Passion for Protection

Kim Phelan

The airline staff have announced it’s time to begin boarding and instantly the buzz of zippers, luggage wheels and human activity is heard near the gate’s waiting area. Meanwhile, workers outside are fueling the jet, and whether the travelers upstairs know it or not, everyone is relying on the hazardous-locations equipment that stands between them and the threat of an explosion.

So says Gary Weisenburger, president of AFS Corporate Member Adalet (Cleveland). Adalet manufactures explosion-proof enclosures used at airports, yes, but they also make products used in countless other applications in industries such as automotive, petrochemical, oil and gas, and general industrial electrical. According to Weisenburger, millions of his company’s products are in service worldwide at any given moment––and there’s never been a single fatality resulting from a failure of their products. 

While predominantly focused on making enclosures for both hazardous and general locations, Adalet, a Scott Fetzer company since 1966, also manufactures a myriad of custom parts for OEMs in diverse industries. Though most of Adalet’s business is currently generated from its traditional customer base, Weisenburger asserts he’s got an important message for parts buyers everywhere:

“With our massively upgraded foundry and added capacity, Adalet is a legitimate player in a variety of new industries. We are committed to doing more custom work which isn’t necessarily explosion proof and isn’t necessarily tied to oil and gas.”

The company takes its human-safety work very seriously. Pride of craftsmanship emanates from management personnel when they speak about their company’s protective role in the world, however veiled it may be to the public. Maybe it’s something about making products that save lives, but out of Adalet’s dedication to product excellence emerges a relentless commitment to customers. In fact, that’s the one thing Weisenburger is positively emphatic about: listening to customers. 

“Our commitment to satisfying them is our highest priority,” he said. 

Evidence of that is abundant, starting with the fact that 92-year-old Adalet has housed its own foundry for 70 years and also operates an in-house pattern shop. The compact and efficient 25,000-square-foot green sand foundry pours millions of pounds of aluminum a year, producing as many as 960 unique casting part numbers that range from a few ounces to over 400 lbs. In addition to automatic molding, Adalet has a traditional floor foundry as well as permanent mold capabilities. 
Ironically, in-house, or captive, foundries––especially those with the ability to economically customize––are disappearing among their competitors. But with so much importance placed upon its dedication to serving its customers with the highest of standards, Adalet seeks to control everything that can be controlled––including the quality of the critical castings that populate its dense catalog. 

“What’s most distinctive about our foundry, frankly, is that we still have one and continue to invest in it,” said Weisenburger. “While competitors are increasingly outsourcing and offshoring, we chose to double-down on our foundry in the interest of better serving customers. When we looked at our customers’ varying product needs and responsiveness requirements, it became clear that we needed to invest in the equipment and processes that best meet those needs.”

Well-Calculated Change

Weisenburger doesn’t use the term “invest” lightly. As reported in Modern Casting’s September issue, Adalet recently completed an extensive multimillion-dollar capital investment program whereby it installed a new automatic DISA Matchplate 24/28 molding machine, the first of this size in the U.S., as well as a custom-designed Summit Foundry Equipment automated mold handling system. Change is certainly afoot at Adalet, but the focus is on smart change––change that ties directly back to maximizing benefit for customers and increases Adalet’s capacity to serve them.

“These days, if you don’t improve, especially when manufacturing in the United States, and especially manufacturing in the rust belt––if you’re static and don’t adapt and change your methods as the customers and markets demand—you’re doomed,” he said. 

Adalet’s foundry upgrade was a complex exercise in disciplined research that took Weisenburger and members of his team to over a dozen foundries around the country, in addition to visits to the suppliers’ plants. Planning for the integration of various systems in the foundry was as monumental a task as the purchasing decision. Weisenburger credits Foundry Manager Clint Hess and Project Manager James Kempf with flawless execution, as they seamlessly intertwined new equipment with legacy portions of the sand system, furnaces and infrastructure.

While taxing, the onsite visits were not without levity. John Thompson, one of the company’s veteran foundrymen who accompanied Hess to Summit’s Indiana factory, didn’t want to leave.

“We had to pry him out of there,” Hess said. “He asked more questions than the rest of us combined; he took the technical guy to the side and talked his ear off until he got every answer he was looking for. After seeing the Summit and DISA machinery in action, he had quite the smile on his face and said, ‘We can definitely make this work!’” 

Upgrading Adalet’s foundry with productivity-boosting automation and sophisticated technology has accomplished two important goals: (1) It addresses a workforce trend management has seen where new foundry hires often stay no more than a few years, much less an entire career. This contrasts with their predecessors—a few recent Adalet retirees had 30-50 years under their belts, and the combined experience of its three most senior current foundrymen is 120 years. For Adalet, automation accommodates the growing presence of less experienced foundrymen while maintaining quality. (2) Automating a portion of its foundry advances the company’s primary mission to better meet customer needs, enabling Adalet to perform with greater consistency and higher efficiency and quality than ever before. It also sets the stage for potential future upgrades.

“To consider moving forward with other technology advancements in operations, we first had to get our foundry up to a 2020 playing field,” said Tom James, vice president of operations. “We took a quantum leap getting to where we are now, we know where we’re headed, and we now have the ability to adapt to what’s coming next rather than struggling to adapt with the less sophisticated foundry we had just a few months ago.”

Delighting Customers  

While Adalet’s extensive foundry upgrades provide tangible proof of its commitment to customers, the foundry has a long history of delighting customers through continuous improvement and ingenuity, as well as hands-on help when and where it’s needed.

One example: Decades ago, Adalet worked with university scientists to develop its own specialized alloy, a variant of A359 that Weisenburger says is superior to often-specified A356 and A319. 

“One of the beauties of our proprietary alloy is that it has fantastic pourability characteristics, grain structure, strength and corrosion resistance that can be used for a much broader variety of products,” he said. “We believe it is superior and more versatile than regular 359, 356, 319 and most other common aluminum sand-casting alloys ...Those qualities, plus its superior feeding characteristics provide versatility across an incredible range of casting sizes, shapes and special customer applications. We can certainly pour other alloys, but customers who give our Modified-359 a chance rarely go back to other alloys.”

Adalet’s alloy is a key reason the company is able to serve a wide range of customers both in and outside of the explosion-proof industry. 

Another example of Adalet’s customer commitment lies in its certifications, which put the company in a league of casting providers with whom some demanding OEMs will exclusively do business. These include Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) and ATEX certification for Europe. Adalet’s products and processes have undergone hundreds of audits without a single audit failure or production interruption. Their foundry and quality system are also ISO-9001 certified to the latest 2015 standard, which many customers value. The company pours all its castings from certified ingot––the only scrap in its melt, according to Weisenburger, is its own runners and gates which originate from that 100% certified ingot. 

On top of these customer-focused benefits is an engineering department characterized by problem-solving creativity and direct accessibility to customers when necessary. 

“We don’t put up a big firewall,” Weisenburger said. “For complex castings sometimes our engineers are actually the first point of contact for our customers. We’ve dealt with so many OEM customers over the years that when they have a new application, they know from past experience that our engineers and manufacturing team will step up to help them. They’ll bounce their ideas and sketches directly off people they know on our engineering team. We’re always very cooperative and probably provide more free, up-front technical support than anyone around.”

Finding the People

Ask Weisenburger about the foundry’s biggest improvements during his four-year tenure as president and you might be surprised that his first comment isn’t about capital equipment. Instead, he talks about all the great people who make Adalet castings, placing particular emphasis on the person who leads them—28-year-old foundry manager, Clint Hess. 

Hess is a Kent State University graduate with prior foundry experience as well as FEF and AFS involvement. He brings a strong mix of foundry-favorable attributes, including mentoring skills, which are crucial to the foundry’s success as he integrates not just new and old machinery but also blends veteran and newer employees to maximize teamwork, quality and productivity.

“What we needed––and got––was someone with formal foundry science education who also possesses great people skills, team-building capabilities and wants to have a long-term foundry management career. Such a person can really coach the younger generation coming up,” Weisenburger said. “Finding Clint is one of our biggest wins because, while there are other people like him out there, frankly, such people often prefer to stay where they are. It can be hard to find the right combination of personal characteristics and someone who can command the respect of these younger people coming into the foundry and, at the same time, also instill the sense of pride, craftsmanship and product quality Adalet is known for.

Remember Who’s Not in the Room

With the foundry in good hands, Weisenburger is free to concentrate on the larger objective of growing the business. Part of that involves facilitating collaborative teamwork among all the talent at Adalet. In many ways, he’s like the manager of a major-league baseball team full of MVPs who just need to play ball together and put runs on the scoreboard. 

“Running and growing a business always comes down to having the right people in the right slots. That gives synergy a chance to become reality,” he said. “But even for excellent people it can be challenging to choose among competing priorities, ideas and strategies––that’s when we make sure to see things through the eyes of the customer.

“They’re not here; they’re not in the building,” he added. “They can’t chime-in during our staff meetings. So it’s my job to make sure we always remember: It’s the customer and their needs which must drive most of our decisions and investments.”