2020 vision moving United Tool Supply into sixth decade

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United Tool Supply at a 2015 Expo. At Motion+Power Technology Expo in Detroit, representatives will be at the company’s Booth 4614. (Courtesy: United Tool Supplies)

United Tool Supply, which started as an industrial supply business, transformed seemingly overnight in the mid-1980s to a manufacturing company with the birth of the Unite-A-Matic™ PD inspection gauge, a turn-of-the-decade concept at the time. The original Unite-A-Matic OD DOB gauge evolved into an ID model and a bench top model for OD gear inspection. These three models sustained the business from the mid-’80s through the first decade and a half of the 2000s.

Going back to the 2015 Gear Expo at Cobo Hall, the company’s first trade show in many, many years, it was a yearlong blitz to prepare for the show. The company designed a brand-new booth, built inventory to demonstrate products, had new marketing collateral to design, and they had to show how they had innovated. This is only a peek into the internal workings of what needed to be done as employees worked to transform the company after its founder and president, Rusty Young, passed away in 2014, having been the face of the company for 41 years. At times, the task list seemed monumental. United Tool Supply was a fledgling company down to four employees. It had lost touch with many engineers and key contacts as restructuring took place over the years. There was a shrinking customer base and the business wasn’t selling the amount of new product that sustained the company for decades. Day in and day out, employees showed up and worked hard.

At its height, United Tool Supply was selling 100-plus new gauges a year and boasted dozens of employees. It was seemingly unfathomable to imagine how a company went from sustaining a livelihood for so many families turn into a shell of what it once was. Our conference room had the same blood red carpet from the ’70s when the facility was built. The conference room turned into an oversized storage closet. The manufacturing shop was cluttered, full of antiquated machines and memories of what use to be — the memories where you can recall the smell of the air, the energy in the shop, the music you remember listening to some days. These are memories that left people inspired, memories unknowingly recreated.

United Tool Supplies took on the painstaking process of a cosmetic overhaul. The blood red carpet was replaced with a neutral blue. Down came the storage shelves, which archived the company’s history for decades. Out went the old drafting table, replaced with a new computer and software. Down came the wallpaper that lined the office walls. Out went the old, outdated, worn office furniture. And with this, out went the company’s old ways. This was a difficult time. A company so proud of its roots, at times, too proud to make a change. As the saying goes, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Truth is, the business model was broken, and it was left for the employees to fix.

United Tool Supplies’ old showroom before its makeover. (Courtesy: United Tool Supplies)

Next came the manufacturing facility, a facility that was never supposed to be. An oversized basement designed to be the storage area for the company’s supply business in the late ’70s turned into a manufacturing mecca for the Unite-A-Matic™ DOB gauge. Mills and lathes lined walls that were manually operated by what’s now hard-to-find talent. Outdated inventory management system cluttered working areas. 

The question was where to start? Organization was the answer. Workers began to sort and separate important from not, good vs. bad inventory, then reorganizing in ways that made sense. Machine component inventory was labeled and stored accordingly, a workflow process was created, and efficiencies were gained. In came new CNC equipment, out went multiple machines with each replacement. Not only was new equipment brought in, but there was the ability to keep work in-house that was contracted out in the past. What took weeks now takes days. Now that there were newly created efficiencies when it came to manufacturing our Unite-A-Matic DOB gauge, next came the innovation.

Staying in its wheelhouse, United Tool Supplies developed a bench top gauge for 20mm to 75mm internal spline inspection, the Unite-A-Matic™ Model 2020. This was a natural fit as it fell within the Unite-A-Matic™ product line. With a new mindset to “own the gauge bench,” the company set off to develop a product line for a shop hardened surface finish gauge and a shop hardened PD runout gauge. This led to the birth of the Surf-A-Matic™ surface finish gauge and Roll-A-Matic™ PD runout gauge.

The company is focused on what it needs to deliver to customers. Product innovation has been key for over the last five years. While the Unite-A-Matic™ PD gauge built the business, it is now time for other products that will grow the business. In order to continue success moving into 2020 and beyond, United Tool Supplies needs to continue to listen to its customers and cater to their needs. Without the influence of our customers, the birth of additional product lines never would have happened. Without aiming to pick up that information to understand how the influence of modern manufacturing relates to the advancements needed to meet these metrics, the company wouldn’t be where is today. Moving into the new decade, United has its sights set on owning the gauge bench in each and every facility visited.

Importantly, it is creating strategic partnerships to support its customers in any way, including prototype gears and technical staffing. United Tool Supply is seemingly a company that was never meant to be, building a product that had never existed previously, in an environment originally meant to store inventory. It is delivering superior products to OEMs and top-tier suppliers world-wide all from a Cincinnati, Ohio, headquarters with a growing staff of seven employees truly delivering a world-class product with the attention to detail and service of a family-owned business. The offering is a quality product, from a quality staff.

MORE INFO  www.united-tool.com