At the end of December a little publicized event passed that in fact was a major milestone for the American machine tool industry: Larry and David de Caussin retired. While that milestone may be good cause for a moment of sentiment on the part of the de Caussins' close friends and associates, if Steve Peterson has his way, it will pass virtually unnoticed by everyone else.
If the names don't quite ring a bell, the de Caussins, along with their late brother Adrian, were the driving force behind Fadal Engineering (Chatsworth, California) rising from a job shop to become one of the world's leading producers of vertical machining centers. Last year the de Caussin family sold the company to Giddings & Lewis (Fond du Lac, Wisconsin), America's largest machine tool builder, for a tidy $180 million. And Mr. Peterson is the G&L manager who is leading Fadal in this new era.
The emergence of Fadal is an extraordinary story. They only began to build machine tools for market fifteen years ago, yet grew steadily through the 1980s, even as foreign competition came to otherwise dominate the U.S. market for such machines. At a time when the pundits were loudly wondering if any kind of manufacturing had a future in America, let alone that of capital equipment, Fadal was beating back competition with a rather basic concept--build a dependable machine as simply and inexpensively as possible, and give the local distributor what he needs to support it.
That idea wrought more than simple competitiveness. It created a new class of technology--much like the advent of the personal computer--that put machining centers on the floors of shops that otherwise couldn't afford them. Consequently, the U.S. vertical machining center market is several times what it was a decade ago in terms of machines consumed. And today Fadal equally shares some two thirds of that market with next-door neighbor Haas Automation, another upstart that proves how successful American manufacturing can be.
Mr. Peterson is well aware of this legacy, and plans little change other than to more aggressively pursue export markets. "My job is to facilitate more of the same" he says. If he does extremely well, hardly anyone will notice the change at all.