Technology Makes Machine Shop A Success
This month's column features Modelwerks, Inc. , located in Seattle, Washington.
Executive Director, Center for Manufacturing Systems, New Jersey Institute of Technology
This month's column features Modelwerks, Inc., located in Seattle, Washington. Jon Stamm, president of Modelwerks, tells how the company was started and discusses the factors that have led to its growth during the last 9 years.
"Modelwerks, Inc. has been in business since 1992. The business began with a few guys who didn't want to just punch the clock and do their 40 anymore. We got together in my back yard, built a display model for a demonstration and haven't looked back since."
To find customers, Mr. Stamm says initially, "we got on the phone and called anybody and everybody, begging for work." Then, the business began to grow. "We built a reputation for quality products and services, and it spread by word of mouth. Our target market is very cliquish, as there are lots of guys who will promise the moon and not deliver. Some customers who were new to us grumbled about price the first time, had work done elsewhere, then returned to us after they found they truly did get what they paid for in terms of a high quality product delivered in a reasonable amount of time.
"Just as important was keeping up with CAD/CAM technology. Our customers really appreciate being able to come in, sit down next to the designer, convey their ideas to him and see them quickly come to life on the computer screen. In many cases they can then return 2 or 3 days later to pick up a prototype tool, mold or whatever else they need. Without the latest software, people would be spending countless hours and days drawing splines and surfaces. Good software and fast computers allow us to turn this time into machine time, because if you're not making chips, chances are pretty good you're not making money."
Mr. Stamm cites several reasons why customers buy from Modelwerks instead of the competition. "Modelwerks doesn't try to make widgets 1.3 cents cheaper than the shop down the street. We specialize in wind tunnel, radar, hydrodynamic and display models, as well as prototypes, patterns, compression molds and injection molds. We have learned not to cut our prices just to get jobs, and we have loyal customers who return because they always receive high quality products.
"Modelwerks is also able to offer in-house design capability, and this can be of great benefit when there are errors in the design. Customers like it when we call to notify them of a problem and we already have potential solutions mapped out. It can also be beneficial to be able to take a pencil sketch as the customer-supplied-data, because when we create the CAD file in-house we know there won't be any surprises."
Just as technology has affected the company in good ways, the Internet also has enabled it to achieve greater success with customers. "The biggest effect the Internet has had on our business has to be information location and transfer. You can't put a price on the ability to take a digital picture in the shop, e-mail it to someone in Virginia and seconds later talk to him or her on the phone as you both look at the picture. E-mail is just as valuable. One customer was amazed when we did some contract programming. We were able to create the program and e-mail it 20 minutes later. They thought we would be wizards if we delivered it the next day, so 20 minutes was a miracle in their eyes.
"Last, but not least by any means, more customers have been able to find us via our Web site, www.modelwerks.com."
Mr. Stamm summarizes what has made the company successful with one word: people. "People are a business's number one resource, and when a business is able to find the right people and place them in the right positions, adversity is just a challenge, not a killer."
Projections for the future of the business revolve around expansion, he adds. "In the short term, we are focused on expanding our current workforce and work output. As businesses go, we are still somewhat new, and the clientele we currently have orders quantities of one or two, not 10,000. Now that we have learned all the things not to do, we are ready to expand.
"During the next 5 years, we want to have a proprietary product line, quite possibly targeted to recreational markets such as remote control airplanes, cars and boats or maybe even motor sports. The future is a limitless horizon, and we feel the only limits on what we achieve will be self-imposed— and we live for pushing the limits."