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Thursday, Feb 22, 2024

Turnaround Artists

Lined up in a straight row, the inch-long fasteners get stamped with orange paint on their business end and then tumble down a white plastic pipe into a metal tray. There are thousands of these coming from these machines, and that adds into the millions of fasteners that are coated on a daily basis at the Chatsworth plant of E/M Coating Services. A quick scan of the shipping area reveals those parts don’t stay around very long. “You don’t see a lot of stuff piling up,” said Michael Steinberg, the division manager for the Chatsworth plant as well as another in North Hollywood. Speed is of the essence when supplying aerospace manufacturers. Aircraft cannot be assembled if the parts holding the plane together are sitting in a box hundreds of miles away. Quick turnaround and the quality of its custom work are the hallmarks of E/M, a formerly private company located in the San Fernando Valley since the late 1940s and now a division of a subsidiary of publicly-traded Curtiss-Wright Corp. Long-range plans call for consolidating the two Valley plants into a single location, preferably somewhere between Chatsworth and North Hollywood, for the convenience of its 140-member workforce. As E/M is not in the real estate business, the company prefers to lease an existing building or have a developer build a new structure that it can lease, Steinberg said. As division manager, Steinberg focuses on strategic planning; creating the right plan that anticipates the types of materials of its client’s parts and the use of those parts on the finished product. Curtiss-Wright is the largest provider of solid film lubricant coatings in the world, and the two Valley plants are among the seven it operates in the U.S. The market base gets divided between aircraft, automotive and general industrial uses, with a small percentage going to the defense industry. Coating protects parts from corrosion, harsh temperatures, chemical environments, and heavy loads. Then there are the rare times when a coating is applied to, well, just look nice. “There is sometimes a cosmetic portion of what we do,” Steinberg said. When parts such as fasteners arrive at E/M they are immersed into liquid that takes the finish from shiny to dull to get the proper adhesion on the surface so the coating will stay. Both automated equipment and manual sprayers are used to apply the coatings developed and manufactured by E/M. With automated equipment tumbling the parts in a large bin, one worker can supervise three machines doing multiple orders. While more automation is in use it will never fully replace an employee spraying the coating on because of the custom work done by the company, Steinberg said. Out back at the Chatsworth plant is a furnace with flames reaching 1,400 degrees that destroys 98 percent of the fumes created by the solvents and other chemicals used in the coating process. The E/M touch is in such demand that in late February Steinberg added a third shift of 20 workers at the Chatsworth plant. The planning process to add the extra shift took about a year, with Steinberg assuring the orders were coming to justify adding workers. Then the facility was made ready with the necessary equipment. Third shifts are a popular choice and very cost effective way to grow a business, said Bruce Ackerman, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley. “You don’t add capital or equipment you can maximize what you have,” Ackerman said. Staying Lean A native of Florida, Steinberg spent 13 years in the Chicago area before becoming division manager in the Valley four years ago. In that time, he has brought the concepts of lean manufacturing to both plants to make them competitive and ensure long term success. Going lean, Steinberg said, is a way of life. It applies not only to the coating process but the paperwork involved, and the shipping of the finished product. Operators spray parts and do their own quality control while quality inspectors spot check the work and do value-added processing. Lean is all about the culture of a company, a way to improve rather than stay complacent, said Alex Federici, a consultant with California Manufacturing Technology Consultants who has worked with Steinberg and others at E/M. “If you start thinking that way someone else is going to come along and find a better way,” Federici said. The best measurement of how well lean manufacturing is working is in the time it takes to get through the process of receiving parts, coating them and shipping them out. The company can work on 200 to 300 orders simultaneously and have them out the door in 24 hours to 36 hours, Steinberg said. “I work with a lot of machine shops, a lot of [other companies] that go out for similar type work and I have not seen any other company hitting the kind of turnaround times that E/M is,” Federici said. Overseas Addition Another project taking Steinberg’s time is a new E/M facility in China, outside of Shanghai, expected to open by the end of the year. The news of an overseas plant is reason enough to send shudders through any company but this is not an instance of E/M outsourcing work overseas. Instead, the company is meeting the demands for coating parts from Asian companies and U.S. companies receiving parts from overseas. The China plant has been in the planning stages for about 18 months. To better prepare himself for doing work there, Steinberg set about educating himself on cultural differences learning how to conduct himself in a business meeting and the appropriate seating of arrangements for a banquet with Chinese officials. The long flights have given Steinberg time to pick up a few words of Chinese to use with his hosts. “My goal is to learn three or four new words for each visit,” Steinberg said.

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