Weckworth Manufacturing, Inc. was established in the mid-1980s and was acquired by Bob and Jan Hoffmann in 1993, who cultivated the company to be a reputable contract textile manufacturer serving the aerospace, commercial, industrial and military markets. In fact, the federal government makes up to sixty-five percent of the company’s sales.
Finding a quality contract sewing manufacturer that prides itself on transitioning unique product ideas into full production can be a daunting task. This is a very competitive industry. There are over 19,000 contract sewing manufacturers in the nation employing over 55,000 people. Close to sixty percent of these manufacturers are located in the west according to a 2017 IBISWorld report.
It becomes a question of finding that ideal manufacturer – one that is reliable, quality driven and technically adept – to deliver products to exacting specifications. Weckworth is an ISO 9001/AS9100 certified company, and a name worth considering.
Its approximately two hundred employees at its headquarters in Haysville, Kansas have the resources and capabilities to cut, sew, glue and weld (radio frequency, hot air and hot wedge welding) virtually any fabric that best suits a client’s needs and specifications. Its highly-skilled staff includes an innovative design and engineering team with custom design capabilities. Weckworth appreciates those challenging projects.
Weckworth Manufacturing takes great pride in being family-owned and believes this has led to its competitive advantage. “I think being a family-owned business has helped us maintain focus on our employees,” says Brandon Hoffmann. Treating employees as part of the company family “keeps things moving in the right direction.” Brandon Hoffmann joined the company shortly after it was acquired by his parents in 1993, and was promoted to president by his father, Bob in 2005.
Serving varied markets has led the company’s growth and enabled it to be diverse in its scope and objectives. However, Brandon believes that, “We’d be doing our company justice if we had an increased presence in the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) spaces. Those opportunities present a decent potential for a significant amount of growth both in aerospace and commercial OEM.”
Brandon relates that the engineering and design team, particularly, have what he considers to be “a pretty unique skill set. We’re able to work with two-dimensional drawings and blueprints as well as reverse engineer existing sample parts.” Such blueprints, drawings and sample parts originate from various customers, “who express their ideas and products in a variety of different ways.”
Once a comprehensive understanding of a particular project’s requirements has been communicated, Weckworth Manufacturing uses computer-aided-design (CAD) technology, “to objectively communicate technical requirements and understanding with our customers, as well as internally,” says Brandon. “Generally, the customers’ requirements are dictated to us via the drawing package or specification.” For those projects in which reverse engineering is required, the company is “able to determine what the specific material is from the sample part.”
Because Weckworth Manufacturing provides services to a number of industries, the materials and fabrics used will have varying stipulations as to the type of material employed. Utilizing the required material is essential since peoples’ lives may depend on it. Firefighting gear requires fire-retardant or fire-resistant material whereas medical protective clothing is designed with other risk factors in mind such as the handling of biological hazards or chemicals, for example. Materials are specified for effective performance and wearer safety. There is no room for compromise.
If only for this reason alone, customers demand high-quality products, and manufacturers know that providing such merchandise not only lends itself to customer loyalty but repeat business and a better position in the market. Brandon explains that some customers have an approved supplier list that, “tells us who we have to get the materials from.”
For other customer materials, Weckworth will survey their suppliers and diligently review quality assurance paperwork upon receiving the materials. “Often times, that’s a certificate or compliance from the supplier who has had the materials tested within their own laboratory or perhaps their own third-party certification entity,” explains Brandon.
Upon review of such paperwork, Weckworth will, when deemed appropriate, “send materials out for third-party testing ourselves. That’s a big part of how we make sure that we have the highest quality materials [and] ensuring that they meet the specifications that they are required to meet.”
As with any manufacturing industry, there may be rigid regulations and compliance standards to which the company must adhere, especially for government contracts. Ensuring compliance is an essential component of all Weckworth’s projects. “It’s critical that we go through a pretty in-depth contract review process just to make sure we’re meeting all of the requirements of the contract,” says Brandon. Regulations that fall outside the realm of basic contract requirements “are satisfied within our quality management system.”
Brandon also affirms that Weckworth Manufacturing has a strong human resources department that is diligent in ensuring that, “they’re educated on what regulatory requirements are out there and that we stay in compliance with them.”
Within the manufacturing industries, newly developed technologies are consistently changing and altering the face of the workplace and its products. Some of these technological changes include 3D printing, robotics and software tools that now permeate these industries. Not keeping abreast of changes is not an option. It is a necessity if a company is to survive.
“We do try to stay in tune with changes and advances in our industry by attending trade shows and having frequent discussions with our equipment suppliers,” says Brandon, explaining that increased automation in sewing has assisted the company over the years. “Too much of any good thing can pose some difficulties. So we try to stay in tune with what’s happening in the industry and not overdo any one thing and become too reliant on it.”
The company has adopted such technologies as computer numerical control (CNC) cutting and programmable sewing when it makes sense to do so. “In our industry, automation helps increase some efficiencies and maintains consistency in quality and repeatability.”
“We definitely need the human hands component,” he says. Finding skilled workers can be difficult, which is why Weckworth Manufacturing has developed a training program. “We’re always keeping a sharp eye out for those who already have or might want to develop a skill set that lends itself to our line of manufacturing.”
And certainly safety is constantly a priority in any manufacturing process. Taking the extra time to ensure that everyone follows the safety rules and regulations is a crucial precaution in any working environment. A safety-conscious mindset enables employees to feel secure and healthy in their daily tasks and leads to increased morale as well as productivity.
“Maintaining a safe working environment is absolutely critical,” says Brandon. “As we’ve grown, the potential for safety issues has grown with us.” Brandon takes great pride in the company’s robust safety program and the people who implemented and developed it. “It’s definitely paid dividends… Our employees are confident in the place that they work, and it shows in how they approach their jobs.”
Brandon says that with so many customers and industries served as an industrial sewing contractor, “Every day seems like it poses its own unique challenges.” One initiative that presented a challenge was that of scheduling the company’s operation, which required taking a different approach and employing different software, “to collaborate getting a good solid scheduling process in place. Once we did, it’s been great for us.”
Weckworth Manufacturing believes in bringing entrepreneurial ideas from mere concepts into reality. “Our true core competency is probably building to an existing design. And we enjoy doing that. We also have a lot of fun helping a customer turn his or her idea into a product and ultimately into mass production,” says Brandon.
“We try to specialize in not being overly specialized in anything,” he states. “We’re incredibly diverse. We have a diverse customer base and a diverse library of products that we manufacture for those customers.”
As for the company’s future, it will continue to, “pursue steady and consistent growth,” through broadening its range of customers. “If an incredible opportunity presents itself, we won’t turn away from it,” concludes Brandon.