When you walk through Weldaloy Specialty Forgings’ plants, labs and offices, you get the impression that is all about metal and ingots and billets and superalloys.
That’s part of it, but not all of it. The foundation is building relationships with customers – forging them, you might say.
“I think that most customers in manufacturing, they have an expectation that you’re going to meet all their quality expectations,” explained Weldaloy vice president and general manager Kurt Ruppenthal. “That sounds simple. The truth is there’s a lot that goes into that. And I think that’s where the technology and the metallurgy really have to get applied into how you design a process, to be able to produce a forged component. There’s a lot on the back end that goes into this very carefully executed and maintained recipe to produce a part … being able to heat up the metal to a very specific temperature, forge it, reheat it, forge it again, reheat it, then heat treat it, then remove a test bar from it to verify that all the qualities that are required are there and they’re met. It’s highly orchestrated. From the quality aspect on the customer side, it’s a given.”
Having a deep understanding of metallurgy and well-maintained equipment are essential, but so is the company culture.
“These are just huge elements,” Ruppenthal said. “Having people and a culture where people care about the details, attention to detail. That’s a big part of what we try to have.”
Some competitors choose profits over doing the right thing. Not Weldaloy.
“Serving your customer means meeting whatever their needs are. It doesn’t mean you’re always going to give them everything they want. You know you can’t do that. You have to run a business. But it shouldn’t be an excuse for making bad decisions, right? It shouldn’t be an excuse for choosing money over people or choosing money over service.”
Simple things matter, like meeting a deadline or getting a part done even sooner than expected.
“When a customer calls and says, ‘Hey, where are we at with this part? Or can you ship this a little sooner? Or, I need this quote turned around really quickly.’ Those are the little things in life that matter to our customers. To me, that’s really good business. You’ve got to have the foundation, you got to have the technical knowledge, you gotta have expertise, you’ve got to have the equipment, you’ve got to have all these things really laid out well. You have to have a good, safe environment. You got to have talented employees. All those things are huge elements to who we are. But if, if you don’t have the relationships and the service with the customer, you’re really setting yourself up for failure long term as a company.”
Weldaloy, based in Warren, Mich., has a 70-year history as a copper job shop. Initially working in automotive for the first few decades, Weldaloy eventually branched out the electronics industry in the 1990s. When the recession hit in 2008, Weldaloy had to diversify. That same year, Weldaloy expanded their capabilities with the addition of a large press. This allowed them to produce larger parts for the aerospace clients they currently had in their customer base..
Today, about half of its business is supporting the semiconductor, aviation and space exploration industries. It has beefed up its technical capability with a number of on-staff metallurgists and Ruppenthal believes revenue will at least double in the next 5 years.
Ruppenthal originally set out to be a school teacher, majoring in history in college. He has never taught a history class in his life. He first worked as a carpenter before finishing his degree from Oakland University in 2004. Ruppenthal thought he might teach during the school year and work his summers doing odd jobs as a carpenter. There were very few teaching jobs in Michigan when he graduated, so he started his own remodeling business, specializing in kitchens and bathrooms.
He is a self described entrepreneur who is not afraid to take risks. By 2008, he had the itch to try something else, something he knew nothing about. Ruppenthal helped form a company in 2008, Enovate IT, which produces mobile work stations for nurses in hospitals so that they could get information electronically at a patient’s bedside. At the time, hospitals were shifting to electronic medical records, sharing information electronically and doing away with the old clipboards and charts. The opportunity was there and he customized work-stations around tablets and laptops and computers.
After 7 years, Enovate was sold and Ruppenthal’s time there was winding down. Rick Warren, Weldaloy’s CEO, had mentored Ruppenthal in a bible study for a small group of men from 2008 to 2014, and had shared in Ruppenthal’s struggles to get Innovate established. It was there that Warren began to learn of Ruppenthal’s core beliefs and values and his passion for customer relations.
In 2014, an Engineering Manager position opened up at Weldaloy, and Warren offered the job to Ruppenthal—even though he knew very little about forging or material processing. By late 2014, Ruppenthal was promoted to Vice President and Chief Manufacturing Executive. Ruppenthal worked closely with the then Vice President and Chief Administration Executive to run the business. In late 2017, Ruppenthal was named as the General Manager at Weldaloy, and has been Warren’s right hand man ever since.
In the 5 years since, Ruppenthal has gained a wealth of knowledge about a new industry but never forgot his core principle, a lesson he refined while working as a carpenter, a bathroom remodeler or as a CAD designer customizing IT solutions. The foundation of any good company is customer relations.
“You’re building relationships, you’re working with these people every day. That’s really our goal. We’re building a relationship.
“When you’re really upfront and honest with customers, I’ll tell you, they respond to that. We immediately tell them, here’s where we’re at with this. Maybe we had a hurdle, we’re going to let you know as soon as possible. We’re going to take ownership of it and we’re going to work through it. And people are always happy about that.
“Customers come to us with problems. They don’t want to hear somebody say ‘that’s nice’. It’s like, I need you to help me solve this problem. That’s adding value. That’s differentiating you from other companies out there. If all you’re doing is meeting a specification, maybe you’re leaving some things to be desired, maybe you’re missing some of it.”
At the end of the day, whether you are remodeling a bathroom, customizing a work-station or building a part that helps launch a rocket into outer space, everything starts with building a relationship. That is a history lesson Ruppenthal won’t let himself or his team forget it.