On the floor: Making magic by keeping machines running

The machine maintenance department is a plant’s backbone.

By Bob Vavra, Content Manager August 15, 2011

“This is our old-fashioned art department,” mused Mike Dudek as he looked across the machine maintenance department of his family’s business, “our black magic, if you will.”

There shouldn’t be anything magical about maintenance. It’s hard work, requiring creation to a plan and attention to detail. So what makes it magical? It can make money appear out of thin air.

The machine maintenance department at Dudek and Bock, a string, wireform, and metal stamping plant on Chicago’s West Side, is, if not glamorous, at least elegant. Coils of wire are turned and twisted and reshaped into parts for washing machines, support backs for car seats, and other houseware and appliance applications. The department is critical to the Dudek and Bock success story because it’s staffed with many longtime employees who have not only run every piece of machinery in the building, but are able to repair and retrofit it.

If a typical piece of heavy wireforming machinery is idled, Dudek noted, “You might be looking at $300,000 to buy it new, while our guys can make one of our old machines run as good as new for maybe 20% of that amount. Big difference.”

That big difference is what helps a relatively small manufacturer remain a major player in a global market after 65 years in business. In 1946, Mike Dudek’s grandfather Joe and his partner Stan Bock started the business with two four-slide machines for spring forming and a commitment to vertically integrated manufacturing, product quality, and efficient operation of the factory that was and is the envy of the industry.

Today, Dudek and Bock rebuilds and retrofits more than 500 machines for use at its plant in Chicago and a branch in Saltillo, Mexico. The company produces over 90% of its own tooling to minimize reliance on outside sources and the attendant cost/delivery issues. Currently, the company produces more than 1,500 products to order.

And the company is not resting on that 65-year history. Dudek and Bock recently purchased an automotive supplier and folded it into its Chicago plant. That company concentrated on the automotive seating industry, where Dudek and Bock was already established.

“We saw an opportunity to expand our product reach in the seating business, not only with the in-house capabilities we already had but also through this compatible company, who was making torsion springs and related products,” said Dudek, who heads the company’s sales efforts. “The acquisition went smoothly and we are quite pleased with the results to date.”

The ability to keep product close to home is both a competitive advantage and a quality imperative. “While some products are produced in the Mexico plant for local automotive business, most of it happens here in Chicago, affording us optimum control of the manufacturing and logistics,” said account manager Karen Pacana. “This reduces carrying costs and allows us to build a safety overrun into our jobs, which frequently gets used for aftermarket repair operations.”

To further maintain the quality of the products and processes, the Mexico plant employees are frequently brought to Chicago for machine cross-training and instruction on the protocols used by the company for production evaluation. “This policy gives the employees a great sense of belonging to our organization and company culture, plus they come away from the experience here with multiple skill sets that can be utilized at the Saltillo facility,” said sales manager Raquel Chole.

Dudek and Bock was chosen as the host plant for this year’s tour as part of the 2011 Manufacturing/Automation Summit, sponsored by Plant Engineering and Control Engineering. One of the reasons for that selection is the company’s growth and expansion strategy in a competitive global manufacturing environment. That strategy emphasizes continuous improvement in all areas of an operation. That’s a critical factor when machines are expensive and well broken-in after years on the floor.

Eipe Varghese, vice president for quality at Dudek and Bock, noted the company has achieved ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and ISO/TS 16949 certification. “Our full audit procedures and constant attention to continuous improvement protocols at both plants have made a big difference in the overall efficiency of the company,” he said. “This reduces cost, improves delivery achievements, and keeps us a valued supplier to our demanding major markets.”

Matt Puz, vice president of sales and marketing at Dudek and Bock, said the company uses a strict “cost of quality” calculation to ensure its prices remain competitive not just for its customers, but to make it competitive in the global marketplace. “We utilize world-class metrics to keep us a world-class company,” Puz noted proudly. “Quality has become part of our culture here, and we review everything related to our machines, labor, overtime, earned hour ratio, and more.” The result has been 25% higher efficiency for man hours worked, over the last eight years.

View a video of this event here.

Also see On the Floor: RIDGID puts its focus on continuous improvement.

Return to 2011 Mid-Year Report: Grading on the curve.