Just-In-Time Precision

Argent International
Written by David Caldwell

Celebrating over forty years in business, Argent International has expanded from a single press to 26, employing over 125 highly skilled full-time workers in Michigan. This 3M Preferred Converter is a proudly veteran-owned small business, supporting the automotive and many other industries through its custom engineered adhesive die-cut solutions. Having mastered this precise manufacturing process, Argent is now expanding into new markets, applying both its rapid prototyping and full production services to new sectors.

Argent’s 100,000+ square foot facility in Plymouth, MI is able to produce more than 20 million parts monthly, and unlimited part configurations for custom jobs. Its long history and record of precision have earned the company patronage from OEM and Tier One automotive manufacturers such as FCA, Ford, GM, BMW, IAC, Lear, Toyota and Honda, among others.

Like many manufacturers, Argent International sees itself as a problem solver rather than a simple producer. Its engineering team works closely with clients to design and implement parts which often exceed clients’ specifications. In addition to these innovative solutions, Argent is able to provide total engineering support to ensure lasting quality and durability throughout the product’s lifespan.

A second competitive edge for Argent International is the speed of its delivery. “Argent’s ability to provide quick solutions is second to none,” says Director of Sales Pat Gariepy. The company is able to complete most prototypes within 48 hours of receiving the purchase order, but more commonly within 12 to 24 hours.

With so much of Michigan’s industry focused on the automotive sector, this makes Argent a natural for major automotive manufacturers to contract for the adhesive backed die-cut parts with which the company has made its name.

As an example, Gariepy relates how a large, Tier One auto manufacturer was forced to shut down an entire production line due to an issue with the fitment of a key trim piece. A large and quick replacement job was required, so the company turned to Argent. “They called us up, and within 24 hours, we had 8,000 pieces of a shim… and got their plant up and running again,” Gariepy recalls.

He also relates how another larger Tier One supplier discovered leaks in its product while it was undergoing water testing. After contacting Argent, the company provided pieces of custom-engineered foam within a single day to solve the problem.

Argent International’s trademark innovation, speed, and quality are further manifested in the company’s prototyping department. This is a dedicated workshop within Argent which serves to fill clients’ custom needs in 12 to 24 hours. Many of Argent’s customers arrive with small issues, such as squeaking door frames, and this rapid prototyping department is able to adeptly solve these manufacturing issues.

Gariepy credits Argent’s success to its highly talented and loyal employees. “Easily 35 percent of the people here have been here for fifteen years or more,” he says. Argent’s workforce remains loyal thanks to the company’s reciprocal loyalty and also highly competitive benefits, which include (among other things) a largely pet-friendly work environment.

However, the company is also working to court younger workers, working with local community colleges and training schools to cultivate and train the next generation of American laborers.

The workforce also benefits from Argent’s embrace of an ‘open-book management’ (or OBM) style. Every employee undergoes basic financial training, to better understand how decisions made at higher levels impact them – and to understand what the company management is doing, and why.

Weekly ‘huddle’ meetings bring all employees together examine all line items in a single space, “from sales all the way down to how much cardboard we used,” Gariepy explains.

Employees are empowered and encouraged to be active in the day to day running of the business. Each employee knows how their actions not only affect them and their immediate surroundings, but how such actions can have a domino effect throughout the company. To further emphasize the importance of each team member’s contributions to the company, a gain sharing program is implemented to allow everyone to share in the success.

With Argent having firmly made its mark as a custom manufacturer, the company is now seeking to push deeper into some new markets that have been identified. One such is marine components, which Business Development Manager James Beesley says came as a natural progression.

“We realized that many of the materials we use – and have become very familiar with both in their performance and how to best convert them into end-use parts in the automotive space – have applications in the marine sector,” he remarks. The company’s leadership realized that many marine manufacturers had similar problems to Argent’s automotive clients – what Beesley describes as “Buzz, Squeak and Rattle” (or BSR) issues.

Additionally, most of the custom issues Argent solves are the same in both the marine and automotive sector; they are caused either by dissimilar materials interfacing with each other, or by degradation from water and salt.

With little or no modification to Argent’s proven die-cutting process, the company can now apply its skills to marine components, confident (thanks to its long automotive experience) that these components will likewise showcase Argent’s trademark expertise.

Natural, organic growth is always welcome, and the company is seeing another major opportunity. As vehicles become more complex, more components closer together will naturally produce more heat. Thus the expansion into more advanced and efficient heat-management products such as TDS300 Heat Shields.

Here again, Beesley describes this move as a natural progression of Argent’s abilities. With the headlong drive to incorporate more and more electronic features into vehicles, the problem is exacerbated.

“Heat is one of the most destructive factors in electronics today,” he says, adding that newer solid-state electronics will begin to break down at temperatures of 120°F (50°C).

To address this new and growing challenge, Argent has a highly-qualified team dedicated to furthering Argent’s goal of providing custom solutions to its clients. Once again, the company turns its practiced precision to custom-engineered heating components, such as TDS® heat shields or custom die-cut thermal dissipating pads for 3M, among many other solutions. “Using the experience we have gathered over the last 40-plus years in the automotive market,” Beesley concludes, “we can apply that knowledge and technology in the consumer electronics industry and any application that needs to be concerned with heat dissipation or protection.”

As part of this move into electronic components and heat sinks, Argent is making new inroads in the technically complex (and heavily electronic) hybrid car sector. New battery systems, while highly efficient, also produce high waste heat. Argent is stepping up to manufacture custom-designed foam spacers in battery packs, ensuring effective heat management under ever-increasing temperature requirements.

But as Beesley explains, these heat sinks are merely the first step of this new expansion. “With the electrification of vehicles continuing to evolve, we see opportunities evolving with the use of electrically conductive epoxies, tapes and foils,” he remarks. “Being that we are a converter of flexible materials, these types of applications fall nicely into our core competencies.” Finally, the company is now investigating new opportunities in EMI/RFI shielding, helping protect fragile electronic components from electromagnetic interference. “We have a whole host of materials that we can offer to the customer,” Beesley affirms, elaborating these materials can additionally help solve standard BSR issues and reduce noise.

Argent’s moves into these new sectors reflect its standard of staying up-to-date with the latest manufacturing techniques to remain competitive. To facilitate this, the company works closely with its suppliers to remain current with new industry trends, a testament to Argent’s strong working relationships. In addition, Argent subscribes to trade journals and attends trade conferences throughout the year, ensuring its staff is continuously on the – literal – cutting edge of die-cutting development.

Argent is already implementing these techniques into its business model. While the precise nature of its work renders automation difficult at times, the company is now introducing laser, or ‘die-less,’ cutting machines as well as advanced camera vision systems to its production lines. “Laser cutting allows us to not only offer fantastic turnaround of our rapid prototype department, but it also gives us flexibility in converting complex part designs and allows very precise tolerances in the most demanding of applications,” Beesley remarks. Further, new camera registration and inspection systems allow Argent to ensure highly accurate registration and maintain a zero-defect standard, even with the company’s most complicated applications.

These new technologies and production methods help Argent stay profitable in an increasingly competitive market. As Argent enters the 21st century’s third decade, the company’s leadership believes it is ready to take on these new challenges. “Anything that’s flexible, that has adhesive on it, we can convert that into parts for various things,” Beesley remarks. Newly implemented Six Sigma protocols are raising efficiency standards, and ISO 14001 certification proves Argent is working with more environmentally-friendly materials during production and also from suppliers. Combined with the IATF 16949 Certification Argent holds, and these new measures in place, Argent rests in the knowledge that any vehicle sector will have need of its services.

“We’re taking what we’re doing today, and we’re evolving,” Gariepy remarks, elaborating that the new moves help the company remain nimble. Thanks to its close relationship with both clients and suppliers, he says Argent is able to see changing market trends and react accordingly. “We’re seeing what our customers need, and what they’re going to need in the future. Argent will be ready to deliver.”

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