on the future
Franchino Mold & Engineering has a firm eye on the future, and has taken steps to ensure it is ready to meet any challenges. Modern technology, bigger and faster machines, investing in talent and space to grow put Franchino Mold on solid footing and ready to take on whatever the future of manufacturing brings.