CPP’s Upgrade in Business Class

A bankrupt business less than a decade ago, the CPP-Minneapolis aluminum casting facility has developed into its parent corporation’s flagship operation thanks to renewed investment and business discipline.

Nicholas Leider, Associate Editor

(Click here to see the story as it appears in the September issue of Modern Casting.)

For many in the American metalcasting industry, and the U.S. manufacturing sector as a whole, surviving the economic turbulence of the past decade has been a victory unto itself. The global recession, numerous regional economic crises and the impact of offshoring on the American market made many businesses content to stay afloat during a trying time.

But for Consolidated Precision Products’ (CPP) Minneapolis aluminum and magnesium casting facility, the past decade has been as much about learning to thrive as it has simple survival. Known as Hitchcock Industries since its founding in 1916, the single-site, family-owned operation had served the aerospace and defense industries for three generations. But the nobake sand casting facility experienced significant financial hardships after a number of market disruptions in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. Eventually, Hitchcock Industries filed for bankruptcy in 2006, and it then was purchased by CPP, a privately owned manufacturing group that now owns 19 sand casting and investment casting facilities in the U.S., Mexico and Europe.

Following the acquisition, CPP provided annual capital expenditures in the seven figures to improve outdated infrastructure and machinery. The parent company maintained a large segment of the workforce from its time as Hitchcock Industries, but management was reorganized. The corporate leadership stressed financial accountability and discipline, which had been deprioritized under previous ownership.

Now, thanks to organizational changes and consistent growth in its core markets, CPP-Minneapolis has undergone a resurgence. The facility hopes to top $90 million in sales this year, up from $50 million when it was purchased in 2006.

“In the past nine years, this place has changed drastically,” said Cori Potter, purchasing manager, CPP. “We were a family owned company in some financial trouble, but now we’ve embraced a new structure with a new dynamic. It’s undeniably better and we have a very positive outlook for the future.”

Recognizing Untapped Potential

When Hitchcock Industries declared for bankruptcy in 2006, CPP saw a unique opportunity to acquire the foundry in addition to Watkins Pattern, a pattern shop literally across the street from the casting facility that could be a natural complement. Purchasing both companies, the CPP executive team emphasized process improvements and mechanical upgrades to what had been an aging facility.

“Changes were meant to be gradual,” said Mark Krings, VP of operations. “CPP invested between $1.5 and $3 million each year in infrastructure and capital equipment, which was about as much as we could handle without a lot of interruption in production. In the meantime, we’ve seen our sales and profitability increase.”

With such a dedication to improving the Minneapolis site, CPP’s executive team expects the 200,000-sq.-ft. operation to show that such financial investments are warranted and well executed. The day-to-day metalcasting processes are managed by onsite personnel, but the parent company remains focused on looking farther down the road.

“We are held to strict budgets, with forecasting driving the financial decisions and long-term planning,” Potter said. “The corporate executive team may not always be here physically, but they have a huge presence and are always aware of what we’re doing.”

With 75% of its business directed toward commercial aerospace—the remaining 25% is military contracts—CPP-Minneapolis has experienced substantial growth in the wake of last decade’s recession. While the defense industry remains more volatile, CPP-Minneapolis has been able to offset any fluctuations in military spending by expanding into the European aerospace market over the past five years.

Because of this steady growth, company executives are confident annual sales will top $100 million in the next three to four years, which would double the facility’s sales when it was acquired by CPP.

Taking a Central Role

While CPP-Minneapolis has experienced a resurgence since its acquisition, the facility’s role within its family of companies has evolved over the past decade. CPP has 19 locations: its Cleveland-based corporate headquarters, six facilities in its permanent mold/sand casting division, 10 investment casting facilities and two processesing centers. The Minneapolis site, producing castings up to 2,500 lbs., is the largest facility with 525 employees, 460 of which are hourly. Because of size, capabilities and engineering expertise, CPP-Minneapolis has grown into the corporation’s flagship operation as a whole.

“We share knowledge, we pool purchasing power and we share resources as much as we possibly can,” said Mark Schneider, process engineer. “We provide a lot of engineering support to smaller facilities who may not have our resources. It’s not uncommon to have other CPP employees come here to shadow our employees, while we also send individuals out to other facilities.”

By purchasing nearby Watkins Pattern Co., CPP allowed the Minneapolis operation to position itself as a one-stop shop for customers by producing patterns, cores and tooling onsite. The metalcaster can reduce certain complications by having such capabilities on one site.

“It is a huge advantage,” Krings said. “When we’re building a tool, our engineers are close by. They can walk across the street to be sure it’s being built to specification. We have operations people who can make recommendations depending on the process or equipment that will be used.”

Beginning in 2015, CPP-Minneapolis has started to position itself as a central source for certain pattern and tooling projects within CPP’s sand division.

“Our goal is to make the pattern shop the go-to shop for CPP’s entire sand division, so we will be able to quote, tool and build various patterns for our sister foundries,” Krings said.

The transition, including an expansion in the amount and types of projects, has been relatively smooth, thanks in part to existing capabilities that have been reinforced through investment in technology.

“It helps having a knowledgeable patternmaking staff and all the necessary CAD tools,” Krings said. “But since [CPP’s purchase], we’ve been upgrading our mills and CNC capabilities so we have been able to accommodate that kind of work without asking for $3 million in immediate upgrades.”

Located in a developed area of Minneapolis just five miles from the airport and 10 miles from downtown, the metalcasting facility has expanded over the years to occupy as much of the available space as feasible. Onsite expansion is not a viable option, so CPP engineers have shifted focus to streamlining operations and improving throughput.

 “We’re focusing on various process engineering projects in an effort to improve efficiency in specific areas,” Schneider said. “For example, we had 3M here looking at a new abrasive that would cut faster. We’re looking to save minutes that will add up—that’s how we’ll increase our capacity. We need to be technology driven.”

Capital expenditures for the second half of 2015, for example, aim to reduce a bottleneck in the heat treatment department—which runs 24/7 while most departments run two 10-hours shifts. CPP-Minneapolis hopes to increase throughput with the installation of another furnace by the end of the year.

“The rules are different,” Krings said. “In the last decade, we’ve tightened out belts, we look at things in a more meaningful matter. We are positioned to succeed because we are more informed. We’re working smarter.”

ncountering a scenario in which you are forced to suddenly and immediately suspend melting operations for an extended period can be a death sentence for many metalcasting facilities. Small to mid-size businesses are the backbone of the industry, but many do not survive when forced into extended downtime. One disaster-stricken metalcaster, however, found resilience through its own perseverance and a circle of support from peers, friends, suppliers, teams from installation and repair providers, an original equipment manufacturer and even competitors.
Tonkawa Foundry, a third-generation, family-owned operation in Tonkawa, Okla., was entering its 65th year of operation this year when a significant technical failure ravaged the power supply and melting furnaces on January 17. Thanks to the textbook evacuation directed by Operations Manager Carrie Haley, no one was physically harmed during the incident, but the extent of emotional and financial damage, and just how long the event would take Tonkawa offline, was unclear.
Tonkawa’s power supply and two steel-shell furnaces would have to be rebuilt. No part of the reconstruction process could begin until the insurance company approved removal of the equipment from the site. The potential loss of Tonkawa’s employees and customers to competing metalcasters seemed inevitable.
Within two days of the incident, repair, installation and equipment representatives were on site at Tonkawa to survey the damage. Once the insurance company issued approval to begin work, the installation team mobilized within 24 hours to remove the equipment and disassemble the melt deck.
Since the damaged equipment was installed in the 1980s and 1990s, Tonkawa and an equipment services and repair company quickly strategized a plan and identified ways to enhance the safety, efficiency and overall productivity of Tonkawa’s melt deck.
“The most critical issue was for our team to organize a response plan,” said Steve Otto, executive vice president for EMSCO’s New Jersey Installation Division. “We needed to arrive at Tonkawa ready to work as soon as possible and deliver quickly and thoroughly so they could get back to the business of melting and producing castings, and minimize their risk of closing.”
Several years after Tonkawa’s melt deck was originally installed, an elevation change was required to accommodate the use of a larger capacity ladle under the spout of the furnaces. Rather than raising the entire melt deck, only the area supporting the furnaces was elevated. As a result, the power supply and workstation were two steps down from the furnaces, creating a number of inconveniences and challenges that impacted overall work flow in the melt area. Additionally, the proximity of the power supply to the furnaces not only contributed to the limited workspace, but also increased the odds of the power supply facing damage.
The damage to the melt deck required it to be reconstructed. It was determined to be the ideal opportunity to raise the entire deck to the same elevation and arrange the power supply, workstation and furnaces onto one level. The furnace installation company provided the layout concepts, and with the aid of Rajesh Krishnamurthy, applications engineer, Oklahoma State Univ., Tonkawa used the concepts to generate blueprints for the new deck construction. The results yielded a modernized melt system with an even elevation, strategically placed power supply, enhanced worker safety and increased operator productivity.
“Eliminating the steps and relocating the power supply farther from the furnaces was a significant improvement to our melt deck,” Tonkawa Co-Owner Jim Salisbury said.
Within four days of insurance company approval, all damaged equipment had been removed and shipped for repair.
The insurance company required an autopsy on the damaged furnace before any repair work could begin. The forensic analysis was hosted by EMSCO in Anniston, Ala., in the presence of insurance company personnel, as well as an assembly of industry representatives from the companies who had received notices of potential subrogation from the insurance company.
Tonkawa’s furnace was completely disassembled while the insurance company’s forensic inspector directed, photographed, cataloged and analyzed every turn of every bolt on the furnace over a nine-hour workday. The coil was dissected, and lining samples were retained for future reference.
While the furnace sustained extensive damage, it did not have to be replaced entirely.
Structural reconstruction was performed to address run-out damage in the bottom of the furnace, a new coil was fabricated and the hydraulic cylinders were repacked and resealed. Fortunately, the major components were salvageable, and ultimately, the furnace was rebuilt for half the cost of a new furnace.
“The furnace experienced a significant technical failure,” said Jimmy Horton, vice president and general manager of southern operations, EMSCO. “However, not only was the unit rebuilt, it was rebuilt using minimal replacement parts.”
Though work was underway on the furnaces, Tonkawa was challenged with a projected lead time of 14 weeks on the power supply.
When accounting for the three weeks lost to insurance company holds and the time required for installation, Tonkawa was looking at a total production loss of 18-20 weeks. From the perspective of sibling co-owners Sandy Salisbury Linton and Jim Salisbury, Tonkawa could not survive such a long period of lost productivity. After putting their heads together with their furnace supplier, it was determined the reason for the long turnaround on the power supply could be traced to the manufacturer of the steel cabinet that housed the power supply.
The solution? The existing cabinet would be completely refurbished and Tonkawa would do the work rather than the initial manufacturer. This reduced the 14-week lead time to just five weeks.
Tonkawa is the single source for a number of its customers. Although lead-time had been significantly reduced, the Tonkawa team still needed a strategy to keep the single source customers in business as well as a plan to retain their larger customers.
Tonkawa pours many wear-resistant, high-chrome alloys for the agriculture and shot blast industries. Kansas Castings, Belle Plaine, Kan., which is a friendly competitor, is located 50 miles north of Tonkawa. Kansas Castings offered Tonkawa two to three heats every Friday for as long as it needed.
“We made molds, put them on a flatbed trailer, prayed it wasn’t going to rain in Oklahoma, and drove the molds to Kansas Castings. We were molding, shot blasting, cleaning, grinding and shipping every Friday,” Salisbury Linton said.
Others joined the circle of support that was quickly surrounding the Tonkawa Foundry family.
Modern Investment Casting Corporation (MICC) is located 12 miles east of Tonkawa in Ponca City, Okla. Though MICC is an investment shop and Tonkawa is a sand casting facility, MICC’s relationship with Tonkawa dates back years to when Sandy and Jim’s father, Gene Salisbury, was at the helm.
“Gene was always willing to help you out,” said MICC owner, Dave Cashon. “His advice was invaluable for us over the years, so when the opportunity arose to support Sandy and Jim, we volunteered our help.”
 MICC offered to pour anything Tonkawa needed every Friday in its furnace. Tonkawa brought its alloy, furnace hand and molds, while MICC provided its furnace and a furnace hand for three heats. Many of the specialty parts Tonkawa produces were completed with MICC’s support.
When Salisbury Linton approached Cashon and asked him to issue her an invoice to cover the overhead Tonkawa was consuming, Cashon told her if she brought in six-dozen donuts every Friday morning they’d call it even.
“We’re all kind of like family,” Cashon said. “We’re all part of the same industry and though we may be friendly competitors at times, you don’t want to see anybody go through what they’ve gone through and it could have just as easily been our furnace that failed. While we all take the appropriate measures and perform maintenance to prevent these scenarios from occurring, they unfortunately still occur from time to time in our industry.”
Tonkawa had recently added steel work to its menu of services and Central Machine & Tool, Enid, Okla., was able to take Tonkawa’s patterns and fulfill its steel orders so it would not fall behind with those customers, while CFM Corporation, Blackwell, Okla., took three of Tonkawa’s employees on a temporary basis and kept them working during the downtime. Additionally, a couple of Tonkawa’s major suppliers extended their payables terms.
Thanks to Tonkawa’s suppliers, friends and its personnel’s own passion, persistence and dedication, the business is up, running and recovering—placing it among the few shops of its size to overcome the odds and remain in business after facing calamity.
 Nearly eight months after that devastating Saturday evening in January, Salisbury Linton reflected on the people and events that helped Tonkawa rise from the ashes. “We certainly would not have the opportunity to see what the future holds for Tonkawa if it weren’t for all the kind-hearted people who cared about what happened to us. Everyone still checks in on us.”