General Broach: Business taking off through aerospace contracts

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

General Broach Company's general manager David Graham doesn’t have to think back very far to remember when the company was on shaky ground.

“There was a period when a lot hit us at once,” Graham said. “We've gone through some choppy waters.”

Don Zuvers uses a profilometer to check the surface finish of a broach tool. Now, as 2007 unfolds, he’s convinced he can speak of those times in the past tense. Where so many manufacturing firms—including broach companies—have gone out of business, Morenci’s General Broach is not just surviving, it’s flourishing.

In September 2001, when the terrorist attacks in the U.S. ended up affecting much of the business climate, more than 90 percent of General Broach’s business was tied to the automotive industry.

Automotive tanked, Graham said. Excess inventories from the 1990s boom destroyed demand.

“Many of our customers went bankrupt,” Graham said. “Others cancelled contracts. The ones that remained only dealt with low-cost suppliers.”

Then gas prices rose. Corporate scandals blossomed. Outsourcing to other countries increased. Medical costs skyrocketed.

“As Doyle [Collar] used to joke, if it weren’t for bad luck we’d have no luck at all,” said Graham.

With this came an announcement from General Broach’s owners at Utica Enterprises that Graham can only describe as a good news/bad news scenario.

“After 10 years of lobbying, they said they were going to give us management of the machine division,” he said.

The Morenci plant had always been the home of perishable broaching tools.

“The tools we produce are used on the machines built by our sister division,” Graham said. “We need our machine division to be viable to support our tooling division.”

The transition was not an easy one. “We were handed a complete turnaround situation,” Graham said. “That division came to us with almost no customers, no sales, and no revenue. About all we got was a lot of warranty work.”

“When you're at the bottom, the only way you can go is up,” added production manager Larry Stover.

Before moving forward, General Broach had to spend a lot of time mending relationships. Warranties were honored and credibility was steadily rebuilt among customers.

“We knew we had to think strategically,” Graham said. “We made some errors along the way, but we kept moving forward.”

“Those mistakes became doors of discovery for us,” Graham said.

Production broaching

One of the doors that opened for General Broach is production broaching.

Graham said the company turned away from broaching production parts years ago.

“We had to because we were competing with our own customers,” he said.

Now there’s a market due to the inability of many companies to invest in new equipment. General Broach built an inventory of equipment by trade-in or by purchasing at greatly reduced prices, often due to bankruptcies.

“We have people who know machines and people who know broaching,” Stover said. “Why shouldn't we be doing this?”

General Broach’s production division has even teamed up with Versacut in Morenci to produce parts for Chrysler.

The aerospace industry

Another strategic decision was made to aggressively pursue work in the aerospace industry.

Industry forecasts were predicting high demand, a supplier shortage, and few competitors. The only thing needed was the willingness to take a giant leap forward.

“The status quo is the easiest place to be,” Graham said, "because it's comfortable. But we couldn't preserve the status quo with margins eroding and customers vanishing."

It was either cut wages, cut jobs, or change, Graham said.

It was a contract with Pratt Whitney Aircraft that swung the doors open.

“Once we were certified by Pratt, we had instant credibility,” Stover said. “Aerospace companies knew if we met Pratt's tough requirements, we could handle theirs too.”

"It took a while," Graham said. "We had to develop new skills and new attitudes, invest in new technology, and change processes developed years ago for automotive."

These were sound investments, Graham says. "Not only have we kept our work force working and maintained wages, we've been able to hire more people."

General Broach’s work force has grown more than 50 percent in the past 36 months, Graham says. "We now have the highest sales backlog in the history of the company—in all three divisions."

Meeting the challenge

Right now it’s General Broach that customers want, with automotive rebounding and aerospace inquiries arriving from as far away as Europe and India.

But success has its price.

Plans were drawn up in 2000 for an expansion at General Broach. Property was purchased and "then the bottom fell out," Graham said.

The drawings are still rolled up and sitting in a corner of his office.

But even if that addition were standing, it still wouldn’t be large enough to meet the demands the company faces today.

"We're relying heavily on sub-contractors,” Graham said. “And we're leasing a lot of space from Versacut."

General Broach is also considering other options in order to meet the considerable demand.

The company could continue to grow from within, but even with restructuring, reconfiguring, and retraining the growth would be slow.

"Our owners are considering potential acquisition targets, and we’re looking at the viability of strategic alliances," said Graham.

The course of action isn’t yet clear, but Graham likes the company’s current position much better than what he faced a couple of years ago.

“We've been working for three years to get out from under the industry collapse,” he said. “It’s been rough. Every person in this company has had to tighten their belt."

"Some may think we were just in the right place at the right time," said Graham. "But opportunity favors the prepared. Long hours and hard work are what got us here. There’s been no shortage of tough times and difficult decisions.”

Graham looks through a packet of news releases from the Boeing Company showing a new aircraft scheduled for production.

“Every engine on every one of these planes will have parts made with General Broach tooling,” Graham said.

“And from General Broach machines,” Stover adds.

“That’s pretty big news for a small town,” says Graham.

    - Jan. 4, 2007 
  • Front.tug
    MORENCI pep rallies generally end with a tug of war. The senior class entry, shown above, did not advance to the finals. Griffin Grieder, Alaina Webster, Kyle Long and Jazmin Smith are shown at the front of the rope, giving it their best effort.
  • Accident
    FAYETTE resident Patricia Stambaugh, 64, was declared dead on the scene of a single-vehicle accident Friday morning south of Morenci. Rescue units were called around 9 a.m., but as of Tuesday, law enforcement officers had not yet determined the time of the accident. According to Ohio State Highway Patrol, Stambaugh was driving west on U.S. 20 when her Chevrolet Malibu traveled off the north side of the road and down a steep embankment, coming to rest in Bean Creek (Tiffin River).
  • Athletic Fields
    SPORTS COMPLEX—Fayette’s outdoor athletic facilities will include three ball fields for summer recreation leagues at the southwest corner of the school. The baseball and softball fields, along with the running track, will be constructed on the east side of the school. Outdoor athletic fields were not part of the new school project from 2007, but voters approved a $1.4 million levy for a school addition and the sports fields last August. Both projects are scheduled to be complete by July 20.
  • Front.teacher Leading
    PRESCHOOL MUSIC—Fayette band director Jeffrey Dunford spends the last half hour of the day leading the full-day preschool class in musical activities. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.F.band
    TROMBONISTS Jake Myers (left) and Max Baker perform Friday at the annual Senior Citizens Luncheon at Fayette High School. The National Honor Society and the FFA chapter teamed up to serve a meal to area seniors and to provide musical entertainment. Both the school band and choir performed. Additional photos are on page 7 of this week’s Observer.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2017