Fredon Corp. Staying ahead by working smarter

Dec. 11, 2008
A commitment to machinist education and improvement of skills pays off.
Fredon executives (left to right): Alyson Scott, treasurer; Rich Ditto, vice president, operations; Roger Sustar, president, and Chris Sustar, vice president.

Fredon Corp. ( excels in tackling high-precision, close-tolerance, difficultto- machine projects that most shops find problematic, or impossible.

Serving both domestic and international customers, the company focuses on machining magnesium, aluminum, titanium and steel castings and forgings and in working with hard-to-machine super alloys including Hasteloy, Waspeloy and Inconel.

Fredon serves customers in demanding industries through long-term agreements that free them from the procurement, manufacturing, assembly, quality assurance and logistic details associated with their projects. Typically, the company’s one-stop-shopping approach includes forecasting of customer needs, purchasing workpiece materials, scheduling with suppliers, machining and assembly. Customers routinely grade Fredon on its performance in delivering products within a five-days-early, one-day-late window.

“Every month our customers send us a report card that evaluates our performance in terms of quality and in meeting delivery schedules,” said Rich Ditto, vice president operations at Fredon.

“We’re proud of the fact that we have never had a failing grade.”

More than high-tech machines
Fredon’s production facility houses a variety of high-performance CNC horizontal and vertical machining centers for milling, CNC turning centers, grinding equipment and quality control systems.

“A lot of shops may have the same state-of-the-art machines and software that make these machines sing and dance that we have, but our advantage is the experience and skill of our machinists,” Ditto said. The company, in business for over 39 years, has grown from a two-person shop to a 40,000- sq-ft. facility with 70 employees.

  • Fredon Corp.
  • Mentor, Ohio
  • Number of employees —70
  • 2008 sales —NA
  • Market served —Aerospace, defense, power generation, locomotive, off-highway transportation, robots, machinery and equipment

“It takes years of hands-on experience to develop the machining skills necessary to do the type of high-precision work we do,” Ditto said.

“Therefore, we go to great lengths to find people with a cooperative attitude and desire to make our company a success and make them want to stay with us. We continuously train and upgrade the skills of these machinists and foster a culture of sharing knowledge and practical know-how among all our workers,” he added.

The average tenure of Fredon employees is 10 years, but some machinists, often referred to as ‘surgeons of steel,’ have worked together for decades.

In 2001, Fredon formed a Lean Manufacturing Team to improve all aspects of the company’s operations with special emphasis on productivity and waste elimination.

Team members include the president, treasurer, vice president of operations, vice-president of purchasing and four manufacturing lead persons. They are responsible for searching for more productive machines, increasing efficiencies throughout the shop, making improvements and considering ideas from employees.

The Lean Manufacturing Team has implemented the practice of gathering all required information, tools, gages, materials and any other required resources together in one “kit” before the last piece of the previous job is complete.

Gathering the resources ahead of time has helped to reduce the time to get the first production piece off the machines. Also, the shop’s decision to use tool presetters has shortened setup times. Keeping customer tools preset in toolholders reduces setup time and helps reduce costs while supplying customers with the parts they need at a reasonable price.

Growing future machinsits
Fredon founder and president Roger Sustar has gained a unique perspective on the state of manufacturing in this country through his long association with the National Tooling and Manufacturing Association (NTMA), National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and other trade groups.

Recognizing the need to develop an early interest in manufacturing among young people, in 1993, Sustar launched an innovative educational program called “The Cannons of Fredon.” This program gives 16-year and older young men and women hands-on experience and information on careers in the manufacturing and machining industries.

The program, promoted by Fredon in local high-schools and trade schools, is administered through the Learning for Life division of the Boy Scouts of America, Explorer Post 2600, although students in the program do not have to be scouts.

For two hours each Saturday from October through May, students work with Fredon’s Class A machinists as they learn the ins and outs of machining and the skills needed to become a valuable employee. During this time, the students are exposed to up-to-date machine tools and equipment in a clean, modern shop environment.

“I think we generate a lot of excitement and interest in metalworking when our students see first hand what a shop such as ours is really like. They are turned-on when they see the type of products we make and the advanced machine tools and controls we use to make those products,” Ditto said.

The students work with brass, bronze and aluminum to machine and assemble a 20-lb, 18-in.-long scale model of a non-firing Napoleanic field cannon. Making the cannon lets each student learn the basics of milling, turning, tapping, casting and assembly.

At the end of the program, each student takes a cannon home as a symbol of his or her hard work and dedication to the program. Since its inauguration, more than 200 students have attended the Cannons of Fredon program. Classes typically range from seven to 30 student machinists.

Sustar said that the shortage of skilled machinists in this country could be eliminated and the the image of shop work can be imporved among young people if there were similar programs across the country.

“We can’t convince everyone that this is a great career, but we can introduce young people to manufacturing as a viable business,” Sustar said. He hopes the program keeps a fresh flow of new, enthusiastic candidates pouring into the manufacturing field, which he says is misunderstood and unfairly maligned by many who do not know how the industry has changed over the years.

Sustar said his worst fear is that all American manufacturing eventually will move offshore. He wants recognition for the important role manufacturing plays in our economy.

In addition to helping to generate interest in the manufacturing and machine-tool industry, the Cannons of Fredon program has resulted in 12 new employees for Fredon. At the end of each Cannons of Fredon course, outstanding students are given the opportunity to become part of the Fredon team. They can work part time while in school and then work full time when they graduate.

This is just the beginning of the education, training and development of a Fredon machinist. The company encourages its machinists to take advantage of the company’s four-year apprenticeship program conducted at nearby Cuyahoga Community College, Lakeland Community Collage and Auburn Career Center. This program leads to a manufacturing engineering degree and certification as an Ohio Precision Machinist.