Freeing Manufacturers to Focus on the Big Picture

AMPCO Manufacturers Inc.
Written by David Caldwell

“If you want it done right, do it yourself.” But when you’ve got no time, no personnel, or the scale is simply too big? That’s where AMPCO Manufacturers Inc.’s experience takes up the slack. AMPCO is an acronym for The Advanced Manufacturing & Printing Company and it has been achieving a Standard of Excellence for over 50 years. AMPCO makes quality components such as labels, decals, nameplates, overlays and membrane switches for companies worldwide, letting them focus on what’s important.

Beginning as a label and decal printer 52 years ago, AMPCO has grown to be a major component fabricator for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Privately-owned and operated, the company’s 63,000 square-foot facility outside Vancouver, British Columbia employs a staff of 115, the people who carry out AMPCO’s continuing mission of manufacturing product quality.

“The company continually strives to meet our partners’ expectations,” says second-generation owner Dann Konkin, including providing superior customer service and evolving product lines as well as very high quality products. AMPCO has endured and expanded to become a vital partner with regional, national and international OEMs.

Many of AMPCO’s most stalwart clients are in the trucking industry, with regional giants such as PACCAR, parent company to Peterbilt and Kenworth. “Our history as an organization is based on screen printing durable decals for the Class 8 heavy-truck market,” says Andrew Wendorf, Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

The best for the best
But from this start in label printing, AMPCO has evolved to where it now manufactures and ships over 4,000 parts to truck-assembly plants in North America and Australia. The company has also manufactured parts for Mack and Volvo trucks since the 1990s, providing labels, decals and assembled components.

AMPCO now additionally manufactures custom electronics for Canadian and international clients such as Eaton Electrical, General Electric, and Philips, among others. It was a learning curve, as Konkin relates: “In the beginning, we would produce the overlay and supply the overlay to a sub-supplier.” But AMPCO’s team learned new manufacturing techniques – how to work with silver-based inks, to create flexible circuit boards, to assemble membrane switches. In fact, AMPCO has been manufacturing backlit overlays and membrane switches since 1985 and it is the level of experience that makes AMPCO a great outsourcing partner to design engineers in an array of different industries.

Today, the company has mastered the manufacture and assembly of a great variety of components from start to finish. “We put it all together and sell it as a complete unit,” Konkin says.

Konkin describes the motivation behind this evolution in two words: “Diversification and survival. That was the only way a small printing company in Canada could have survived.” AMPCO diversified simply to better weather recessions and shifting economic trends.

Enter the problem solvers
However, the company not only survived but thrived in this new, enhanced role. “We embraced diversification, and by being more diversified, we were able to solve problems these bigger companies, [who] weren’t as agile as AMPCO [were unable to].”

This emphasis on problem-solving, plus the company’s high degree of experience in decal and component manufacturing, has allowed AMPCO to grow into its current role as an OEM supplier.

Konkin relates how customers have built on AMPCO’s expertise to allow the company to grow: “Because we have become a solution provider of a number of different products for our customers, they come to us and ask us to get involved with products we may not even have been involved with.”

The measure of quality
Along the way, AMPCO has built a solid reputation for product quality, with an outstanding quality standard of meeting a stringent 10 parts per million (PPM). This rating, indicating that on average only ten parts out of every million are defective, directly relates to the company’s exceptionally high standards. AMPCO has now held this rating with PACCAR of 0 PPM for five years running, something of which the company is justifiably proud.

Especially gratifying is that the trucking industry is recognized for upholding quality standards that are among the most rigorous of any industry, and Konkin is proud of his company’s ability to meet and maintain these highest of standards: “Every time that they kept creating tougher quality initiatives, we continued to meet those initiatives.”

Other high quality ratings include: QS 16949, attained in 1998; then elevating the standard to TS-16949, attained in 2006; and then IATF 16949, attained in 2018; and ISO:14001 Environmental Certification, attained in 2014.

Flexible and reliable
AMPCO’s high quality standards have helped it develop consistently long relationships with its customers, which have become a kind of trademark of the company. As these relationships develop, many customers outsource more product development and manufacturing to AMPCO, which the company has now learned to take in its stride.

“Where you had companies producing really large volume, you didn’t have companies that were able to produce smaller, custom-type runs quickly – and that’s where AMPCO struck a chord,” Konkin explains. “We had that flexibility that some of the larger companies couldn’t provide.”

Wendorf describes how AMPCO sets its clients’ minds at ease through reliability. “Sometimes a company approaches us to produce an ANSI or CSA label. Other times they approach us with a complicated panel complete with backlit overlays and circuit boards. Over time our OEM engineer teams determine that they can outsource a number of different requests that are better executed by AMPCO given the pressure on their internal resources. With the pressure on today’s supply chain, we’re extremely proud of the fact that we’ll be in stock, we will not short-ship, and we will ensure that zero defective products reach the marketplace.”

Engineering teamwork
As part of its flexibility, AMPCO’s team works with its customers’ own engineering teams on research and development. Thanks to its long experience, AMPCO’s customers feel comfortable outsourcing more manufacturing work, placing their faith in the company’s high standards.

“Many of our larger customers have their own engineering capability, but they’re so busy with their current challenges and they’re looking for suppliers that can provide additional Engineering or Manufacturing support, and AMPCO’s flexibility allows us to help them,” explains Product & Process Development Manager Brian Fewtrell.

He relates an example in which AMPCO had been contracted to manufacture vehicle decals for a manufacturer, which was worried about product longevity. “AMPCO went into testing all the inks and material combinations to qualify and develop a label that would last the life of the vehicle,” about fifteen years.

Today, AMPCO remains confident in its role of a quality OEM supplier and innovator. The company recently celebrated its 48th year as a PACCAR top-ranked supplier, and has been a recognized ‘Certified and Preferred Supplier’ since 1998. One of AMPCO’s proudest moments was in 2010, when 3M named it the ‘Lead Print Partner’ – supplier of all related graphics for the Vancouver Winter Olympics. These achievements are testaments to AMPCO’s continuing quality standards and its drive to make its customers look their best.

Working on the workforce
Arguably AMPCO’s strongest asset remains its workforce, the power behind the company’s expertise and reliability. But even the most talented employees must eventually retire. “Right now, employee retention is key,” Wendorf says. AMPCO places high importance on internal advancement, and has implemented a mentorship program where experienced employees train younger workers.

In addition to benefits programs and market-competitive salaries, this program will help ensure AMPCO’s core workforce remains strong. The company is also partnering with the British Columbia Institute of Technology, investing $250,000 over five years in a student training program.

With AMPCO providing materials and training instructors, students will learn valuable skills and graduate with guaranteed jobs. “That’s an outstanding way for us to bring in new people who actually know the idea and know the product, and want to develop their own skills,” Konkin says.

Automation assistance
In addition to these programs, AMPCO is investing more in automation, intending to produce more product without more employees. Konkin describes the move as customer-driven. “Our customers are always looking for faster turnaround times, lower costs, so obviously staying abreast of the most advanced equipment possible keeps that competitive advantage for you.”

As production times accelerate in today’s global economy, 3D printing and automation are necessary to ensure AMPCO’s continued survival. “Gone are the days where an engineer would develop a file, then have to build a tool and produce a sample of that tool in, let’s say, four weeks,” Konkin explains. “Now I can produce the file and 3D print it and actually review it in two days.”

As AMPCO pioneers these new technologies, it also must navigate external economic factors. Recently, the company has switched its major component source from China to Taiwan, in response to ongoing tariffs.

In addition, to better facilitate its American business, AMPCO has enrolled in the Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (CTPAT) program, operated by US Customs and Border Protection.

This program has an effect somewhat similar to the Nexus Pass for travellers, expediting AMPCO’s trucks through customs screenings. AMPCO has been a member since 2010, ensuring faster delivery for its products and making them more attractive to US-based customers, even in the face of protectionism.

Locking in quality
These external factors compound new internal challenges – notably, that customers are requiring not only higher quality but increased quantity as well. But, Konkin says, for customers, high quality is a necessity before any business can be achieved. “If you ship a product and [the customers] find a defect, they won’t even look at the rest of your product. They’ll push it off to the side and have a third-party partner review it all, because they don’t want to have any of that expense, to have to review your product.” This, more than anything else, makes quality so essential to continual business operations and growth.

But thanks to its remarkable flexibility, AMPCO is weathering these changes while remaining true to its long-standing customer relationships. The company is investigating new relationships with OEMs, forecasting significant growth over the coming years.

“We feel that we can double our company size in the next five to seven years,” Wendorf says. “Our goal is to really work and reach out to more custom OEMs in the marketplace, and explain our capabilities to them so we become an extension of that OEM’s engineering team.”

Thanks to AMPCO’s long track record, the company can help customers save money and focus on other projects, which Wendorf says furthers the company’s mission. “At the end of the day, when we partner with somebody, we’re going to make them look great.”



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