In today’s manufacturing climate, it’s true more than ever that a business can’t survive if it doesn’t treat its customers right.
And that’s been a mantra for United Tool Supply for almost 50 years. It’s also a reason why the company’s customers keep coming back time and time again.
“We have always been super focused on customer service and treating the customers right — and building products that solve the needs of our customers as well,” said Jeff Young, president of United Tool Supply.
Those products offered by United Tool Supply have been so well received by the gear industry, that many of its customers have products built in the 1980s that are still being used in high-volume gear production facilities — yet another testament to United Tool Supply’s expertise.
Gear production facilities require robust and accurate tools for inspection. After being a metrology distributor for over a decade, one of United Tool Supply’s first products offered was its Unite-A-Matic™ DOB gauge in the 1980s. According to Young, this product is still as relevant as ever.
“The Unite-A-Matic™ inspects dimension over ball, dimension over pin, major and minor characteristics,” he said. “Helical, spur gears, and splines can all be inspected with a quick changeover. We offer external and internal versions in size ranges up to 18 inches in diameter and larger custom applications are available.”
The Unite-A-Matic™ set a new standard in the gear industry, Young said. Instead of using a micrometer, the Unite-A-Matic™ was able to perform repeatable operations between operators across a full family of parts.
Given its versatility, the Unite-A-Matic™ has been United Tool Supply’s bread and butter for decades through innovation, but the company recently added another product to its line for even more accurate gear inspection, according to Young.
“The Roll-A-Matic™ is robust like the Unite-A-Matic™,” he said. “It’s for gear inspection, but where the Unite-A-Matic™ inspects pitch diameter, The Roll-A-Matic™ double flank roll tester can inspect multiple characteristics such as center distance, total composite, tooth to tooth, radial runout and tooth thickness using RollVu™ software by Slone Gear. The Roll-a-Matic™ can also be a simple nick and burr checker in its most basic manually operated version. It’s just a really nice, quality product.”
Both products complement each other, according to Young. When making a gear, the Unite-A-Matic™ can do a quick check, but the Roll-A-Matic™ allows for multiple measurements, all intended for use in the shop environment.
“The Roll-A-Matic™ is a very special product for us,” he said. “It shows our commitment to product development. It’s a super robust, easy-to-operate gauge that, since we’ve been building it, we’ve just had a ton of success with it. I got an email last night that another company is looking to buy two more for a military project. They’ve already bought two, and they just love them.”
United Tool Supply has also had a lot of success with the Roll-A-Matic™ with RollVu™ software, according to Young.
“We developed it over a several-year period to ensure customers’ expectations worldwide,” he said.
Another extension to United Tool Supply’s line is the Surf-A-Matic™, a surface-finish fixture the company built for manufacturing plants, according to Young.
“It’s a simple, durable solution for surface finish,” he said. “There are several different versions offered depending on application ranging for tooth, bore, journal, and face inspection.”
More inspections requirements mean that additional durable gauging is needed for it, according to Young.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “We went from very simple type gauges from the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, to where now we offer our customers gauges that are fully automated, software-based with full SPC.”
As production has become more automated, the requirement for data analysis has also increased, according to Young.
“We had to transition our product line to stay relevant,” he said. “We had to introduce different ways to collect data and for it to be operator friendly so you could analyze the data, and so that people could be trained to use the product easily.”
Meshing hardware with software
In order to accommodate that, Young said the Unite-A-Matic™ and Roll-A-Matic™ line can include software packages, which is where United Tool Supply’s partnership with Slone Gear began.
“We’re not necessarily a software company, and Slone dedicated a lot of time and resources to doing actual industry-tailored software for these type gauges,” he said. “And then after the 2019 (Motion + Power Technology Expo), we partnered with them. And it’s been great, because we’ve been able to sell the products now with nicely tailored software instead of taking a general software and applying it to our products. Slone Gear software fits the needs of the customers in the gear environment with products such as RollVU™ and SpanVu™. So, our hardware does what it needs to do. The software does what it needs to do. The partnership between the two solves the problem for the customers, which has been really great for both companies.”
“In cases where companies — and this has happened several times — they’ll go to Slone and say, ‘We need to get all these characteristics off of this part that we’re making; we need the gauge and the software,’” he said. “Then Slone will come to us, and we can build them the gauge. And then we use their software. It’s just been a great fit. Instead of us dedicating resources to build software, they already had market awareness. We had the market awareness with the hardware. It’s a nice fit for both companies.”
The partnership has provided a beneficial back-and-forth relationship that has brought opportunities to both companies, according to Young.
“It’s interesting,” he said, but what’s nice is now we don’t get disqualified if there’s the need to do full automation with data collection,” he said. “Now, it’s just a matter of plugging the right pieces in, and we can comply with all those other requirements, worldwide, with a proven solution.”
Easily retrofitted products
And what makes the relationship even more advantageous for United Tool Supply’s customers is that, if it’s discovered software applications are needed further down the road, then the hardware can easily be retrofitted to add Slone Gears software to their existing package, according to Young.
All of that expertise only helps to serve the multi-faceted relationship United Tool Supply has with its customers, especially when it comes to assisting them with a challenge.
“In our cases, for example, say a customer comes to us, and they want to check a feature on a part,” Young said. “We have a conversation with the customer and ask, ‘Do you have other parts? Do you have other similar features?’ Our gauges are typically fairly universal. So instead of them buying five different gauges, we can tool up one of our gauges to do all five different checks. That, in most cases, provides a cost savings for them, and gives them a really robust, accurate solution. We’d love to sell them five gauges, but by doing the right upfront diligence, we can provide really great solutions for our customers.”
That commitment to finding the best solution, according to Young, is important to customers getting the ideal tools that can do the optimal job.
“It leads them to a universal solution,” he said. “By doing a little fact finding, we can determine that if they buy a certain gauge, they can check multiple parts at a cost savings.”
United Tool Supply’s attention to detail and eagerness to satisfy its customers is just part of the equation that keeps customers coming back, according to Young.
“I really value the decades of customer retention,” he said. “It’s not like we serve a customer once, and we never hear back. It’s been those relationships and the way the company has evolved with the engineers that we’ve worked with over the years. In some cases, I’ve been working with the same engineers since I was 17 years old.”
In addition to its customers, Young pointed out that United Tool Supply also prides itself in retaining its employees and the onset of automation that has been added with new machines and machine tools over the last five years.
“It’s just neat to see how the company’s evolved,” he said. “Everything from CNC machines and mills and lathes to the new products. It’s been a big evolution. Recently, I found the first purchase order ever placed with United Tool that my dad had saved and kept in a folder. To think what that was. He had sold three taps to a company in Cleveland. Just to see where it started. That was the first sale; he was reselling taps. Now to see that we’re building inspection equipment that’s fully automated that goes into military applications, it’s really kind of a neat evolution.”
48 years of experience
That evolution has been decades in the making since United Tool Supply first opened its doors in 1973 by Young’s parents, Rusty and Karen Young, in their garage.
“It’s a funny story: They sold their wedding presents to become a distributor with Mitutoyo, and that was the beginning of the company,” Young said. “Our first sale was in early 1973. And that was the beginning of United Tool Supply. And the company went on for about 12 years as a small tool-and-die and machinists supply company.”
The company took a turn to the future in the mid-1980s when Rusty Young and a team of engineers developed the Unite-A-Matic™, according to Young. That development inspired the transition from a supply-type company into a manufacturing one. Recently, United Tool Supply acquired another dimension metrology supplier which has brought the company full circle.
“We now have the supply company and the manufacturing side of the business firing on all cylinders,” he said.
“In the mid-1980s, Rusty Young picked up some large accounts like Ford and Chrysler, and they started to buy the products that he had developed, according to Young.
“And that stemmed several different versions of the product over the years, fitting different segments of the gear industry, going from small gears for motorcycles and pumps and even down to medical devices with small gears all the way up to construction and agricultural equipment with large gears,” he said.
Young expects United Tool Supply to continue to evolve with the gear industry as it moves into the future.
“The industry is going to continually evolve, and I think the polite way to put it would be we’ll continue to see more automation and more lights-out-style manufacturing,” he said. “Hopefully, that means for us that we’ll continue to improve our product with automation. I think we’re going to see more evolution with electric vehicles and the transition of the internal combustion engine being phased out. Gears are going to be required, but they’re going to be powered by different forms of energy. I think that leads to exciting stuff for us and our industry.”