In 1947, design engineer Ed Drew started Drewco Corporation, now called Drewco Workholding, in Racine, Wisconsin. Drew’s initial interest, and eventually his passion, was to innovate the process of holding parts for manufacturing, which led him to develop patented designs for chucks and collets. Today, Drewco is a full-service design and build workholding company that designs 80 percent of what it produces. Through Drewco’s 68-year history, it has become specialized in designing and building gear workholding that now encompasses 50 to 75 percent of its business.
After Drew passed away, Drewco was sold and then later purchased by Ann and Richard Pettibone in 1987 from a Michigan firm, bringing the ownership back to Wisconsin. Interestingly, there was a Pettibone family connection to Drewco in its earliest years. According to Richard Pettibone, “Ed Drew and his wife were family friends, and my father helped Ed with some part-time drafting in the beginning days of the company.”
Shortly after purchasing Drewco, Pettibone, a mechanical engineer, began to expand the line of custom workholding products. He increased the type of both durable and perishable workholding tooling, and due to customer requests, he also added the designing and building of machining center fixtures. To meet the industry’s increasing needs for shorter lead times, Pettibone implemented applications of Eli Goldrath’s Theory of Constraints after extensive study of its principles, which has allowed Drewco to offer some of the shortest lead-times in the industry and turn most quotes around in 48 hours or less.
Drewco also responded to its customers’ needs in the last recessionary period when manufacturing slowed and tooling budgets shrank — by increasing its refurbishing program to help extend the life of its customers’ existing workholding fixtures. This program continues to grow today. As the processes of gear-generation evolve, Drewco’s designs innovate to encompass those developments, including increasing fixture rigidity as machines become increasingly faster, new fixtures for milling gear teeth, and now for dry grinding.
A second generation of Pettibones are now with Drewco. In the last several years, two out of Richard and Ann’s four sons, who grew up on the shop floor and started out by cleaning machines as teenagers, have taken positions at the company. Ryan Pettibone joined in 2007 after attaining his business degree and is Drewco’s production manager. Andy Pettibone is Drewco’s sales project manager and an AMT Certified Manufacturing Technology Sales Engineer, who moved his sales career to Drewco in 2012.
With a close family team leading the business, Drewco strives to treat its customers like a family too. Drewco’s mission is to design and build expert workholding that meets the specific needs of its customers, demonstrate a definite return on their investment, and deliver it on-time.
“In addition to our product mission, our everyday intention at Drewco is to make heroes out of our customers inside of their own companies,” said CEO Ann Pettibone. “Whether someone is a regular customer or a new customer, we design our products, our processes, and our customer communications to give the customer the best results and experience possible. It is very rewarding to get comments back like ‘Drewco is our best supplier,’ and we continue to look for ways to do that.”
From its Midwestern location between Chicago and Milwaukee, Drewco provides workholding domestically and internationally. The company regularly serves Mexico, Canada, and Europe, and it works with U.S. OEMs with programs in China and other global locations.
Drewco supplies the major manufacturing industries, such as aerospace, automotive, energy, defense, mining, and agriculture, with workholding and specifically gear workholding. The Drewco team works with OEMs, tier one suppliers, machine tool builders, and commodity buyers.
“The size and type of our projects range significantly from a large million-dollar project where we are working with an OEM’s design and production engineering department to provide workholding for multiple cells of gear generation, to working with single commodity buyers looking for a faster or less costly supplier on a $300 build to print replacement collet,” Pettibone said.
The company also handles many projects directly for machine tool builders and is often a part of turnkey projects.
Drewco produces a full range of products needed for gear generation. Whether it’s turning, grinding, hobbing, shaping, shaving, skiving, milling, or inspecting, the company regularly works with customers to create chucks, hydraulic and solid arbors, collets, and machining center fixtures that will either allow their new machine to perform at its full capacity or reduce the setup time and increase the run-time of their existing machines.
Drewco focuses on building in as much universality into its tooling as possible. This often allows the customers to reduce setup time by 40 percent or more, according to Ann Pettibone. It also allows build-in options for future parts to be run on Drewco’s fixtures.
“The way we work with customers is somewhat unique,” Ann Pettibone said. “Unlike many other workholding companies, Drewco does not produce a standard line of workholding and modify the line to make a customer-specific fixture. We are able to focus solely on the form and function that the customer needs from a clean sheet design perspective.”
Drewco often works with customers who need to produce a wide range of gear sizes, many being very large, and in small quantities. Drewco has developed pedestal-type fixtures that have given its customers positive results, a major reduction in setup time, and valuable increases in production run-time. Traditionally, these have been fixtures on machines that can expand collets and face clamp parts through the activation of the machine’s draw bar.
Recently, several of Drewco’s customers have requested to receive similar results on milling or hobbing machines that do not have draw bars. To solve this problem, Drewco designed and produced its pedestal-style fixtures with a built-in two-stage activation cylinder.
“Now, instead of having to manually set up and do a manual change-over for each gear, the operator can pneumatically or hydraulically use the new cylinder so that the machines without the draw bars can produce the same results as one with a draw bar,” Pettibone said. “The results are improved production times, safer and ergonomically correct working conditions, and emails from customers telling us about their happier operators.”
Drewco’s success stories with design and build projects is attributed to the company’s process of gathering correct information from the customer, the machine tool builder, and the machine tool supplier, reviewing the design that evolves from that information, and then presenting it to all of the parties involved, often including the operators. Then, during production, they regularly inform the customer of the project’s progress and follow-up after the fixture is installed.
“This process is what makes heroes — for us and for our customers,” Pettibone said.