It takes just a few minutes to drive over the bridge from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. But once you're there, it seems awfully far away. The hurried edge is suddenly gone, replaced by a calmer yet nonetheless purposeful approach to life.
Go to just about any die or mold shop in town, and you'll get a strong taste of what some of that purpose is all about. Finding one shouldn't be too difficult. Windsor boasts one of the highest concentrations of tool shops to be found anywhere in the world. And as a group, they are also one of the finest.
We are very pleased to feature two of the best Windsor shops in the April issue of Modern Machine Shop—Active/Burgess Mould & Design and Reko International Group. These shops hardly need an introduction to anyone familiar with the North American automotive tool making community. But if you're not, they are both very large (with more than 400 and 500 people respectively), technically advanced, and very successful.
What is perhaps most striking about our discussions of these two shops, however, is how different they are in their approaches to engineering a manufacturing system. Active is pushing more technology and decision-making down to the shop floor. They believe that by giving machinists better tools—specifically, shopfloor programming and high speed machining—they can get jobs into production faster and machine much closer to the final finish. Their plan is generated on the fly by people who know the entire process.
Reko is going in the opposite direction, applying what is essentially a mass production strategy. They place their emphasis not on the traditional tool-maker's approach of one person controlling the whole job, but on a division of labor based on more narrowly defined skill sets, careful process planning, and flawless execution of a plan. They want everything figured out before a job hits the shop floor.
While proponents of either approach will argue over which strategy is superior, the simple fact is that they both work extraordinarily well. How can two dissimilar approaches be so equally effective? I'll argue that it all goes back to the quality of the people and their sense of purpose about their work. Both shops have that in spades. You need a good strategy, for sure, but I'll always bet on the guy who cares the most.