Busche Builds its Platform

By Shannon Wetzel, Managing Editor

Click here to see this story as it appears in Modern Casting

Busche Performance Group (Busche), part of Shipston Equity Holdings LLC, is crystal clear in its goal: position itself to fill a void in the automotive Tier-1 supplier marketplace with what Busche founder, CEO and president Nick A. Busche calls a “long-term, customer- and employee-centric approach to building a business.”

Busche is doing so by looking to acquire strong businesses in casting and machining, investing in existing plants, and packaging itself as a partner that can provide parts from design to casting to machining and assembly. In October 2015, part of this plan was fulfilled with the purchase of an aluminum VRC/PRC casting operation in Fruitport, Michigan, and a squeeze cast facility in Franklin, Indiana, known collectively as Compass Automotive Group, now called Busche Aluminum Technologies (BAT).

Since Shipston’s  purchase, BAT has hired more than 125 employees and invested more than $20 million into the two plants, improving the plants’ operational capacities, including adding a third casting line in the Michigan facility. The new line was built specifically to accommodate the launch of a new job for a major automotive customer.

“There was a desire from our customers to join forces of machining and foundry operations,” Shipston vice president Brett Tremain said. “Since we’ve done that, the feedback has been tremendous as we continue to increase our operational capacity and geographic reach.”

Busche Performance Group, a privately-owned operating company, was the first acquisition of  Shipston, which is backed by long-term, generational shareholders. Busche attracted the attention of Shipston because of its reputation as a foundationally solid and disciplined machining operation.

“We were looking for a business with first-rate management and operations—a platform that had a great foundation for growth and that could bring stability and consolidation to a fragmented industry,” Tremain said.

Nick Busche has been steering his company for decades on the principles of being the best in class in quality, delivery and safety.  

“We are a performance-based company with a rich history of delivering world class products to our customers with some of the lowest PPMs in the industry,” Busche said. “We have been consistently surpassing our goals by investing in our workforce and building something dynamic here, which the industry is dying for.”

Total Package
Busche plans to continue building a machining platform that serves international markets as a Tier-1 supplier, offering machined, assembled, and tested cast parts. Its two casting facilities in Michigan and Indiana were the first step. Busche is also looking to acquire machining facilities located in foundry-heavy regions to take advantage of the proximity to that key part of the supply chain. Thousands of machine shops remain in the U.S., but Busche predicts a large portion will close or consolidate as current owners retire without succession plans in place.

“The industry is highly fragmented and we foresee a lot of consolidation in the coming years. This isn’t just our insight—end users are telling us the exact same thing,” Busche said. “So there’s a huge opportunity to build a machining platform to supply high-end finished products to our customers.” 

In March,  Shipston acquired 3PMI, which is now called Busche Southfield, an automotive machining company located in Southfield, Michigan. 

OEMs are driving the direction and growth of Busche.

“Customers want someone to step up and handle parts from cradle to grave,” Corey Ryner, vice president engineering of Busche Development Automotive Group said. “We machine a full casting range, including iron and aluminum. We have our two aluminum foundries, but we machine and design both aluminum and iron.”

BAT’s plant in Fruitport produces aluminum castings via the vacuum riserless casting/pressure riserless casting (VRC/PRC) process. In this somewhat unique process, aluminum enters the bottom of a metal mold as a vacuum from the top draws air out. This results in a controlled filling that creates sound castings with high mechanical properties.

“It’s an excellent process,” said Craig Conaty, BAT president, but the team isn’t selling the process to customers. Instead it focuses on the end result.

“We are looking for applications that need very high strength in a tight space,” Conaty said. “We focus on the application and providing a solution. You can accomplish the same things as VRC/PRC with other processes, but we think that when it comes to providing a competitive solution that financially makes sense, it is one of the best processes out there.”

Most of the products BAT casts are structural automotive components such as knuckles, control arms, nodes, and crossmembers. Busche sees an opportunity for its aluminum casting business to grow as vehicle markets continue to seek ways to lower fuel consumption by reducing weight.  

BAT was considering whether to bid for a new program launch when it was acquired by Busche. The influx of investment promised from the new parent company to add capacity to handle the new work was key to winning the program.

“This new work wouldn’t have come without the financial backing of Busche and Shipston making the investment and the skill level of the people in this facility,” Conaty said. “The potential business was in the works, but we wouldn’t have been able to accept it (or probably win it) without the investment.”

BAT and Busche had to work quickly to add the new line but it was necessary to take advantage of the opportunity.

“The machining business of Busche had recently launched two high volume jobs flawlessly in 12 weeks, and that gave us some industry recognition,” Busche said.

The new line at BAT was largely designed, constructed and installed by personnel in the company. It includes one reverberatory furnace and three casting machines. A new robotic finishing cell was added near the line, along with X-ray inspection. There is room for another reverb furnace when needed, and two additional casting machines are currently being built.

“We want to make sure we have capacity to fulfill any order,” Busche said.

In July, Busche Performance Group officially opened its new  technical center, Busche Technologies (Tech Center) in Southfield, Michigan. This unit manages program design, specification, timing and implementation of all automotive jobs and works with manufacturing engineering at the plants to ensure successful launches. Design work, including CAD, CAE, simulation and prototyping is done here for aluminum and iron. 

“We handle parts from start to finish,” Ryner said. “Design, casting, tool-build, machining and assembly, work holding and critical validations are all done within Busche.”

After casting, product testing and validation is also  performed at the Tech Center.

“The parts we cast are safety-critical, so the validation and fatigue test requirements are very stringent,” Ryner said. “While there are options for external quality control testing, we have decided to undertake validations that can sometimes takes weeks and bring them in-house so that customers receive the parts they need exactly when they need them.”

The Tech Center’s focus on engineering was important for Busche, which wants to be involved early in the design in order to set up both suppliers and customers to succeed. To earn the trust of its customers, Busche had to show it has the resources and capabilities to handle these early designs.

“We want customers to know that, with us, they are in good hands,” Conaty said. “We make complex parts and like to start fresh with the design to reduce risk.”

Training and Retention
Busche Performance Group brought more than money to its newly acquired aluminum casting operations in Michigan and Indiana. The company’s unique brand of operation principles and philosophy were brought over, as well, and implemented quickly.

“One of the goals was to integrate the old company with Busche systems as fast as we could,” Conaty said. “We have enough acquisition experience to know where the pressure points are. Our priority was to align our goals and ensure that our employees felt part of the process.”

Employees were given satisfaction surveys at the time of acquisition and again six months later. Wage corrections were implemented, the benefits package updated, and employees were supplied uniforms to wear. The wage system was changed from a skill-level scale to merit-based.

“We want the best people, so we have to have the most competitive wages,” Busche said. “Winning people want to join a winning team, and this is a winning team.”

All employees go through Busche University with training focused on aluminum casting technology and supplemented with training materials and courses from AFS. A mentoring program was launched where every salaried person is assigned to a cell on the shop floor and works with the operator in that area.

“It forces engagement and gives another path for employees to provide feedback,” Conaty said. “Once we got the ball rolling, everybody loved it and it has been remarkably successful.”

With 100 new employees hired in a six-month span, a training and employee development system was crucial to the success of BAT’s third line and new program launch. The Busche companies’ turnover rate is less than 3%.

“People are starving for something new and they want to see that someone is investing in the company,” Busche said. “We’re building a performance base D.N.A. with an army of great employees.”

Busche’s goal is to have every plant in the corporation reflect its parent company’s principles of performance, quality and safety. BAT was painted and new lights were installed to match the cleanliness and brightness of other Busche operations. It’s another reason employees wear uniforms.

“When someone comes to our plant, they are going to see the same thing they see at other Busche plants,” Busche said. “We want to unify operations so the customer experience is the same from plant to plant. Our doors are always open for a visit. We don’t get ready for company; we are always ready.”

With BAT’s aluminum casting facilities in full swing as Busche entities, the performance group continues to look for new opportunities to organically grow or expand. Wisconsin and its wealth of metal casting facilities is a probability. Customers are also asking Busche to consider looking toward Mexico and Asia.

“We are at a size now where we can be a real full service supplier/partner.” Ryner said. “It’s a safe bet to keep adding capacity.”