Q&A with Doug Fozo

Operations Manager, South Bend Gear, LLC


How did you come to join Schafer Gear Works, leading to your new role with South Bend Gear?

It’s interesting, I’d gone to work as a manufacturing engineer for a company that made lawn and garden tractors straight out of college in 1985, and Schafer Gear supplied the loose gears for their transaxles. That was here in South Bend, Indiana, and when the company decided to relocate to Minnesota they approached Bipin Doshi, Schafer’s president, and Stan Blenke, its executive vice president, about manufacturing the transaxle in its entirety. They were interested, and they asked if there were any engineers who were familiar with the work that might join Schafer as part of the deal, and that was me.

So I joined Schafer Gear Works in 1993 as a project engineer assigned to overseeing the acquisition of my former employer’s transaxle business. I’d spent eight years building these things, and I was able to hire some of the guys I’d worked with, so we set up a five-man operation in 10,000 square feet of space and went to work.

A couple of years later I was asked to manage an expansion and renovation of the company’s headquarters, which allowed me to work with architects and learn about how you design and create an efficient manufacturing operation. Then I became Schafer’s production manager for a few years before the decision was made to build an entirely new facility. This was a 100,000 square foot state of the art building, so it was a really challenging project, and Bipin said the transition had to be invisible to our customers. He gave me a 48-hour window to move the entire operation from the old building to the new one, and we did it. Employees left work Friday afternoon in one building, and they came to work at the new one on Monday morning. For our customers, it was as if nothing had changed at all. With the exception of our PPAP (production part approval process) paperwork, it was completely seamless for our customers.

Over the next few years I worked on other growth-related projects, such as the acquisition of Chicago Gear, and then I became our quality assurance manager for about six years, That’s when I first heard about the formation of this new company, South Bend Gear.

Give us some background and a progress report.

A couple of years ago Bipin and Stan started talks with a company called Somaschini, which is based in Italy. They’d been supplying heavy duty truck gears to companies like the Daimler Group since 1992, and in 2008 they started manufacturing engine gears for one of its divisions known as the Detroit Diesel Corporation, or DDC.

It was agreed that Schafer and Somaschini would partner in a new venture to supply DDC known as South Bend Gear, and I guess I was the natural choice to lead the operation since I’d gained so much experience doing similar things for the company as it grew.

For the past year I’ve been working with architects to design our new 50,000 square foot facility, and the Somaschini team has been incredibly generous in providing input and training, because they want us to be a success. We even purchased the same equipment they’ve been using in Italy for the past three years so the processes and end results would be the same.

At this point the building is complete, the equipment and automation has been delivered, and we expect to begin steady production in January of 2012. We’ll have 12 employees working a production line consisting of four cells, and that takes up about a third of our total space, so we have plenty of room for growth.

Do you have plans to seek additional customers?

Definitely, but we’ll be running three shifts and producing approximately 25,000 gears a month for DDC, so the plan is to concentrate on that for a year or two before establishing a second production line. What I’ve learned about working with Bipin and Stan is that there’s only one way to do things, and that’s the right way, so you know that the time and energy you put into doing the best job you can won’t be wasted. It really is exciting to be part of such a professional and energetic organization, and you never have to worry about getting restless, because there will always be a new challenge right around the corner.

MORE INFORMATION: Call (574) 968-0273 or go online to [www.southbendgear.com].