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Redefining The Role Of Distributor

Surrounding itself with the smartest internal and external resources in application technology has helped one company redefine the role of distributor.

In an industry where success is often measured in metal removal rates, St. Louis-based machine tool distributor Hartwig is marking its 50-year anniversary with a business strategy that stresses "minds over metal." Whether developing and installing systems for Halliburton's new plant in Malaysia or assisting smaller Missouri companies like Homeyer Tool & Die, Hartwig, entering its third generation of leadership, uses its knowledge assets to build relationships with customers like Herb Homeyer who says, "In manufacturing, suppliers can have as much impact on your bottom line as customers."

Fifty years and 11,000 machines since its start, Hartwig today employs more than 120 people in eight office locations, and serves 15 states in United States. Founded by former tool and die maker Paul Hartwig and his wife Juanita in 1960, the company serves a diverse customer base of more than 4,000 manufacturers, producing everything from tiny medical parts to giant aerospace components.

"Our company was founded on simple principles: Represent the best lines of equipment, service what you sell, and always take care of the customer," said Gary Hartwig, second generation President and CEO of Hartwig. "We've added a new principle to succeed in today's market: Surround ourselves with the smartest internal and external resources in application technology. This has allowed us to build relationships and earn the trust of customers to the point where we consult on manufacturing solutions, not just machine-tools. They trust us to build the right solution for their needs, and then deliver it."

The company provides sales, service, engineering, and training for machine tool industry leaders such as Okuma, Hardinge Bridgeport, Miyano, Loxin, and Hexagon Metrology. The key to Hartwig's "total solutions" approach is the knowledge base and expertise of the company's 13 application engineers. "Many of our clients use our team of engineers as a way to balance their staffing requirements," said Mr. Hartwig. "We assess customer applications, recommend the right solution for the job, and then provide the training they need to operate at full potential."

Manufacturers have come to realize that, given the challenging economic environment, effectively managing production assets can be a significant competitive advantage, Hartwig explains. "Manufacturers place a premium on production knowledge and the ability to achieve higher utilization rates, and greater flexibility in responding to new demands and challenges."

This is where Hartwig's application engineers have found a niche providing services beyond the traditional machine tool distributor.

"Continuously improving machine-tool technology and the trend toward lean operations presented us with an opportunity to position our company as a hybrid of distributor, service provider, trainer and consultant," said Hartwig. "Customers provide specs for material removal rates, tolerances, production times, whatever the list of requirements may be, and they expect us to develop the most cost-effective solution possible. We have to know what technology is available, what it can do, how it works, and how it fits our customers' operations."

St. Louis knowledge drives worldwide sales

Despite the trend to move manufacturing offshore, Hartwig's knowledge resources remain in high demand. In 2006, Halliburton asked the company to provide a proposal detailing machine tool requirements for a new oil-field parts production plant being built in Malaysia. Rapid growth in the Far East market made Halliburton’s stateside manufacture-and-ship operations less efficient for serving the Asian market. With the complex logistics of building a new plant from ground up, the company wanted a turnkey transaction for its machine tools and peripheral equipment, and found it with Hartwig.

"Hartwig didn't just want to sell machines, they did an analysis to ensure we had the right machines for the job, and then made sure our people had the proper training," said Wayne Colberson, Industrial Engineer, Team Leader for Halliburton. Hartwig recommended a combination of CNC lathes, mill turns, and CNC milling machines to meet the production needs for drill string completion parts. In total, more than 50 machines were required for the new plant, and Hartwig along with their manufacturing partners, sent a 20-member team to install the machines and train Halliburton personnel on how to use them.

"In 30 years, I had never been involved in a project quite this large," said Colberson. "From the start Hartwig was on-point for all things machine-tool related, and they made sure the installation happened on schedule. In fact, the first four machines were installed before the building was even finished."

Manufacturers also depend more on machine tool distributors to keep them current on the latest advancements in machines and machining methods. With increased competition worldwide, especially in the areas of quality and precision, job shops regularly update or replace machine tools with those having higher levels of technology, and they depend on the machine tool distributor to show how to best exploit the new capabilities

When Missouri-based Steelville Mfg. needed to add a large-part cell with an automated pallet system, it contacted Hartwig for a system to aggressively handle its large-part volume production, yet flexible enough to respond to short-run opportunities or emergencies. Steelville, named for the town where it's located, is a contract machining company producing aircraft parts, as well as medical instrument components. "As a job shop, we need versatility in our machine tools," said company vice president John Bell. "This cell gives us the ability to take on short-run or emergency jobs. And, that can go a long way with customer relationships."

Hartwig built a 167-foot long cell at Steelville consisting of two 4-axis horizontal machining centers for roughing and two 5-axis HMCs for finishing operations, built around a 94-pallet Fastems FMS system, a multi-level pallet storage/retrieval system that links the stand-alone machines. The cell has space for two more machining centers, and provides Steelville with the flexibility to add or replace machines as it chooses.

Small business customers, like Homeyer Tool & Die, also call Hartwig when making new machine tool decisions. Homeyer, based in Marthasville, MO, provides precision machining services, as well as complete engineering solutions from product design and development to final tooling packages. "I knew Hartwig from a previous employer," said Herb Homeyer, president. "When I started my company in 1990, they were one of the first calls I made."

The tool & die maker has more than 40 CNC machines, waterjets, vertical mills, hones, quality inspection and EDM equipment, including a 7-axis multi-tasking machine. Hartwig sold and installed the machines and provided training to Homeyer's machine operators. "Now, I use Hartwig as a consultant on new machine purchases," said Mr. Homeyer. "Good purchasing advice and knowledgeable training are valuable assets that help make our business successful."

To develop its consulting capability, Hartwig made significant commitment to staff training and education. The 43 engineers in the company's service department go through apprenticeship training at Okuma, and renew every two years, to ensure they are up to speed on the latest machine technology; and 18 of Hartwig's 28 sales engineers are CMTSE-certified. The company also conducts training at all eight of its locations to address customers' specific programming or operating issues, something Hartwig's more entrepreneurial customers appreciate.

"Projects like Halliburton Malaysia are high-profile and challenging," said Hartwig. "But some of our most satisfying work is done with companies like the 'Steelvilles' and 'Homeyers.' We're a family-owned business with three generations involved, and we understand the value of having a good business partner, and being one."

For more information, visit Hartwig’s website here.