It's really a case study of how small family owned machine shops prioritize for growth.
Area Tool & Manufacturing's Team: Trisha Proper - Office Manager, Dave Groshner - Surface Grind Department, Ethan Bates - CNC Mill Department, Dalton Conley - CNC Mill Department, Rob Hillman - CNC Mill Department, Jason Bowman - CNC Lathe Department, Matt Linz - Apprentice, Caroll Conley - WIRE EDM and Inspection, Jeff Ferguson - RAM EDM Department, Pat Winters - Maintenance Jesse Conley - Production, Ashleigh Wehrle - President
Area Tool & Manufacturing, Inc. was founded in Meadville, PA in 1976 by John Wehrle and business partner Wayne Shumaker. In 1990 John became the sole owner of the family business. Like many Tool & Die makers in Meadville, John got his start at Talon, Inc. Talon invented the zipper at the turn of the 20th Century and their renowned journeyman program has resulted in Meadville becoming known as the Tool and Die Capital of the World.
Meadville is located in Northwestern Pennsylvania and is the bedrock of the Crawford County economy, accounting for about a quarter of employment in the county. And those the jobs in the country are pretty much all in tool & die manufacturing!
According to the City of Meadville, “the Talon Corporation played a major role in the market development and manufacture of the zipper… In the 1980’s, the Great Lakes region saw a major decline in heavy industry. This blow to the local economy was softened by a subsequent surge in light industry, mainly tool and die machine shops, earning Meadville the nickname Tool City, USA.
Today, the Meadville area remains a leader in tooling, machining and advance manufacturing and the city serves as the region’s center for banking, education and social services.”
A recent study undertaken at Allegheny College entitled , Trends in the Tooling and Machining Industry of Crawford County, Pennsylvania states, "Starting in the early 20th century, the Talon Company started the production of area toolmakers. Through their apprenticeship programs, workers learned the art of toolmaking. Many workers at Talon spun off to create their own companies. Since then, the tooling and machining industry has helped sustain the county as a major source of employment, revenue generator, and an important factor in the vibrancy of the real estate and retail sectors."
Today Meadville is home to numerous small, medium and large tool and die shops, and is a leader in precision machining, plastic injection molding and aerospace engineering.
"The industry is now transitioning to a third generation set of owners, who bring new attributes to the industry... For the first time in the history of the industry, women are either the CEOs or operations managers of an increasing number of tool shops."
Area Tool & Manufacturing, Inc. certainly fits that description as a second generation woman owned family business, as it's now solely owned by Ashleigh Wehrle. Area Tool's TEAM consists of 13 employees with an average of 30 years of experience in the spare parts and mold industries and many of the shop floor employees are journeymen toolmakers. It's located just a few minutes from the Interstate 79 interchange in a 20,000 square foot climate-controlled building.
Area Tool exemplifies how the next generation of leadership is embracing technology and prioritizing how they grow their business. A recent blog post on their website titled, 4 Reasons to Source All Assembly Components from the Same Precision Machine Shop:
"Part buyers and engineers often assume they can save time and money on an assembly project by sourcing the components that make up their assembly from multiple shops. But the truth is that when more than one shop is responsible for precision machining as many as 100 components for a large assembly, issues with tolerance and fitment are common. The worst part? These problems remain hidden until the shipments arrive at your door. It’s only then that you discover that the components don’t fit together and the assembly doesn’t function properly."
That's also a trend in the Meadville market for small and mid sized shops according the the Allegheny College study, "Employment in our sample shops decreased by 18% between 2008 and 2018, a trend that reflects declines in manufacturing employment both in the United States and globally. This decrease in employment in Crawford County is not due to falling demand for toolmakers. Rather, many shops are still having difficulty finding skilled toolmakers. Technological change and automation in the industry have resulted in less need for skilled toolmakers. Most of the shops interviewed have invested heavily in new equipment, about $320,000 per shop within the past two years."
As a small shop, you have to pick and choose which area to invest your capital and then prioritize the order of that in investment. Sometimes it takes a few years.
Wehrle continues, "We revisited the need for in-house laser marking in the fall of 2021. We often times found parts would be ready to ship late in the day except for the laser engraving requirement."
That's a big problem for a machine shop that prides itself on meeting and exceeding delivery requirements.
"One of our customers had a part scheduled to ship overnight, but they needed it sooner, so they asked, “Could you get someone on a flight tonight?” That same evening, an Area Tool team member flew to Boston and hand-delivered the part to the customer. Requests like this one aren’t feasible for OEMs. But because of our size, we can tailor our services to customers’ unique needs." said Wehrle
In January of 2022 Barcaskey installed a GravoTech LW2 which is a fully automated laser marking station.
"The GravoTech solution with rotary head was a perfect fit for the low volume mill and lathe parts we manufacture. We are also able to label in house fixturing and tooling for better organization. We have also replaced our dot peen for marking to provide a customers with more professional marking." said Wehrle.
To sum it all up Wehrle says "Having the capabilities in house allows us to laser engrave and ship the parts 2-3 days sooner than if we continued to outsource." Automation continues to be embraced at every size machine shop as qualified labor continues to become more difficult to find.
Metalcasting Congress returns to the Huntington Convention Center in Ohio on April 25-27, 2023 – and you can visit Leading Marks in Booth 715!
The Metalcasting Congress attracts attendees from across the foundry industry, as well as professionals from other businesses within the manufacturing supply chain.
Nestled along Lake Erie’s southern shore, Cleveland is the second largest city in Ohio. Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland is hosting Metalcasting Congress 2023, providing over 410,000 square feet of prime meeting and event space. The convention center is also just 25 minutes away from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
Leading Marks & Boss Buddy
We will also be showcasing secondary marking requirements with direct-part marking systems and tools such as dot peen, laser & stamps, ink marking, hand-held & automated systems, and thermal transfer labeling solutions.
We will also be discussing workbenches, air filtration, vision handheld scanners and in-line options, soldering irons, and machining accessories.
Huntington Convention Center
April 25 – 27, 2023
Leading Marks Booth 715
There are several types of laser marking, including annealing, engraving, and foaming. The type of laser used, the material being marked, and the desired outcome will determine the specific process and technique used for laser marking.
Common materials that can be laser marked include metals, plastics, and ceramics. Laser marking is often used in industrial settings for product identification, traceability, and branding.
The principle of industrial traceability by laser engraving is based on a beam of high intensity laser focused and then directed towards the part to be marked. Its orientation is ensured by a galvanometric head composed of two mirrors. When a laser beam hits a part's surface, the energy is transferred in the form of heat, creating black, white, and sometimes colored marks.
In manufacturing, Lasers are a permanent, a precise and qualitative marking solution for part identification and traceability. Different applications may require different marking techniques such as engraving, staining, removing, annealing, and foaming are the most common marking methods. Each laser marking procedure will have its own unique advantages and disadvantages, depending on the materials being used and the quality requirement.
Types of Materials to Laser Mark
- Metals: Stainless steel, aluminum, brass, and titanium are common materials that can be laser marked. The laser beam melts or vaporizes the metal, creating a permanent mark.
- Plastics: Many different types of plastics can be laser marked, including polycarbonate, ABS, and polyamide. The laser beam causes the surface of the plastic to change color, creating a contrast between the marked and unmarked areas.
- Ceramics: Ceramic materials can be laser marked by removing a thin layer of the surface material. This creates a contrast between the marked and unmarked areas, making the mark visible.
- Glass: Laser marking on glass is done by a process called scribing, which involves using a laser beam to create a crack in the surface of the glass.
- Wood: Wood materials can be laser marked by burning the surface of the wood, resulting in a dark mark on a light background.
- Some fabrics: Laser marking can be used to print on fabrics such as denim, cotton, polyester, etc.
What Kinds of Marks
Laser marking can be used to create a variety of marks, including:
- Text: Laser marking can be used to engrave text, such as product information, serial numbers, or branding, onto the surface of an object.
- Barcodes and QR codes: Laser marking can be used to create barcodes and QR codes, which can be used for product identification and tracking.
- Logos and graphics: Laser marking can be used to engrave logos and graphics onto the surface of an object, such as company logos or product images.
- Serial numbers: Laser marking can be used to engrave serial numbers onto the surface of an object, which can be used for product identification, tracking, and traceability.
- Data matrix codes: Laser marking can be used to create Data matrix codes, which are a type of two-dimensional barcode that can store a large amount of information in a small space.
- Deep engraving: This type of laser marking is used to create three-dimensional marks in the surface of an object, and can be used to create detailed images or text.
- Cutouts and shapes: Laser cutting can be used to create intricate cuts and shapes in materials, such as fabrics, plastics, metals and even wood.
- Micro-text: Laser marking can be used to create very small text that is difficult to read with the naked eye, but can be read with a microscope.
Types of Laser Marking
- Annealing: This type of laser marking involves using a laser beam to heat a metal surface, causing a change in the color of the metal. This type of marking is often used on stainless steel and titanium.
- Engraving: This type of laser marking involves removing a small amount of material from the surface of an object, creating a permanent mark. This type of marking is often used for product identification, traceability, and branding.
- Foaming: This type of laser marking involves using a laser beam to create small bubbles on the surface of a plastic material, creating a contrasting mark. This type of marking is often used for product identification, traceability, and branding.
- Scribing: This type of laser marking involves using a laser beam to create a crack in the surface of a material such as glass. This type of marking is often used for product identification, traceability, and branding.
- Ablating: This type of laser marking involves using a laser beam to remove a small amount of material from the surface of an object, creating a permanent mark. This is commonly used in the aerospace, automotive, and medical device industries for product identification, traceability, and branding.
- Color change: This type of laser marking involves using a laser beam to change the color of the surface of a material. This is commonly used in the packaging and labeling industry for product identification, traceability, and branding.
- Deep engraving: This type of laser marking is used to create three-dimensional marks in the surface of an object, and can be used to create detailed images or text.
- Laser cutting: This type of laser marking involves using a laser beam to cut materials, such as fabrics, plastics, metals and even wood.
- The type of laser marking that is used will depend on the material being marked and the desired outcome.
What Industries is Laser Marking Most Commonly Used?
- Manufacturing: Laser marking is commonly used in the manufacturing industry for product identification, traceability, and branding. This includes marking product information, serial numbers, and company logos onto the surface of products.
- Aerospace and Defense: Laser marking is used in the aerospace and defense industries for product identification and traceability, such as marking serial numbers and other information onto aircraft parts.
- Automotive: Laser marking is used in the automotive industry for product identification and traceability, such as marking serial numbers and other information onto car parts.
- Medical Device: Laser marking is used in the medical device industry for product identification and traceability, such as marking serial numbers and other information onto medical devices.
- Electronics: Laser marking is used in the electronics industry for product identification and traceability, such as marking serial numbers and other information onto electronic devices.
- Jewelry: Laser marking is used in the jewelry industry for product identification and traceability, such as marking serial numbers and other information onto jewelry.
- Packaging and labeling: Laser marking is used in the packaging and labeling industry for product identification and traceability, such as marking serial numbers and other information onto packaging and labels.
- Textile: Laser marking is used in the textile industry for product identification and traceability, such as marking serial numbers and other information onto fabrics.
- Wood and stone: Laser marking is used in the wood and stone industry for product identification and traceability, such as marking serial numbers and other information onto wood and stone products.
Thomas Erie, Inc. is part of the Thomas Group, the world’s largest independent supplier of tinplate and aluminum components for the aerosol, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industry. The Thomas Group employ 500 people worldwide. They produce stamped and deep drawn parts on progressive tools and transfer presses in Germany, the USA, Spain, China and Argentina.
Foster explained, " We originally purchased an Automator Laser Engraver for marking our parts only for identification purposes. One day shortly after purchasing the engraver we found ourselves with a rush order for some debossed parts and the vendor we typically purchase our graphite anodes from could not meet our customer’s timeline. "
"We don't have a high speed mill able to make the fine detail on the anodes required to meet our customer specifications and typically outsource this item. We were able to utilize the laser engraver to cut the graphite anode and then using our EDM sinker make our own debossing tool with laser point accuracy." said Foster, "This cut our lead time down from weeks to minutes and eliminated the cost of outsourcing completely."
Foster found Leading Marks' Laurie Barcaskey very helpful. "Laurie offers good pricing, provides good service and is able to answer our questions. We would recommend her for your next project!"
Get in touch with Laurie with any questions!
There are variety of authors who write the articles including marking manufacturers. You'll find a lot of technical imformation, application stories and new product releases here. Be sure and click a category below that interests you to search it.
AFS Medtalcasting Congress
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Direct Part Marking (DPM)
EBS Ink Jet
HFO Demo Day
ITT Gould Pumps
Marking Indsutry Magazine
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Modern Machine Shop
Pitt Chem Day
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TBH BF -Series
Unique Device Identification (UDI)
WBENC - Women’s Business Enterprise National Council
WBE Women’s Business Enterprise
WBE - Women’s Business Enterprise
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