Hanson International is not your typical manufacturing company – not by a longshot. Hanson is a world-class manufacturer of complex die cast dies and plastic injection molds.
While many companies that serve the automotive markets have struggled in recent years, Hanson has thrived. What is it about this Midwestern USA company located in the small community of St Joseph, Michigan that sets them apart?
Two words; Competitive Advantage.
EDM Today has recently visited the Hanson facility and met with several of their key people to learn just what gives them that competitive advantage. We were welcomed by Hanson International Supervisor Elmer Rudlaff. Elmer brought us into Hanson’s Wire EDM department, and proudly showed us their group of Sodick EDM machines. When asked about the competitive advantage, Elmer explained that it is many things, but a very important part of their success is due to their relationship with Sodick.
Elmer further stated that it is a true partnership. Working with Sodick is like having an extra group of employees who keep production moving. Elmer added that one of the many reasons for their growth and success is the idea of doing more with less. As an example, he cited the beneﬁ t of working with Sodick Consumables Account Manager Susan Bauer. He considers Susan as being part of the Hanson team, and has put his trust in her to make sure their EDM needs are met.
Sometimes Hanson takes on projects that are unique. Elmer ex-plained that whether it be advice on how to create a special program, or tackle cutting a special workpiece material, one call to Susan is all it takes. She will coordinate a response from various Sodick experts to provide a quick response.
Elmer also went out of his way to speak to the quality of Sodick consumables. He indicated that Hanson customers have come to expect consistent quality, fast project turnaround, and high levels of accuracy.
Sodick consumables give them the consistency and performance that allows them to get the best from their EDM machines.
Elmer also talked about the response they get from the Sodick service department. He recounted a situation that occurred in 2020 during the peak of the COVID pandemic. They were working on a hot job. While rushing to set up a machine, they had a loading accident and damaged a part on the Wire EDM.
With one call to Sodick, they were able to arrange getting the part that they needed. Within six hours of the accident, they had the part installed and were back in business. At the time, there were only three people in the Sodick Schaumburg, IL headquarters, yet they were able to rush a part order through and have it waiting during off hours for a Hanson pick-up. Elmer believes it is the rare supplier who would provide that level of support and he will never forget the help Sodick provided. They came through when he really needed them. Elmer expressed that is the deﬁnition of a true partner.
Hanson Manufacturing Supervisor James Gagliardo added that nobody ever wants a breakdown during a hot job, but it reassuring to know that Sodick is there when you need them.
It is clear that Hanson is investing in equipment and technology. During a plant tour, we saw several bays that were full with high end CNC equipment. When asked about the investment, Elmer revealed that by keeping current with the latest technology, they can achieve the level of performance that that their customers expect.
As part of the visit, EDM Today sat down with Hanson Inter-national President Julie LaVanway. We asked Julie the same question, what is Hanson’s competitive advantage? Julie echoed what Elmer mentioned. She stated that it is choosing the right partners. She, too, appreciates the support that Sodick provides, and the performance of the equipment. Just as Hanson customers have come to depend on them to provide exceptional levels of performance, so too does Hanson depend on Sodick for that same level of support.
Julie went on to explain that the Hanson manufacturing team is also one of the major factors in their success. Han-son does things a little differently when it comes to their people. They don’t consider them as employees, they con-sider them teammates and treat them that way. While the industry as a whole is suffering from a shortage of skilled labor, Hanson has no such problem. Within the community, Hanson is known as the place that you want to work.
Hanson has no shortage of applicants. Of course, not everyone has the skillset to become a precision toolmaker. To ensure that there is a good ﬁ t, new employees spend the ﬁ rst six to nine months as general laborer where they are exposed to a manufacturing environment. For those who demonstrate a good work ethic and willingness to
learn, they are transitioned into Hanson’s apprentice program. By the time they ﬁnish the apprentice program, they have developed their skills to the point where they can take their place alongside of their teammates and start a lifelong career as a precision tool maker.
Julie explained another reason Hanson has no problem finding talent is that they offer a great benefits package. Recognizing that life happens, they offer perks such as overtime after eight hours, and will even make contributions to a teammate’s retirement program with or without a contribution directly from the teammate. By treating people right and offering beneﬁ ts that are among the best in the industry, Hanson not only attract the best talent, they retain those good people. EDM Today asked Julie where these management practices originated. She revealed that they go all the way back to Merlin Hanson, who founded the company in 1966. From the very early days of the company, Merlin developed a culture where the Hanson team were considered one family.
For many years, Merlin guided the company and instilled the core values that are still in place today.
Merlin was a larger-than-life ﬁgure in the community. His business ventures went well beyond Hanson International. He is regarded as a successful CEO, entrepreneur, philanthropist and businessman. But when asked, he would always say, “I’m just a tool maker.” Merlin passed away in 2022, but he left behind a legacy that will continue into the future.
EDM Today asked Julie LaVanway what she sees as the future of the industry and that of Hanson Inter-national. Julie explained that, for the near term, she expects the industry to grow.
Currently, approximately 90% of Hanson’s work is in the area of die casting and the balance is in plastic injection molding. She said that clearly, the auto indus-try is in a transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles (EV). The move to EV will not happen overnight. There will be a transitional period that will create an expansion within the automotive industry.
Julie stated that Hanson was currently in growth mode. As the move to EV continues, it will require more from the automotive suppliers. Hanson will work with their customers to put equipment and technologies in place to meet the needs of the EV market. They already have the ability to cast parts in-house and produce ﬁrst articles for their customers to inspect. This offers a huge advantage to the customers to be able to check pre-production parts quickly and make any necessary changes.
Julie also sees some growth coming from work being reshored back to the USA.
While many die makers in the industry refuse to do refurbishment and PM of dies made by other companies, Hanson is happy to Elmer Rudlaff with First-Article Casting take on that work. Once a customer sees the quality of a Hanson refurb, it is not uncommon for them to transition to Hanson as the manufacturer of their new dies. Julie is not certain how the continued expansion will play out. They have plenty of room on their property to build additional manufacturing space, but they will let their customer’s needs guide them with plans for the future.
One thing is certain, there is a great ﬁ t between Hanson International and Sodick. Whatever the future holds for Hanson, there is no doubt that Sodick will be a part of that future.
EDM Today, Fall 2023 Issue