Every U.S. presidential election brings with it interesting dichotomies, allowing candidates to hone-in on one key message that resonates with the masses. This year is no different. Andrew Yang, who ran as a Democratic candidate before pulling out from the race, struck a chord with factory workers with his “robots are stealing your jobs” outcry.
While there is credence in Yang’s stance that automation is the root cause for the loss of five million manufacturing jobs since the turn of the century, Dalsin Industries—a renowned contract manufacturer based in Minnesota—is evidently bucking the trend.
Dalsin has succeeded in leveraging advanced technologies and human resources without compromising one or the other. “Our employees do not feel insecure about technology replacing them. If anything, they embrace high-tech tools since their jobs become less physically-stressful, they are more efficient than before, and are able to provide superior customer service,” says Mark Coronna, chief marketing officer at Dalsin, a leader in the realm of high-value contract manufacturing of precision metal products.
As automation and robotics continue to eliminate certain manufacturing functions that have existed for decades, the role of the industrial worker has changed too. With craftsmen and blacksmiths being replaced by programmers and coders, Dalsin has substantially changed its approach toward manufacturing. In the old school of thought, “a human needed to know how to run the machine” as compared to today’s software-driven era where the factory operator must have the skills to run programs to load the machine. Rather than shying away from this reality, Dalsin has positively embraced the new lay of the land and adapted accordingly.
This progressive outlook—particularly impressive considering how long Dalsin has been in the game—has enabled the company to stand the test of time. Throughout its storied history dating back 75 years, Dalsin has reinvented itself with strategic investments in technology and innovation, overhauling its processes to meet the evolving market needs. Today, Dalsin leverages automation in every aspect of its operations, be it flat part generation, robotic welding, precision punching, equipment quality inspection, or even the delivery of parts. By harnessing only the latest in robotics and high-tech tools, Dalsin serves a global clientele by combining design-for-manufacture optimization, collaborative design assistance, high-velocity manufacturing processes, planning, and production control, and supply chain management.
Using Humans to Manipulate Technology
So, to address the elephant in the room: how exactly does Dalsin leverage its human resources as a strong suit at a time when machines are threatening to replace the factory worker?
It boils down to Dalsin’s mindset toward technology utilization.
While most factory floors allow machines to dictate processes and have preconceived notions on its proper utility, Dalsin’s team of highly-creative individuals “squeeze more out of the tools.” This capability means they reap efficiencies and benefits that surprise even the technology’s manufacturers. Keith Diekmann, the VP of technical operations at Dalsin, is an integral cog in this creative workforce that integrates technologies into Dalsin’s systems and processes in an unprecedented manner. “We do not buy any technology that is unavailable to others.
We do not buy any technology that is unavailable to others. We just integrate the tools better, to maximize their benefits
We just integrate the tools better, to maximize their benefits,” he says, before adding that Dalsin shored up its integration capability over time while responding to the design and manufacturing challenges faced by its clients. Diekmann adds that every time a customer intends to make a precision metal lighter and cost-efficient without compromising quality and strength, Dalsin—on fulfilling the task—integrates the new discoveries within its people and processes.
This precise ability—to take an OEM’s original design and make it more manufacturing-friendly, cost-efficient, time- and material-saving—is one of Dalsin’s ultimate value propositions. Many a time, an OEM approaches Dalsin with a vision of how the design would translate into the final product, but without a sound understanding of the requisite manufacturing processes and their impact on costs and time-to-market. Dalsin specializes in such complex situations and comes through with flying colors, every single time. “We not only design parts based on how the OEM envisions it, but bring value by reducing manufacturing, maintenance, and transportation costs while providing structural strength with fewer parts,” says Tom Schmeling, VP of sales and marketing, Dalsin.
Furthermore, since Dalsin has earned the trust of its clients for three-quarters of a century, its suggestions—on ways to improve the design—are always welcomed by OEMs. Just take the recent example of one such OEM, a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, which was unhappy with its existing supply base and ran into severe quality-related issues. Scouring the country for a capable supplier, the OEM eventually wound up at Dalsin’s state-of-the-art facility in Bloomington, MN. Upon touring the premises, the OEM was instantly amazed by Dalsin’s advanced tools and the collaborative spirit shared by the shop floor and engineering staff.
At the project’s onset, Dalsin was admittedly awestruck by the complexity of the OEM’s component assemblies and knew it had its work cut out. Soon enough, Dalsin cracked the proverbial code and significantly improved the quality of the intricate assembly. Diekmann adds, “Besides enhancing their quality, delivery, and supply chain, we ensured they no longer had to dispose of large amounts of scrap on a daily basis, saving them a lot of money in the process.”
In what was a true validation of success, the OEM incorporated almost 99 percent of Dalsin’s recommendations into its design. This is unheard of since contract manufacturers rarely influence an OEM’s design and typically work within the boundaries afforded to them.
Renewed Focus: Improving Customer Engagement
Such success stories have encouraged Dalsin to make further investments in technology to not only enhance its operational efficiencies but to streamline its customer engagement process.
Since investments in automation, additive manufacturing, and offline programming tools have helped Dalsin “reduce human touches” on the shop floor, its workforce is able to engage the existing and potential customers in ways that were previously impossible. Also, since the time taken to manufacture, inspect, and deliver parts is reduced drastically, customers benefit from improved quality, shorter lead times, and lower costs. “Historically, all the processes had to be done in sequence—cutting the parts, taking those to press brake, bending the parts, inspecting, and then finally shipping. Now, we can perform a number of functions in parallel, and our clients are the biggest beneficiaries,” stresses Schmeling.
The Global Fabrication Supply Chain Program
As a part of its hands-on customer service, Dalsin manages the entire supply chain on behalf of its clients, including verification, design, production, packaging, materials handling, containerization, shipping, logistics, and recycling. Through its hallmark global fabrication supply chain program, Dalsin responds to fabrication needs (raw materials and production capabilities) by tapping into its vast network of global suppliers.
The global supply base—which comprises offshore suppliers in China, South Korea, Portugal, Spain, Mexico, Vietnam, and Canada—allows Dalsin to expand its fabrication and production capabilities further. For example, if a client approaches Dalsin with a list of components they want to be supplied, Dalsin determines what can be produced internally and what should be developed through its global network. This allows Dalsin to optimize quality, cost, and delivery for an entire project for its customers, enabling them to overcome budgetary constraints. To sustain the standards of quality and process control that its customers are accustomed to, Dalsin vigorously vets each supplier, checking their qualifications, certifications, manufacturing processes, and even logistics capabilities, before partnering with them.
Through its global fabrication supply chain program, Dalsin also helps clients overcome tariff-related concerns. This is a common predicament faced by Dalsin’s clients, who previously collaborated with suppliers from specific areas (such as China) that are now impacted by tariffs.
Capacity Crunch? A Good Problem to Have!
Dalsin’s wherewithal to help clients mitigate global supply and tariff concerns is not news. A few years ago, the contract manufacturing organization (CMO) was instrumental in supporting a large customer that needed to install solar panels across the world by localizing the supply base for those installations.
“Similar to offline programming, if we can integrate more logistics and supply chain technologies in-house, we can further shorten lead times and the delivery cycle for clients”
As Dalsin continues to move at a rate of knots—20 percent growth rate over the last three seasons—these are both exciting and challenging times for the contract manufacturer. To sustain its annual growth rate, Dalsin needs to increase its capacity and not necessarily its capability, an interesting predicament facing the company. “We are proactively evaluating a number of strategic options such as local and international expansion plans—in order to keep pace with our growth. Sooner or later, our biggest challenge will be capacity!” chuckles Coronna.
Some of Dalsin’s immediate plans include investment in material handling technologies, not to mention introducing new capabilities in 2020 that will focus on streamlining the supply chain. Presently, Dalsin relies on technology vendors to eliminate logistical bottlenecks. Diekmann explains, “Similar to offline programming, if we can integrate more logistics and supply chain technologies in-house, we can further shorten lead times and the delivery cycle for clients.”
Despite Dalsin’s penchant for constantly investing in technologies, the CMO felt a certain sense of validation as to where it stands—when compared to its competitors—during the Fabtech 2019, an annual expo dedicated to metal forming, fabrication, and welding. At the event, the CMO noticed that the arsenal of tools at its disposal is already up-to-date and a cut above the rest. However, Dalsin has no plans to rest on its laurels and will preserve the same, insatiable hunger that has fueled its success over the last 75 years. “We will continue to invest in automation, technologies, and people, and diversify our customer base. The goal is to build a foundation for the next 75 years,” concludes Coronna.