"Minds Over Metal" Paces 50 Successful Years

Sept. 16, 2010
After +11,000 machine tool installations, Hartwig is redefining the role of machine tool distributors

In the business of machining metal, success is marked in unusual ways — metal removal rates, for example, or tool life. One machine tool distributor is measures its success in more human terms. St. Louis-based Hartwig Inc. is marking its 50-year anniversary with a business strategy that stresses "minds over metal." Whether developing and installing systems for Halliburton's new plant in Malaysia or aiding smaller companies closer to home, like Homeyer Tool & Die, Hartwig, entering its third generation of leadership, Hartwig uses its knowledge assets to build relationships with its customers. "In manufacturing, suppliers can have as much impact on your bottom line as customers," according to the shop’s president, Herb Homeyer.

Fifty years and 11,000 machines since its start, Hartwig employs more than 120 people in eight offices locations, and serves 15 states in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain region. Established in 1960 by former tool and die maker Paul Hartwig and his wife Juanita, today the company has a customer base of more than 4,000 manufacturers producing tiny medical parts to giant aerospace components, and a wide variety of components between those two examples.

"Our company was founded on simple principles,” states Gary Hartwig, the second-generation president and CEO of Hartwig: “Represent the best lines of equipment, service what you sell, and always take care of the customer.

"We've added a new principle to succeed in today's market,” he continues: “Surround ourselves with the smartest internal and external resources in application technology. This has allowed us to build relationships and earn the trust of customers to the point where we consult on manufacturing solutions, not just machine tools. They trust us to build the right solution for their needs, and then deliver it."

Homeyer Tool & Die provides sales, service, engineering and training for majore machine tool builders like Okuma, Hardinge Bridgeport, Miyano, Loxin, and Hexagon Metrology. The key to Hartwig's "total solutions" approach is the knowledge base and expertise of its 13 application engineers.

"Many of our clients use our team of engineers as a way to balance their staffing requirements," says Gary Hartwig. "We assess customer applications, recommend the right solution for the job and then provide the training they need to operate at full potential."

Manufacturers have come to realize that, given the challenging economic environment, effectively managing production assets can be a significant competitive advantage, Hartwig explains. "Manufacturers place a premium on production knowledge and the ability to achieve higher utilization rates, and greater flexibility in responding to new demands and challenges." This is where Hartwig's application engineers have found a niche providing services beyond the traditional machine tool distributor.

"Continuously improving machine-tool technology and the trend toward lean operations presented us with an opportunity to position our company as a hybrid of distributor, service provider, trainer and consultant," says Hartwig. "Customers provide specs for material-removal rates, tolerances, production times, whatever the list of requirements may be, and they expect us to develop the most cost-effective solution possible. We have to know what technology is available, what it can do, how it works and how it fits our customers' operations."

Local knowledge, global market
Regardless of some manufacturers’ off-shoring tendencies, Hartwig's knowledge resources remain in high demand. In 2006, Halliburton asked the company to provide a detailed proposal for machine tool requirements at a new oilfield parts production plant being built in Malaysia. Rapid growth in the Far East made Halliburton’s stateside manufacture-and-ship operations less efficient for serving the Asian market. With the complex logistics of building a new plant from ground up, the company wanted a turnkey transaction for its machine tools and peripheral equipment. It found just such a reliable prospectus from Hartwig.

Homeyer Tool & Die, a longtime Hartwig customer, consults with Hartwig on new equipment purchases. Homeyer has more than 40 CNC machines, waterjets, vertical mills, hones, EDM and inspection equipment like this Zeiss Contoura G2 CMM machine.

"Hartwig didn't want just to sell machines,” recalls Wayne Colberson, an industrial engineer and team leader for Halliburton. “They did an analysis to ensure we had the right machines for the job, and then made sure our people had the proper training.”

Hartwig recommended a combination of CNC lathes, mill turn centers and CNC milling machines to meet the production needs for drill string completion parts. In total, more than 50 machines were required for the new plant, and Hartwig along with their manufacturing partners sent a 20-member team to install the machines and train Halliburton’s operators on how to use them.

"In 30 years, I had never been involved in a project quite this large," said Colberson. "From the start Hartwig was on-point for all things machine-tool related, and they made sure the installation happened on schedule. In fact, the first four machines were installed before the building was even finished."

Staying current as technology advances
Manufacturers also depend more on machine tool distributors to keep them current on the latest advancements in machines and machining methods. With increased competition worldwide, especially in the areas of quality and precision, job shops are updating or replacing their machine tools more regularly, choosing more advanced technologies, and they depend on the machine tool distributor to show them the best ways to exploit the new capabilities.

When Steelville Mfg. in Steelville, Mo., needed to add a large-part cell with an automated pallet system, it contacted Hartwig for a system to handle its high-volume, large-component production, yet flexible enough to respond to short-run opportunities or emergencies. Steelville is a contract machining company producing aircraft parts, as well as medical instrument components. "As a job shop, we need versatility in our machine tools," said company vice president John Bell, "This cell gives us the ability to take on short-run or emergency jobs. And, that can go a long way with customer relationships."

Family-owned Hartwig, Inc. is entering its third generation of leadership. Paul Hartwig and his wife Juanita founded the company in 1960. Left to right: Geoff Hartwig, team leader, Gary Hartwig, president and CEO, and Greg Hartwig, team leader. The distributor provides machine tool sales, training and expertise to a variety of customers that includes over 4,000 manufacturers in 15 states.

At Steelville Mfg., Hartwig built a 167-foot long cell consisting of two 4-axis horizontal machining centers for roughing and two 5-axis HMCs for finishing operations, around a 94-pallet Fastems FMS system, a multi-level pallet storage/retrieval system that links the stand-alone machines. The cell has space for two more machining centers, and provides Steelville with the flexibility to add or replace machines as it chooses.

Small business customers, like Homeyer Tool & Die, also call Hartwig when its time to make new machine tool decisions. Homeyer, in Marthasville, Mo., delivers precision machining services as well as complete engineering solutions, from product design and development to final tooling packages. "I knew Hartwig from a previous employer," said Herb Homeyer, president. "When I started my company in 1990, they were one of the first calls I made."

The tool-and-die maker has more than 40 CNC machines, waterjets, vertical mills, hones, quality inspection and EDM equipment, including a 7-axis multi-tasking machine. Hartwig sold and installed the machines and provided training for Homeyer's machine operators. "Now, I use Hartwig as a consultant on new machine purchases," Herb Homeyer reveals. "Good purchasing advice and knowledgeable training are valuable assets that help make our business successful."

To develop its consulting capability, Hartwig made significant commitment to staff training and education. The 43 engineers in the company's service department go through apprenticeship training at Okuma, and renew every two years, to ensure they are up to speed on the latest machine technology; and 18 of Hartwig's 28 sales engineers are CMTSE-certified. The company also conducts training at all eight of its locations to address customers' specific programming or operating issues, something Hartwig's more entrepreneurial customers appreciate.

"Projects like Halliburton Malaysia are high-profile and challenging," said Gary Hartwig, "but some of our most satisfying work is done with companies like the 'Steelvilles' and 'Homeyers.' We're a family-owned business with three generations involved, and we understand the value of having a good business partner, and being one."

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