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Customized Tooling is Just a Part of Customer Service

March 22, 2012
End-mill developer works to turn a moment of truth into a reason to believe
Making custom-sized reamers like these with really fast turnaround has made IMCO a preferred supplier for valuable customers.
Doug Ellis, of Tool & Gage Associates, displays some of the customized reamers IMCO made for his aerospace customer. When you build something as massive as planes, maintaining production timelines is critical. One delay can set back the entire project for weeks or months. And, every project faces at least one setback, sooner or later. When the timeline and the success of a project pivot on custom tools, the spotlight is on the supplier. It’s show time. IMCO Carbide Tool sales support specialist Louanne Dennis calls these “moment of truth situations” — when an extraordinary occurrence redefines the relationship between customer and supplier.

IMCO develops advanced cutting tools for manufacturers supplying aerospace, automotive, energy, medical instrumentation and mining industry OEMs. Its specialties are end mills that it tests to ensure the customers’ profitability, satisfaction, and competitive advantage.

Solving a moment-of-truth situation, Dennis said, through “out-of-this-world service” strengthens ties within the team, which always includes the customer. Extreme conditions and intense mutual effort forge a deeper, more personalized relationship between supplier and customer, evolving well beyond the traditional “commitment.”

“With these extraordinary situations, it takes a team of experienced people to make things happen,” Dennis remarked. “Everyone on the team understands what’s at stake and steps up to do their part. The team for this project consisted of IMCO, Tool & Gage Associates and personnel from our aerospace customer. We did exactly what they needed, exactly at the timeline they needed.”

Recently, when one of IMCO’s aerospace industry customers needed to source custom reamers, the engineers there knew from experience that timing was everything. They also knew that not all machine tool suppliers would be able to pull it off.

“We had an emergent requirement for custom tools to produce a part of major significance in support of an ongoing program,” the customer’s representative explained. Looking for a solution that would avert any long-term impact on program cost and scheduling (and keep customer satisfaction high), the buyer discussed the situation with IMCO representative Mark Smith, who happened to call on him that same day.

“They needed specially sized reamers in more than 42 configurations, all solid carbide,” Smith recalled. “They were going to be used in extremely high-value material to create very critical, close-tolerance holes in sophisticated aerospace parts.”

IMCO had worked closely with more than one of Smith’s customers developing special tools and the results had received high marks all around. He knew IMCO could make it happen if the production timeline could be worked out. So, Smith and Doug Ellis, the sales representative of Tool & Gage Associates, brought the job to IMCO for confirmation. Ms. Dennis expedited the project.

“Tool & Gage Associates and the aerospace customer had a need,” she said. “They called us. We listened.” Dennis worked directly with the customer to set priorities and develop a timetable for deliveries. IMCO received the first set of orders from Tool & Gage Associates at the end of last August. The special-purpose reamers were very large, and made to demanding specifications in more than a dozen different sizes. Everyone involved was aware that the stakes were high.

“With these things there can sometimes be haste and angst,” the customer observed, “but they were quite flexible with us.” The first tools shipped just eight days after the orders arrived. IMCO supplied each batch via next-day delivery directly to Ellis’s home. Then, Ellis delivered them to the plant in person, and the end tools were put to use immediately.

“At times,” Smith recalled, “we’d get the requirements on Saturday and IMCO would ship the tools on Monday.” In fact, on one occasion, the specifications changed and tools had to be returned to IMCO for resizing. The tools were received, resized, and redelivered within 48 hours.

According to the customer there were absolutely no issues or problems or parts lost because of the cutting tools. The tools worked from the start to the end, and they were able to produce several thousands of the parts on schedule, which was crucial to the program.

The timetable was inviolate and the tools arrived every time, true to schedule and performance requirements. The satisfaction level with the tools and the service was very high for every member of the team, from customer participants to sales reps. Reflecting on nearly 40 years of experience in the machining industry, Smith emphasized, “I’ve had other end mill lines and, believe me, they would never do what IMCO did. When the customer saw how IMCO reacted, they just stayed with them through the whole thing.”

The aerospace manufacturer continues to use the special reamers and have placed even more orders for other tools in the months since that particular order. Prior to this project, they had used very few IMCO products but that has changed, and for obvious reasons. And, when the opportunity presents itself, IMCO is selected over other suppliers, as appropriate.

“The key was that IMCO was able to make the short time-flow commitment and they lived up to it,” Smith stated.

“When something monumental comes your way and you know that others may have said it couldn’t be done or didn’t even try – that’s a terrific challenge,” Dennis commented. “This was truly a moment-of-truth situation, and everyone stepped up and delivered.”

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