Q&A with Tom Spedding

Sales Engineer, C & B Machinery

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Would you give me some background on the company?

We’re in Livonia, MI, located in the greater Detroit area. We’re right in the hub of all the major U.S. based automotive companies – they’re our customers.

We make precision production disc grinders. There are different models: Double-disc, single-disc, both with horizontal or vertical orientation. The machines we make are typically purchased to grind a specific part or family of parts, so each machine is engineered specifically to the customer’s specification. We have our own in-house electrical and mechanical engineering staffs. We’ve been in business for over 30 years, doing nothing but precision grinders.

We’re a privately owned company, started in a garage over 30 years ago by Joe Parker. At that time, he knew he had to come up with a name for the company, and he thought “Joe’s Machinery Repair” didn’t sound very good. So he decided to name the company after his two daughters, Courtney and Brooke.

Today, Joe is the CEO of the company, and the day-to-day operations are left to our president, Jeff Allen.

Tell me about your grinders. What makes them unique for use in the automotive industry?

Our grinders are built in a style for automotive and heavy manufacturing. They’re built to last well over 10 years without much upkeep. At the end of their life, they’re still totally re-buildable. There are grinders we built 15 years ago that we’re now purchasing back from auction, we remanufacture them back to new condition and re-sell them to other customers or for other projects. They’ll go through a whole other life cycle. Our R&M (repair and maintainability) of the machines is over 97%. We’re holding parts typically within 10 microns.

Detroit is still a great manufacturing area. There are still a lot of highly skilled partner companies within a few miles of us that we send work for building our machines. With the auto companies, the life of their products is much shorter now because of the changes in “café” standards for mileage that the government has imposed. It used to be that C B would see major projects about every seven years. Now, we’re seeing them make changes in the engine design or transmission design in as few as three years. So if they’re not buying a new machine, they’re at least retooling something we’ve sold them. We do a lot of modifications, which brings us a nice flow of work in between selling the new grinders. We’re a preferred source for Ford Motor, General Motors, and Chrysler, and in a lot of projects we’re single-sourced.

What kind of changes in customer needs have you seen in the past few years?

In the last three years, a good portion of C & B’s customers have switched from new grinders to retooling existing ones, even some of our own. A lot of our customers had a surplus of assets as they redirected equipment for different projects and closed plants. That’s kept our sales very steady. We’re also starting to see a trend of new sales, which, of course, is always good news.

What’s in store for the future of C & B, both in terms of products and reaching new markets?

We’ve got a new grinder, totally redesigned from our previous model, that’s coming out; we’ve already sold four of them to one of the major automobile companies. It’s a different style of grinding, called clamp bore grinding. With this technique, we’re actually clamping on the bore of the gear. That’s where you’re getting the most control over the face-to-bore relationship. It’s not as fast as double-disc grinding, but you can hold the perpendicularity from the bore to the face of the gear. We’ve seen a trend of automotive companies going in this direction in order to make better gears and reduce the noise in the transmission. Sacrificing some speed in their production lines, they’re putting out better quality products. We saw that trend coming, and our new product has been well received. We have machines throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, India, and Thailand. As the auto companies cut down their suppliers list more and more, if you’re a supplier then you go where they go. If they put a plant in South Korea, you’re invited to go with them to start setting up equipment and service support.

MORE INFORMATION: Go to www.cbmachinery.com.