Technology Meets Efficiency: The Country’s First Automated Transmission with Spark-Ignited Natural Gas Engine

The landscape of American manufacturing is rapidly changing—in a good way. It seems almost every day there’s a new advancement in technology and a novel use for manufacturers’ innovation. We are all collectively creating an industry that is as competitive as it is impressive.

Two great areas of technology and innovation—and of major industrial advancement—are in transportation and natural gas. Vehicle makers and their suppliers are seeing more demand than in a very long time, and America’s natural gas boom is generating goinggreenemployment and making manufacturing better and less expensive.

Combine the two areas, and you’ve really got a winning combo. That’s what Eaton and Cummings Westport did, recently announcing their offering of the first automated transmission to be paired with a spark-ignited natural gas engine in North America.

The transmission features a powertrain package combining the Eaton UltraShift PLUS automated transmission with the Cummins Westport ISX12 G engine. According to this article, the product will meet the market demand, based on “the interest in alternative fuels driving more fleets to integrate natural gas engines into their portfolio,” while offering “best-in-class” technology. More and more people are seeking natural gas paired with automated transmissions, and this product does just that.

Available mid-2014 for limited application release, the transmission offers “maximum power capacity, superior acceleration and low-speed maneuverability.” Other features include:

  • A robust power band at 1500-1800 rpm
  • Peak torque at 1200 rpm
  • Heavy-duty natural gas engine available with horsepower of 320 hp to 400 hp (239-298 kW) with 1450 lb-ft (1966 N”¢m) peak torque
  • Hill Start Aid, preventing rollbacks and reducing risk while simplifying operations
  • Intelligent shift selection software

The product serves as an excellent example of American manufacturers coming together to offer a technologically-advanced product that utilizes the benefits of natural gas, meets market demand, and offers greater efficiency.


The New Fuel Efficiency Standards: How They Relate to Us and Our Clients

If you’re familiar with us, you may be familiar with our mission: to meet or exceed the requirements of our employees, customers, investors, suppliers, and community through continuous improvement. Meeting and exceeding these needs always means staying on top of the latest news and changes affecting our clients and their industries, and reacting accordingly.

You may have heard that a few weeks ago President Obama announced his intentions to issue tougher fuel-efficiency standards for large trucks, starting this year and with the goal of a 10-20% increase in fuel economy by 2018. According to the President, increasing these trucks’ fuel efficiency would make the U.S. more energy independent while reducing greenhouse gas emissions (which are linked to climate change) and saving American consumers money.

This current focus on large trucks, Obama explained, is because while they make up only 4% of vehicles on the road, they cover more miles and are responsible for roughly 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions. The new standards come on top of, and specifically relate to, standards already in place for 2014-2018 model years.

So how does this relate directly to us, and in turn, to our customers? One of the proposed aspects of building more fuel-efficient vehicles is through weight reduction, and this requires us to place greater emphasis on ultra high-strength steel and/or aluminum. With aluminum, this will mean changing the way vehicles are assembled, which will be a new technology we will be working on.   Right now, we will address this through emphasizing higher strength steels.

This is—and will continue to be—addressed in a number of ways. Presently, we are acquiring new servo drive presses that will allow us to make thinner gage parts and better formability with high strength steels. The new press with servo coil feeders can handle steel down to .030 inch thick, as opposed to .060 inch thick minimum in our current presses. The servo presses are also designed to result in less maintenance, and less energy use.

Additionally, many legislators are working on renewing R&D tax credits which would provide incentives for developing technologies and allow American manufacturers to be even more competitive and innovative. If continued this year, this would be another way we, and companies like us, could continue technological advancements that work toward greater fuel efficiency, among other things.

Regardless, we will continue meeting regulations, advancing our work, meeting your needs, and keeping you informed.


Taking a Look Ahead

The New Year is always a good time to look back and reflect. Many look back at the past year and compare how far they have come, the goals they were able to accomplish and create new ones for the upcoming months. At Pentaflex we are no different. We have achieved many of our aggressive goals in 2013 and we have set equally challenging goals for 2014.

Last year we set out to improve in a number of areas including, safety, quality, delivery 2014_and_fireworksand productivity. Our primary metrics for safety allowed us no lost time injuries. Our quality reached 30PPM across all customers, we delivered less than $10,000 expedited freight, not to mention had a 3% productivity improvement, and financial goals for EBIT and positive cash flow were achieved. That was just the start of our great year.  Our performance matched Pentaflex to the world class standards presented by Precision Metalforming Association in many areas.  In addition, all new programs were launched on time.  Capital expenditures in excess of a million dollars were made to upgrade welder and press systems.  Finally, we received not one, but two 2013 Manufacturing Excellence awards from the Precision Metalforming Association, a rare feat.

For 2014, we have established equally aggressive new goals for safety, quality, delivery, productivity, and financial performance.  Our Board has shown confidence and dedication to the business by authorizing the purchase of (2) new AIDA servo presses—-a 300T and a 630T with servo coil feed systems.  The 300T press will replace an existing press.  The 630T press will provide Pentaflex with new capabilities including the capability to run parts at .030” thickness and a larger bed size than we currently have with our 500T mechanical presses.  The 630T press is specified to open up opportunities with the automotive industry in addition to our heavy truck, agricultural, and industrial business where our core competency has been with deep draw, heavy gage parts.

We look forward to this next year and hope for continued success!

Sharing Our Experience from the FabTech Show

Each year Pentaflex sends our management team to attend various trade shows and conferences. This year we had the opportunity to attend the 2013 FabTech conference and exposition in Chicago, Illinois.

Around 40,000 attendees involved with metalforming, welding, assembly, and coating operations were in attendance. The event was held at the McCormick place. The 600,000 square foot facility allowed 1500 exhibitors to display their equipment and  services.

The FabTech show was also used to introduce the winners of the Precision Metalforming IMG_20131117_180213_101 (2)2013 Manufacturing Excellence awards.  Pentaflex was selected as the award winner for two of the awards in the categories of productivity and quality systems.  Press releases, articles in the Metalforming Magazine, and recognition in the PMA booth at the Fabtech show discussed the Pentaflex awards.

Conferences like this one are a great way to learn about the newest trends throughout the industry. As you all know American manufacturing has been a hot topic in the recent year. IMG_20131118_105055_450The lead article from the FabTech show daily newspaper highlighted that manufacturing in the US is here to stay.  The article went on to explain manufacturing needs that will support continued growth in the US.  They included: 1) giving businesses certainty—businesses can’t plan without certainty on taxes, regulations, health care, etc. 2) remember small businesses in tax reform—–most small businesses are S corp and need to be thought of the same as C corp businesses, 3) Don’t sacrifice innovation and capital investment in the name of tax reform—many tax credits hanging in balance for continuation into 2014, 4) training for young workers the skills needed for manufacturing careers—manufacturing jobs are good, high paying jobs requiring sophisticated math and mechanical skills.

The keynote speaker for the FabTech conference was “Pro-Business” economist Alan Beaulieu.  He highlighted that even though most of the country thinks we are in a recession we are actually in a sustained period of growth—-albeit small.  His advice to businesses is to prepare for good years in 2015-2017 by spending money on capital investments in 2014 before rising interest rates and additional regulations from Dodd-Frank increase costs.  He also stated that there would be a slight downturn in the second half of 2014 and that time can be used to install new equipment, train workforces, and ready companies for the three years of increased growth that he sees from 2015 to 2017.  Pentaflex is following that strategy and has recently purchased two new servo presses to be installed in 2014 which will provide added capacity and process forming capabilities going forward. We couldn’t be more excited about the years ahead.

American Manufacturing: Why and How to Keep it Moving Forward

From consistent stories of manufacturers taking part in reshoring, to solid data showcasing the growth of the industry, American manufacturing is now in the midst of optimistic times. In fact, according to this recent article, “Manufacturing activity in the U.S. expanded at the fastest pace in 2½ years last month…[which was] the fifth straight gain for the index.”

However, this doesn’t mean we can let down our guards and assume it will just continue. manufacturingday9We all need to remain proactive and continue this forward motion. We need to remember that by supporting American manufacturing and buying American-made products, we directly impact our economy and our workforce. Simply put, the more U.S. products consumers purchase, the more American jobs are saved and created.

What can we as individuals do? One easy but significant thing is to take part in American Made Matters® Day, on November 19. This is a day being organized by American Made Matters® whose purpose is to encourage “consumers to buy at least one American-made product to show their support for American manufacturing…[and to] kick-off a movement encouraging Americans to buy products made in America throughout the upcoming holiday shopping season.”

If every American takes part in this, the positive effects on manufacturing and our economy could be widespread and truly great. At Pentaflex Inc., we believe in the cause and in this great industry, and know firsthand the value and importance of this country’s manufacturing sector. We have been a “Made in the USA” supplier for over 40 years, located in Springfield, Ohio.

As a stamper of heavy metal deep drawn stampings, we recognize the importance of manufacturing in America, in order to support American industry for many distinct advantages. The majority of our products are built into the axles, brakes, suspensions, and exhaust systems of American-built class 8 trucks. We also export our products for building in the global facilities of American truck manufacturers manufacturing products for their local market. The local nature of our stampings for North American truck manufacturers is important toward controlling costs based on material, logistics, and technology advantages.

As a proud American manufacturer, we support and rely upon utilizing domestic products, and we encourage everyone to take part in the mission.


Great Employees=Great Business

In any business, in any industry, you’re only as good as the people you employ. Likewise, a company filled with happy, productive employees for whom growth and success are assured is more likely to grow and succeed.

In an Forbes  article on the importance of retaining employees, the author states that “the value derived from new talent is only realized if the talent can be retained long enough to tap its treasures.” She goes on to state that companies that focus more on acquiring new talent than on keeping their existing employees fulfilled share the same problems: “high turnover, low commitment, and job-hopping”, which is ultimately a problem.

At Pentaflex, we recognize the importance of our team members, as well as the many reasons why we want them to stick around. We also realize how important employee morale is for the entirety of our business, and for our customers. We focus on keeping an environment of happy employees who care about what they do, and we believe our clients directly see the results of this.

We have several dedicated employees who have recently been promoted, as a result of their hard work and dedication.

Kirk Smith has been promoted from his position as Quality Director to Director of Manufacturing.  In his new role, Kirk will be responsible for all production activities, from receiving and shipping material through scheduling and product manufacturing.  Kirk will be instrumental in driving our metrics for continuous improvement and problem solving using the 6 Sigma and Lean disciplines.

Phil Dafforn has been promoted from Purchasing Manager to Materials Manager, adding responsibility for production parts planning as well as purchasing.

In other moves, Kiley Hatfield has moved into customer service, while Eric Hubbard has moved to shipping and receiving.

We’d like to personally thank them—and all members of the Pentaflex team—for their dedication, and congratulate them on their new roles.

Manufacturing Day 2013: A Great Success!

As many people might be aware, October 4, 2013 marked the 2nd Annual Manufacturing Day. It was a special day set aside to not only celebrate the importance and value of this great industry, but to further awareness of it.

American manufacturing is facing a skilled labor shortage—predicted to get worse—and manufacturingday6this industry is too vital to succumb to that. Manufacturing Day aimed to showcase the value of careers in manufacturing by encouraging companies to open their doors to students, teachers, and their communities. As a result, much of the mystery was taken out of the industry, and young people saw that careers in manufacturing are exciting, valuable, and important. Over 800 American manufacturers took part in the day, and it was a great success.

Personally, we found the day to be extremely rewarding. We participated in the NAM Manufacturing Day event to educate local Springfield politicians and educators about the value of a career in manufacturing, and to broaden their understanding of the industry.  Local Clark County commissioners and superintendents, principals, and guidance counselors were invited to the event as well.

Dave Arndt, our President, made a video presentation detailing advances in manufacturing from 1900 to today. The video concentrated on the automotive industry, tracing advances in stamping and assembly technology from Henry Ford’s original assembly line, to stamping presses throughout the decades, to servo press technology and modern assembly plant technology today.

The group then toured the Pentaflex, Inc. plant with Dave Arndt and Ross McGregor, where advances in stamping technology have allowed us to win two manufacturing excellence awards from the Precision Metalforming Association for productivity and quality in 2013, which were highlighted.  The group was also shown next generation welding/automation equipment currently being installed for a new 2015 program.

We think it’s fair to say that Manufacturing Day was an invaluable experience for us and for the participating educators and politicians. We’re looking forward to next year’s event!

And the Awards Go To…

At Pentaflex, the most rewarding recognition for us is when our customers are consistently happy with the work we do for them. However, when an organization as prestigious in our industry as the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) officially recognizes our work, and rewards us for it, we are beyond proud and honored. Therefore, we’re thrilled to announce our receipt of two of the eight coveted 2013 Manufacturing Excellence awards by PMA.AwardsExc-web

The first of the two awards is the Zierick Manufacturing Corporation Productivity Award, for our production of a stamped outer inlet chamber for Class 8 heavy truck exhaust systems. Using a stamping cell concept, this reduced cycle time by 50% and reduced the number of production employees from six to two. The award itself “recognizes outstanding achievement by a metalforming company in the development and implementation of programs, processes and utilization of assets that lead to significant improvements in productivity. Productivity is defined, for the purposes of this award, as the quantity of good products produced per unit of manpower, equipment, time and/or material. Quality and reduction of downtime are considered important factors in achieving improved productivity.”

The second award is the Waukesha Metal Products Excellence in Quality award, for our performance of the Quality System, which reduced PPMs from 250 in 2011, to 7PPM in 2013. This award “recognizes a metalforming company for outstanding achievement in the development and implementation of a company-wide quality system that effectively uses continuous improvement..” Elements include “executive management commitment, periodic management quality system review, use of statistical data, use of preventive action, a dedication to employee training and education, supplier partnerships in an effort to reduce nonconformance and evidence of second- or third-party assessments.”

As PMA is the premier association representing the $113 billion metalforming industry, we are thrilled to accept these great honors, and look forward to continuing to bring the highest level of quality to all of our clients.

Natural Gas: The Fuel of Today and Tomorrow

One of the biggest recent developments in America—one that has affected industries from energy through manufacturing through transportation—is the natural gas boom.  It has created jobs and spurred an entirely new industry unto itself, and has brought about cheaper consumer electricity. It’s even responsible, in part, for the manufacturing reshoring initiative.

One of the industries in which natural gas is finding a huge place is in transportation—specifically trucking. In fact, it is estimated that by 2020, the global natural gas vehicle (NGV) fleet size will rise by 92%.  At present, the number of NGVs on the road, around the world, is 18.2 million. A recent report predicts that number to become 34.9 million in only seven years.

The U.S. trucking industry—transporting millions of manufactured goods throughout the country—has already begun to jump on board. They are increasingly replacing petroleum with cheaper, cleaner natural gas, and there are currently no signs of this stopping.

Big-name companies around the country are realizing the benefits of this switch. For example, U.P.S. recently made the decision to expand its number of NGVs from 112 to a whopping 800 by next year.  They—like many others—see the myriad benefits: reaping the rewards of federal and state incentives while representing themselves as green to increasingly conscious consumers. And, of course, there are the big-picture benefits: doing the right thing for the planet, and helping to move the country away from oil importing and toward self-reliance.  Finally, it’s good economics: the use of natural gas can save trucking companies up to $1.50 per gallon.

This isn’t, of course, an overnight change, and like all major transformations, it will take time; as of now, there are only 53 natural gas fueling stations in the U.S.  However, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the momentum here is moving fast and ahead. It will be interesting to track its progress.

Is There Such a Thing as Blue Collar/White Collar Anymore?

In the heyday of manufacturing, there was a distinction between line workers and office workers. The blue collars were generally high school graduates who excelled at their jobs and retired with good pensions. The managerial teams were mostly made up of those college graduates who majored in business.  In the last 30 years or so, many things have changed and the manufacturing model of the past is, well, the past. Today’s manufacturing environment is evolving beyond colors and is ready to be reinvigorated.

Have you heard of STEM?

The Obama administration’s Educate to Innovate campaign aims to increase our children’s math and science achievements. Education leaders realized that our students were weak in areas that would lead to higher-paying, more rewarding jobs in technology fields. In order to strengthen manufacturing and industry in the U.S., STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education programs were developed to address this need.

Districts across the country are starting STEM schools and programs to focus on, and foster, a love of the sciences at the elementary levels. STEM is an extension of a child’s natural curiosity and having teachers who embrace the sciences should encourage the next generation to pursue careers in technological fields. And, many colleges are starting programs that are designed specifically for specialized technology fields like manufacturing. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, STEM plays a role in the 10 fastest growing occupations.

Can STEM make a difference?

We are already feeling the pinch of labor shortages in the manufacturing industry. There are jobs going unfilled because candidates don’t possess the skills or have the right training. The STEM educational goals should benefit manufacturing directly. STEM concepts are what manufacturing is about: problem solving, exploring concepts and ideas, turning ideas into realities, and making something work. It is the basis of invention and ingenuity that we haven’t truly fostered in our children in decades.

Americans may not currently rank on top in terms of math and science achievements compared to kids in Asia and Europe but we are still free thinkers who can get out of that proverbial box.  Manufacturing today requires computer skills for running automations systems and mechanical skills to create innovative and pioneering machinery. The time is right to make manufacturing a skill set that will lead to worthwhile jobs and STEM education is a great first step.