Company Profile: Carnes-Miller Gear

Three solid decades of growth and accomplishment.

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When Dan Tweed, Jr., left the Army in 1988 to join his father at the helm of Carnes-Miller Gear, he found a company that was rock-solid at its core, but in dire need of a few technological upgrades. "We only had one computer when I got here," he recalls, "and all it was used for was doing the payroll. Everything else was done on paperãthe routers and everything else were handwritten."

Fifteen years later, a unified computer system is in place, loaded with "Global Shop" software that tracks everything from quotes to inventory to job costs and delivery. "People who'd never even seen a computer before are now clocking in and out of jobs and recording their activities online," says Tweed. "It's really helped us to become more efficient, and that just means we can do a better job for our customers."

And servicing customers is what it's all about, according to Tweed. "I think what sets us apart is how far we're willing and able to go to give our customers peace of mind," he says. "All they've got to do is tell us what they need, and we'll do whatever it takes to make that happenãas long as it's something we can actually do. "We try to be practical in our approach and in our solutions, and we're looking for customers who value a partner who is honest and doesn't try to be something they're not," he says. "But the bottom line is, we've got the infrastructure and the resources in place to do just about anything we need to, so now we're beginning to reach out to customers to let them know about what we can do, and it'll be interesting to see where they take us."

With two Tweeds in chargeãthe elder is president, and the junior, who was interviewed for this article, is vice presidentãit's logical to wonder about the company's name and origins. At the close of World War II, Tweed's father returned to North Carolina and took a job with a company called Precision Gear, which later became Perfecting Service Company, in Charlotte.

"My father grew up in the North Carolina mountains, and it was a hard life up there. There wasn't much work, so he left home to go work in the shipyards along the coast and even up in New Jersey," says Tweed. "Then he joined the Marine Corps and actually drove an amphibious tractor as part of the second wave at Iwo Jima. When he left the military, that's when he joined Perfecting Service."

Tweed's father spent some 28 years with the company, learning his craft from the ground up, but then he was forced to make a decision in 1973. "Perfecting Service had decided to phase out its gear department, and one of their salesmen, Gene Carnes, saw an opportunity to start a new company. He thought that he had the sales knowledge, and that my dad had the knowledge of gear machinery, so they were able to buy the equipment they needed when Precision auctioned it off. Gene Carnes fronted some of the money, my dad supplied some more as a minor partner, and a nearby company by the name of Lacy J. Miller Machine Company also bought in. The idea was that Lacy J. Miller would provide the blanks, and the new company would cut teeth on them to make the gears. So that's how the name Carnes-Miller Gear came about."

Some 10 years later, when Gene Carnes died, Tweed's father decided to purchase his shares in the company to become a majority holder, and the father and son decided to do the same when Lacy J. Miller offered their shares for sale in 1994. They chose to keep the original name to honor the company's founder and also the strong relationship it had built with its customers over the years. "We still work with our very first customer, and the second one, too," Tweed says. "You can't just leave them behind when you start to grow."

And grow they have, thanks to the company's integrated computer tracking system as well as investments made over the years to obtain the best gear-cutting and testing equipment. Carnes-Miller Gear, or CMG, also built and moved into new facilities in the early 1980s to make room for its growing enterprise. What really makes CMG stand out, though, is its evolution from a gear-cutting company to one that now offers a much broader range of services.

"There are basically two philosophies that I've run across in this business," Tweed says. "Some companies decide to stick to cutting teeth on gears. They're not going to turn the blank or broach the part, they just cut teeth. We don't take that approach, though. Our approach is to do just about anything you can to a cylindrical gear, from getting the raw materials to turning the blank to broaching and milling it, threading it, grinding it, and putting teeth on it. We take it straight up to the point where it stops making sense for us to do it ourselves, like heat treating or plating. Not only does this allow the customer to make a single call to find out the status of their order, it saves a great deal of time in terms of the manufacturing itself, since parts aren't being shipped from place to place for each step of the process."

A recent incident stands as the perfect example of the benefits of this approach: "There's a guy who lives nearby who's really into his motorcycle, and he came in one day complaining about a gear he had in his bike. He said the design was wrong, and it had the wrong kind of bearings so that it wore out too quickly. Well, we worked with him on this gear, made a couple of modifications, and then we made him a couple of prototypes. He put one in his bike, and he loved it so much that he sent the other one to the manufacturer out in California. He told us they weren't satisfied with the process of obtaining their gears, or with the gears themselves, and that we should try to work with them," Tweed says. "So I made a couple of calls to the company, but I didn't really think anything would come of it. Then the guys calls last week and places an order!" Does this meanãin addition to canning, construction, material handling and the power, paper, railroad, and pharmaceutical industriesãthat CMG should now add "motorcycle manufacturing" to its list of clients? "I guess it does," Tweed says with a laugh. "I guess I'll need to start learning more about motorcycles now."

In addition to this "full-service" approach, Tweed says his company's focus on its customer's needs also helps set it apart from the competition. On a visit to one of his customers, for instance, he had the opportunity to talk to the man who actually worked with the gear CMG provided. "They were happy with the gear, but this guy mentioned that he'd like a little more clearance between two of the gears, so I came back and put a different type of cut on the tooth and gave it a little more relief. Then I called a couple of months later and asked if they'd noticed the difference, and they said 'yes, and we love it!' They also said they'd never had the guy who actually made the gear come to visit them, so sometimes it's the little things that can really make your relationship with your customer stronger. It's not just about giving them what they expect from you, you've got to go farther than that and give them what they don't expect."

As far as CMG has come over the years, Tweed's personal journey has taken him even farther. After graduating from The Citadel in 1980, where he studied historyã"it never hurts to be able to look at the big picture," he saysãhe joined the Army, with his first tour taking him to Korea. After spending nine years in active duty, Tweed found himself with a decision to make. "I'd always enjoyed being in the Army, and as an infantry officer, you always feel like you've got to be the 'baddest' guy there, so I trained as an Airborne Ranger and with Special Forces. But at about the same time that Gene Carnes died, my career in the service was changing, too. I had always spent my time with the troops, which I really loved, and I was about to be promoted up to staff level, which would've taken me away from that. So I called dad and asked him if he'd put me to work if I came home, and in 1988, that's what I did."

Even though he'd grown up watching his father work in the industry, his learning curve was still pretty steep. "I basically stood and watched over my father's shoulder, trying to pick up everything I could from his knowledge of gear manufacturing," he says. Still, Tweed found that all of the skills he'd learned in the military transferred directly to business, in many ways. "In the Army, you're dealing with people constantly, and you have to deal with equipment, inventory, safety; you're responsible for all that stuff as well as training your men to make sure they know how to do the tasks that they're assigned," he says. "You also have to provide leadership and motivation, and you've got to be fair-minded. You have to set an example every single day.

"I know it may sound corny, but there's a line in the movie We Were Soldiers where a guy says 'you have to be the first one in and the last one out,' and that means something," he says. "I tried to live that while I was in the service. I thought that you had to set an example, and even though you're going to have good days and bad days, you've got to make it look like every day's a good day."

Asked what aspects of his work mean the most to him, Tweed pauses for a moment to consider. "It's very meaningful just to have my dad around here every day, to be in the same building with him," he says. "He's 80 years old, but he's in very good health, and he comes in here every day and pitches in and does whatever needs to be done. He's just such a positive influence. Plus, he helped start this whole company, so my hat's off to him. He really pulled off a lot.

"But I think what means the most, in terms of being a part of this industry, is that we're actually making something," Tweed says. "We make something out of raw materials that actually has value and creates revenue. I don't think a lot of people today really understand what it takes to make something… the capital investment, the people involved, creating the infrastructure of a successful company.

"I just really enjoy being a small part of the manufacturing segment of this country."

SIDEBAR: The CMG Approach

MG is excited to appear in the first issue of Gear Solutions, and we hope this magazine will serve as a useful forum for the exchange of ideas within the gear manufacturing industry.

Everything I read in trade publications reflects the old adage that "the only constant is change." That being the case, the exchange between customers and suppliers becomes even more critical. As a gear shop in the business of providing a value-added service to the industry, we've come to realize that "value added" may mean one thing to us and something completely different in the marketplace.

We've done what many companies our size have doneãincluding utilizing ERP integration, creating an Internet presence, incorporating solid modeling (CAD/CAM) enhancements, communicating via e-mail, etc.ãand we've focused on the various quality requirements that different customers require. We have also become ISO 9002 compliant, while hesitating on certification due to cost and customer feedback; some existing customers don't want our overhead costs to increase, and new customers may be wary if you're not. Trying to piece together all of the requirements and expectations our customers have underscores the fact that a "one size fits all" mentality definitely does not apply.

As CMG continues to define its niche in a sea of constant change, I would like to issue a challenge. The challenge involves "utilization," and not strictly in the sense of capacity, but in the sense of expertise and innovation. CMG and other shops like us are vastly underutilized, and the only "value" perceived is often that of the lowest price per part. This year's NFL season reminds me that all football teams share certain componentsãthey have players, a staff, a coach, and a team infrastructureãbut only one team wins the Superbowl. Only one team puts it all together at the right time, and for the right game. We're trying to be part of that team, and our approach involves the fact that CMG has no debt, it has modern equipment, a trained workforce, and a capable and willing staff to help customers solve their problems. We want to be a key player that enables your team to score the winning touchdown. Here are some examples of the solutions we've provided to our customers:

Problem: A company is manufacturing a low-volume family of parts, which caused production disruptions to set up in-house and had a blind internal spline operation that was outsourced for EDM processing.

Solution: The company contracted with CMG to manufacture the part complete, including shaping the internal spline, which was less expensive than EDM processing.

Problem: A plant with old equipment and limited funds for capital investment had to increase output from existing equipment in order to remain competitive.

Solution: Their maintenance supervisor worked closely with local job shops to include CMG to reverse-engineer worn parts, tighten tolerances, and dramatically improve the output of the old equipment. This company now plans to "go corporate" with this approach and take it to all 12 of its locations.

Problem: A customer had won a bid for a custom gearbox with a short lead time.

Solution: By communicating "on the fly drawings" and solid models to us via e-mail, the company enabled CMG to immediately begin tooling and fixturing and to deliver the open gearing requirements on timeãand made right the first time.

Problem: A customer consistently failed to order parts with long lead times in a timely fashion.

Solution: The company set CMG up with a blanket order, faxing and e-mailing its production requirements on a weekly basis. We manage production, and we deliver the parts they need on time.

The key to CMG's ability to provide these solutions, however, is communication. In each situation, the customer had to communicate their challenge to us. No matter how much money we spend, how much we plan, or how much we think we add value to our customer's operations, without their input, we're not going to be able to help solve their problems. This service-based approach allows us to offer more than a "price per piece" solution, and one that will ultimately deliver lower overall costs and increased productivity to our customers.

So I encourage you to allow CMG to help you meet the challenges you're facing, and I invite you to contact me at the number or e-mail address listed below. Our common sense and innovative approach to providing solutions just may surprise you! Dan Tweed, Jr.

Vice President, Carnes-Miller Gear, Inc.
Phone: 704-888-4448
E-mail: dan@cmgear.com.