A Manufacturing Legacy in the Making

Aluminum Blanking Company
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

At Aluminum Blanking Company, a Michigan-based toll processor of aluminum, stainless steel, and surface-sensitive materials, the team strives to be a cut above the rest in all that it does—which is a lot.

You see, Aluminum Blanking Company isn’t just a toll processor, it is the original toll processor—one with a legacy of 44 years and counting of unmatched capabilities, talent, and reputation gained from meeting the exact needs of customers and industry.

Seizing opportunity
Aluminum Blanking Company was founded in 1979 following the oil embargoes and the first Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which called for the doubling of passenger vehicle efficiency in the United States.

At the time, Marvin Hole, a design engineer, was selling heavy coil handling equipment for metal processing. His background as an engineering manufacturer’s representative meant that he had great standing with local mills and a deeply rooted knowledge of the industry, its equipment, and its processes.

According to his daughter, President and CEO Laura Anderson, “He put together a meeting in 1978 after the first CAFE standards. He pulled in some of the Metallurgical PhDs from one of the major mills in the U.S. and brought together all the purchasing agents that he’d worked with at the Detroit Three, sat them down, and had them listen to the scientists and metallurgists discuss the benefits of lightweighting.”

Shortly after this meeting, a U.S. aluminum mill with which he had a relationship decided to divest its blanking operation. Since there were no other dedicated aluminum blanking operations, Hole saw an opportunity to fill a gap in the market, and so Aluminum Blanking Company became the only blanker of aluminum and surface-sensitive materials in a market with growing demand.

White glove service
Surface-sensitive materials are just that: sensitive to scratches, marks, and damage. This means that from the time incoming customer material is received to shipping the finished product, great care needs to be taken to protect its integrity.

Aluminum Blanking Company offers its customers white glove service, a standard that’s part of the company’s DNA. This attention to detail ensures that customers, from the largest OEMs to the smallest end users, receive unrivaled quality and service that protects the vulnerability of the materials.

“That’s our standard process,” Anderson says. “That’s what has always distinguished us: our quality, our attention to detail. The way our equipment is set up and every piece of equipment that touches the material has been selected and implemented with that in mind.”

Credit also goes to the team, who Anderson acknowledges are “the leading experts in processing aluminum to even the most critical tolerances. That gives our customers a lot of confidence when they know that we’ve got 44 years behind us with those technical experts still on site, still training the next generation and the next generation after that. We’ve got quite a depth of expertise on that bench.”

The company’s goal is to continue to be the first choice for quality aluminum work in any industry where aluminum plays. Just as her father did ahead of the company’s founding, Anderson, too, is watching the market changes and seeing opportunities emerging for Aluminum Blanking.

“Some of the industries have changed quite a bit over the last 20 years,” she says. “The models have changed on how aluminum is sold and how the OEMs are being approached. So while we do have this extensive capability, we feel we need to reinvent and reestablish communications with some of the industries,” says Anderson of the plan to educate them on how aluminum and Aluminum Blanking Company can serve their needs.

She adds, “We’re always looking to grow and add processing capacity, not only for automotive but also these other industries. We have experts who can handle material, can prepare it for going into the OEM stamping operations that can do that for aluminum better than anybody. It’s our standard process—which none of our competitors can claim.”

A partner to industry
One of Aluminum Blanking Company’s greatest strengths is its relationships. Through its partnerships, Aluminum Blanking Company is deeply rooted in the Michigan economy, which boasts a strong industrial base including automotive, as well as viable infrastructure and technology and a proud, dedicated, skilled workforce.

Automotive might represent the bulk of Aluminum Blanking Company’s work, but it’s not a limitation of its capacity by any means. The company’s ability to satisfy the tight tolerances of the automotive and aerospace industries is indicative of its capacity to undertake projects for customers in any sector, anywhere in the world.

“We see ourselves as being integrated with our customer, as an extension of our customer. We have the expertise that can go to the end user and ensure that their problems are solved by whatever our process might bring, making sure we’re the gateway to our customer so they’re presented with the best that they can be presented with in the industry,” says Anderson.

Some of the non-automotive work Aluminum Blanking Company has done includes the walls and bases of railcars, tankers, pontoons, and dump body stock; trailers and other marine products, ambulance shells, helicopter blades, and other commercial transportation; and components for commercial electronics.

“Anything that can be made out of aluminum and is under a half-inch thickness, we can do it,” Anderson says. “Our range is the full range of aluminum before you would start calling it plate. If you can coil it and ship it, we can process it.” With coils upwards of 100 inches in outer diameter and weighing up to 40,000 pounds, it takes robust capabilities to handle that extreme range of gauge and thickness.

Strength in capacity
Being a toll processor is a capital-intensive business with tight margins, so naturally, decisions must be made strategically to ensure Aluminum Blanking Company has the right equipment and maintains it impeccably to be able to deliver for its customers to the standard it has set for itself.

“We’ve always had strong tool and die support on-site and technicians that have good experience in not only building dies but maintaining them, so we keep our dies pristine, looking and performing as new. We make sure we do all the right maintenance. By doing that, not only are you protecting your investments, but you’re also protecting the pristine quality of the product that you produce,” Anderson notes.

With seven lines in operation and another being installed, Aluminum Blanking Company is investing in its ability to take on more projects through expanded capacity. Its latest oscillating shearing operation can handle smaller, simpler shapes like rectangles and trapezoids, which are common, with ease.

“It gives us flexibility to move some of those simpler shapes onto this line and do the more complex [work] on our other lines so it can be done more efficiently,” says Anderson. “Those are additional investments that we’ve made in our lines to support our customers and increase our capability—the ‘tool belt’ that we offer them.”

The company has also invested in the adoption of technology, data, and Industry 4.0. Aluminum Blanking Company developed its own system to help schedule and monitor the overall operation from order entry and inventory to shipping while capturing data around these processes that can be used to inform decisions and streamline operations in real time for optimized efficiency.

“The more sophisticated equipment that we’ve been installing allows us to have access to and utilize data around the machinery,” Anderson explains. “It can even capture the usage of the tooling in addition to the equipment to determine when the next major maintenance needs to be performed.”

Using this system to provide real-time information at the touch of a fingertip not only optimizes operations but also mitigates the risk of error, reduces waste, and improves overall productivity, output, and quality. Of course, what follows then is greater customer satisfaction and stronger bottom lines.

Generations of excellence
With 44 years behind it and a bright future ahead, Aluminum Blanking Company continues to prove that it can be everything its customers need it to be, when they need it, and even when it means tight deadlines and tight tolerances.

From Anderson’s perspective, “We’ve always had good in-house support in terms of tool technicians, engineering, and design to keep us on the cutting edge, keep us as efficient and high quality as possible.”

And Aluminum Blanking Company is on the cutting edge in more ways than one. Under the leadership of Anderson, it is breaking the glass ceiling in an industry that has traditionally been male-dominated and is paving the way for the next generation of leaders.

“We’ve seen that progress; there are more and more women breaking the barriers and participating in corporate leadership and technology,” says Anderson. The company is WBENC-certified, and indeed, Anderson works to do this herself as part of the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council, an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for women in business in the tri-state area.

At Aluminum Blanking Company, the success of one is the success of all. With its commitment to its processes, products, and people, the culture is one of personal and organizational growth and collective success in the interest of quality production and output.

For Anderson, the goal is simple: “We would like to be the supplier that customers and suppliers are excited to do business with.” Through the investments being made and the manufacturing legacy that has been created, that has certainly already happened.

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