Broaching can be quite the competitive arena in the manufacturing world, so it’s imperative for a company to take those extra steps to bring customers to its door.
At Wolverine Broach Co. Inc., company President Bernard J. Aude Jr. prides himself in that ability.
“We’re considered a small organization, which allows us to fly under the radar and exceed our customer’s expectations compared to our larger competitors,” he said. “The quality of our tool will sell itself, yet due to the lack of broaching knowledge in the industry, you also have to service the entire process.”
With their quality and customer-service ability, Wolverine Broach has established itself as a critical and key supplier over the entire broaching industry.
Rack and pinion leader
Wolverine Broach has been a leader in the steering, or rack-and-pinion discipline, and has supplied products to companies throughout the years that supply to General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, ZF (TRW), and transplant companies that have invested in or relocated to North America.
“We produce a vast majority of the rack-and-pinion broaches in the North American market,” Bernard Aude said. “It is the strength in our ability to quickly problem solve a tool design and offer product support that sets us apart from the competition.”
Part of what makes Wolverine so accomplished is the company’s attention to detail, according to Matthew Aude, vice president of sales.
“First and foremost, we listen to our customer to better understand what they are currently having concerns with, which allows us to react more efficiently to provide a solution,” he said. “As Bernie previously stated, we do have that flexibility as a smaller organization where we can re-appropriate capacity in order to meet a customer’s demand very quickly.”
As witnessed in its market share in the rack-and-pinion broaches, Wolverine has become a preferred and valued supplier at a number of additional end users.
“It’s similar to a single source opportunity which many companies have tended to shy away from,” Bernard Aude said. “Our primary industries are aircraft and automotive, since the larger production volumes go hand-in-hand with the broaching application. And we’ve also been at it for quite a while.”
Some of the products and services Wolverine Broach offers include pot broaches, keyways, aircraft broaches, steering rack broaches, quadrant broaches, hexagon tools, straight spline broaches, involute spline broaches, square and rectangular broaches, D and Double D broaches, and more.
That quality of service has made some of Wolverine’s customers take extra notice.
“I’ve worked with Wolverine Broach through endless new programs and retool projects,” said one customer. “I’ve come to realize that working with Wolverine has proven to be one less variable to stress over when starting up a new product component line. The level of quality and support they provide during and after is what most end users strive to obtain.”
Wolverine Broach’s excellence was most recently recognized by Pratt & Whitney with an award for superior quality for the 2017 calendar year. According to the Audes, it is a difficult award to achieve in just four years.
“To accomplish this feat at the Pratt & Whitney, Connecticut, location in such a limited time is difficult to do,” Bernard Aude said. “So, we have moved very quickly into a position of tops in quality.”
Of all the turbine disc broaching operations, Pratt & Whitney has one of the most stringent tool acceptance procedures in the entire industry, according to the Audes.
“Working with Wolverine is a great experience,” said Jose Acosta with Pratt & Whitney. “Their focus on process improvement, cost reduction, and on-time delivery, along with a great service, makes Wolverine a good supplier to work with.”
Wolverine also has a satellite location in Alcoa, Tennessee, that primarily serves the Southeastern region and can quicken the turnaround for the company’s services.
“This site was established 20 years ago with the idea that we were going to more quickly respond to a target customer,” Bernard Aude said. “That has set us apart. We can turn tools around in a regrind state in less than a week, and that’s door to door, sometimes including coating. Give us a tool one week; it’s going to be back to them the next week.”
“It reduces their inventory or float demands, so it reduces their costs,” Matthew Aude added. “If a customer has a broach company that is servicing them from afar, those tools are then transported via truck or even air, which cripples lead time. So, localization has a direct impact on inventory control which is a key component in reducing their tooling costs.”
46 years of service
After accumulating more than 25 years of broaching experience, Bernard Aude Sr. decided to start his own broach company. He created Wolverine Broach Co., Inc. in July of 1972. It moved into a new facility in Harrison Township, Michigan, in 1981 and has been at that address ever since.
Bernard Aude Jr. started working at Wolverine Broach in 1972 after earning an engineering degree from the University of Michigan. He also opened Wolverine Production & Engineering in 1982. With this addition, Wolverine Broach was able to provide a full spectrum of broaching services from tool manufacturing to the production broaching process. As mentioned previously, the establishment of the satellite facility, Wolverine Broach Co., Inc. S.E. Division in Alcoa, Tennessee, was another idea developed by Bernard Aude Jr. to meet specific demands.
Those years of experience are what the Audes and their team use to meet their customers’ needs head on. Wolverine is an American-owned company with three generations of the Aude family involved in its operations.
Training the customer
“With broaching, it’s becoming an unknown art, which is unfortunate because of how competitive it can be to other processes,” Matthew Aude said. “The incoming engineers in our industry won’t know what broaching is until they get to the plant, and it is assigned to them.”
In the past, seminars were often offered at the IMTS and AGMA trade shows by the larger companies and machine builders to teach engineers about the advantages with broaching, but those seminars aren’t offered with the same frequency, according to Matthew Aude.
“Our larger competitors no longer offer the instructional classes as ownership has transferred from domestic to foreign and priorities shift,” he said. “We’ve actually been working with a number of end users to try and start re-teaching the young engineers and operators what broaching is. This is essential for our long-term survival.”
Wolverine has been setting up preventative maintenance and operator training seminars over the past 18 months with great success. The company has provided these seminars in hopes of enabling customers and increasing the overall product knowledge, so it helps the industry as a whole.
Eye on the future
As Wolverine Broach continues to provide quality broaches to a myriad of industries, Bernard Aude said it will explore additional avenues as technology challenges the business, such as fully electric cars with reduced mechanical back up.
“We are always trying to reinvent ourselves with long-term opportunities” he said. “We have invested a substantial amount of capital back into the company over the past three years and have an annual plan for the next five years, at a minimum, to expand our vision.”
Even though there are CNC machines in the broach industry, broaching doesn’t necessarily get easier, according to Matthew Aude. And that’s why the skilled and experienced labor becomes important.
“Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as pushing a button and a finished broach tool is then taken from the machine,” he said.
The complexity in a broach still requires a high degree of skilled labor, even with the CNC capabilities.
“Most of our employees have been with us for 25-plus years,” Matthew Aude said. “It’s an older employee base, but by the same token, they’re very knowledgeable, dependable, and they take pride in what they do.”
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