Sapa improves product quality to keep up with competition and boost customer satisfaction
July 2012 - When economic conditions are tough, competition can be intense. Some companies add capabilities or downsize operations, but Sapa Extrusions North America, Rosemont, Ill., has chosen to invest in the quality of its products. As a result, the company is helping distributors widen the demand for high-quality aluminum extrusions that allow end users to produce better products with improved efficiency.
Sapa’s Acc-U-Line rod and bar products offer consistent, controlled grain structure, which is possible because of the company’s indirect extrusion press technology. Indirect extrusion reduces the frictional heat generated during extrusion, resulting in rod, bar and hex products that have more consistent dimensions, mechanical properties and grain structure. With better material, distributors, like Howard Precision Metals, Milwaukee, can offer its end users a product similar to cold-finished products.
“Customers come to us looking for a close-cut tolerance,” says Kim Anderson, vice president of sales at Howard Precision Metals. “The improved tolerances of the Acc-U-Line bar product line allow us to provide them with a really square-cut product. If the bar comes in to us straighter and with better dimensional tolerances consistent down the length of the bar, we’re going to be able to hold better tolerances in the finished, cut part product we provide to the end customer.”
Because Acc-U-Line products offer improved saw-cut surfaces, Howard Precision Metals eliminates the need for customers to do secondary operations, like milling or facing, on the end of the bar, which translates into cost and time savings.
“Another positive we’re seeing in the Acc-U-Line product line, as a distributor, is that it’s bridging a gap between two markets. The Acc-U-Rod or round bar of the product line has a very improved diameter tolerance being very close to cold-finished bar,” says Anderson.
The cold-finished bar process is an extruded bar that is sent through a set of rolls to straighten and cold-work the bar down to a tighter tolerance, a secondary process.
“The new tolerances of Sapa’s Acc-U-Rod are within a couple thousandths of a cold-finished bar,” she continues. “With cold-finished bar easily at a $1-per-pound premium over the extruded product, you are looking at quite a savings. We see many screw machine customers looking at the Acc-U-Rod product for a cost-saving alternative to cold finished bar. All of those added advantages ultimately makes the end product more competitive. It allows all of us—the producer, distributors, and end users to compete on a higher level globally.”
Getting an edge
“The Acc-U-Line set of products was a culmination of a lot of work done by our tech center and our plants over the past year or so,” says Charlie Straface, general manager of Sapa Extrusions–Industrial. “The target was to develop a rod and bar and hex line that would be superior to any product on the market. We wanted better machinability and better parts with no variability.”
Before Sapa began working on the Acc-U-Line products, the company wanted to be sure there was a need for it on the market. So it worked with machine shops to get their input.
“We wanted to know what our customers wanted from their machines,” says Straface. “Based on feedback, they wanted a better product, one that improved efficiency on a consistent basis.”
Straface also notes competition within the industry was another factor in the company’s decision to improve its product quality.
“Every market is so competitive today, and machine shops are looking for an edge,” he says. “Acc-U-Line can be the edge for them. Sometimes having better products is the difference between winning and losing a job. Everyone can understand the need to be competitive and win projects. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.” MM