Has Drewco always been a workholding company?
Yes. Drewco was started by Edward Drew in 1947. Ed started the company as a workholding design and build firm, incorporating his patented collet designs. My parents Richard and Ann Pettibone purchased Drewco Workholding in 1988. Our family has continued to expand the company and its workholding lines of business, with an emphasis on gear workholding. These include chucks, arbors, and mandrels designed for high precision, quick changeover applications.
How has Drewco adapted over the years to the changes in the manufacturing industry?
As advancements in processes, speed, accuracy, and automation were made, our workholding has evolved. It has grown in functionality, flexibility, and the ability to address increasingly tighter tolerances.
We have also significantly grown our work with adaptive fixtures — fixtures that can hold a wide-size range of part families. It is now common for us to develop a single fixture to hold between 50 to 100 different parts numbers.
As the processes of gear generation have evolved, Drewco has addressed changes such as designing and building more skiving fixturing and, more recently, creating fixturing for the new processes of tooth milling — creating flexible fixturing for new, large 5-axis mills and gears families up to eight feet in diameter in size.
During the recessionary years of 2008 and 2009, our customers asked us to refurbish their existing fixtures, so we started refurbishing hydraulic arbors, solid arbors, and collet chucks. We have continued to grow the hydraulic arbor refurbishing business. Refurbishing our own hydraulic arbor and, at our customers’ request, the arbors of other manufacturers.
Has Drewco changed how it works with customers over the years?
Yes, for two reasons: One, because our customer base has grown and become more diverse. Ed Drew’s customers were regional companies like Twin Disc and Caterpillar, and we now have customers in multiple countries and many more industries, including automotive, earth moving, aerospace, defense, energy, and machine-tool builders.
Additionally, we now work directly with machine-tool builders, designing and building fixtures and attending run offs on location.
Personally, I enjoy the range of customers we now have. I get to quote potential projects from NASA to automotive to ice-cream equipment manufacturers. Currently, I find it interesting to work inside the growth of the electric motor industry.
Secondly, we have needed to create new ways to work with customers as, over the years, our projects and our customers’ needs have changed. Most of our customers now need increasingly quicker response times and want to be more involved in their projects.
To address this, we have needed to develop shorter lead times and quote turnaround times and increase our project management skills. This has caused us to create SOPs to provide greater velocity, in-process transparency, and to promote the practice solution-based thinking.
What are some of the similarities and differences between the original Drewco to what it is today?
In 1947, Drewco engineers were expected to design a custom product, often what some would consider a prototype, that worked at rev 0. They used mail, slide rules, and drafting boards.
Today, our design engineers incorporate Drewco’s 75 years of intellectual property while using 3D CAD systems and modern types of analysis. In addition, our engineers have developed and streamlined our proven proprietary design and analysis methods.
What is the same? Our machinists are still skilled crafts people, many with years of experience creating workholding devices with a focus on form and function. And the overall design challenge is still the same: design a custom-workholding fixture and deliver what, in many cases, would be considered a prototype and have it work the first time out of the box.
When you say Drewco is a custom workholding company, what do you mean?
For me it means we take on projects that others often choose not to and work with the customer in a very specific way to find tailor-made solutions. Instead of attempting to match a customer’s need to an existing product line, we start from scratch by listening to our customers’ needs.
For example, gear fixtures in an OEM automotive environment often need very specific solutions to perform in that harsh environment of high-cycle times, no room for downtime, and precise timing requirements. As a custom workholding company, our job is to ask them the right questions, listen carefully, and then create a cost effective, comprehensive solution for that situation.
What is it like being second generation management?
It is good, interesting, and sometimes challenging.
My brother, Ryan Pettibone, who is our MBA/production manager, and I started working at Drewco about 12 years ago. Working in a family business is a great opportunity to learn all aspects of the business much more quickly than in a traditional corporate setting.
It’s challenging because you initially need to work harder — as a family member in a family business — to earn the respect of employees and customers.
Going forward, what is the vision for Drewco’s role in the workholding industry?
Our second generation plan is to continue to grow the company, and to continue to provide our unique brand of customer service.
We are working on new product developments using advancements in materials and technology — more information to come soon.