How Some US Manufacturers are Successful in Competing Globally

American manufacturers with unique products can compete successfully but a level playing field would open market opportunities.

While attending the FABTECH Expo in Las Vegas last month, I interviewed several companies that do all or the majority of their manufacturing in the U.S. to find out what they are doing to successfully compete in the global marketplace.

The first company was Laserstar Technologies, located in Riverside, R.I. I interviewed Peter Tkocz, regional sales manager, southwestern states. Laserstar makes laser welding and marking equipment using the “free-moving” concept they developed, enabling users to eliminate costly fixturing devices, benefit from pin-point accuracy, increase the range of assembly and repair applications and minimize the potential hazards of heat damage. Peter told me that the company is 55 years old and started by making jewelry. When jewelry making went overseas in the 1990s, he said the company had to reinvent itself and get into new markets to survive. They set a goal to enhance the quality, performance and innovation of their products, programs and services on a continuing basis and became a “lean” manufacturing company.

Since, then, they have developed a diverse customer base in six major markets:

  • Medical -- cardiac pacemakers, defibrillators, guide wires, catheters, hearing aids, orthodontic appliances, prosthetics and surgical tools
  • Dental -- crowns and bridges, partial and implant fabrication and repair.
  • Electronics -- a wide variety of different materials, component parts or final assemblies
  • Aerospace
  • Micro technology -- wide range of complex applications for laser welding and marking
  • Tool and die repair -- ideal for modifications and repairs on molds, tools and dies as the process is quick, precise and will not damage surrounding surfaces.
  • Jewelry -- a fast fix to repair jewelry and eyeglasses, and their new Fiber star machine can weld down to 12 microns, which is critical for high-end gem stones

LaserStar's research & development laboratory is focused on inventing new technologies that change markets and create business opportunities, utilizing input from customers. Laserstar sells through learning centers vs. distributors. The three learning centers are at their headquarters in Rhode Island, California and Florida. Their laser education courses provide a solid foundation of fundamental laser welding and laser marking skill sets to immediately gain a revenue impact for the new or existing iWeld, LaserStar or FiberStar laser welding or laser engraving system.

I next interviewed Dan Moiré, senior vice president of Sales at TRYSTAR, located in Faribault, Minn. TRYSTAR is a leading domestic manufacturer and international distributor of portable and permanent power solutions, industrial cables and power accessories. The company began operations as Bridgewater Tech, an industrial cable wholesaler founded in 1991. It wasn't long before they realized there was room for innovation and improvement in the safety and performance of the products they were selling. As a result, they began manufacturing their own welding and grounding cables under the TRYSTAR brand in 1993.

As the superiority of TRYSTAR cables became evident throughout the industry, they expanded operations to offer customers greater versatility and reliability in the field, and as the brand became well known, the company transitioned from Bridgewater Tech to TRYSTAR.

Dan said that today, TRYSTAR offers a wide range of capabilities specifically designed with the end-user in mind. They provide efficient, customized solutions, made with only the highest quality raw materials, manufactured on site, and serviced by their own professionals. Their factory is as vertically integrated as possible, and theyprovide customers with a full range of professionally packaged industrial products and services. They even extrude their own cable and do sheet metal fabrication and welding in-house.

TRYSTAR was the first to...

  • introduce sequential foot-marking to the welding cable industry, reducing the chance of waste
  • introduce custom-printed, colored cable, reducing the chance of theft on the job site
  • market a color-coded, insulated inner safety liner, designed to alert the cable's user to any damage or wear and minimize problems in the field
  • produce a true Arctic weather cable that remains flexible to -57 C
  • introduce an improved clear-sheathed grounding cable that is flexible from -40 C to +105 C, allowing for safer grounding of high power lines during outages
  • introduce environmentally responsible, recyclable packaging for cable products
  • provide direct-to-market, completely assembled cable products, with unique and specific job identifiers, delivered directly to the job site

Kevin Duhamel, product sales manager at Gorbel, was my next interview. Gorbel has over 30 years experience providing overhead handling solutions to customers in a wide range of industries. They have a comprehensive line of crane technology products, including work station bridge cranes, patented track cranes, I-beam jib cranes, gantries, and work station jib cranes. They also provide ergonomic lifting products, featuring the G-Force Intelligent Lifting Device, the Easy Arm Intelligent Lifting Arm, and the G-Jib. Their newest line, Tether Track Fall Arrest Safety Systems, provides a turnkey fall protection solution that exceeds OSHA safety standards.

They have been in business since 1977 and are the largest U. S. manufacturer of lifting devices and cranes. Kevin said that their G-Force unit can lift up to 1320 pounds with higher speed and precision than chain hoists. They have two manufacturing plants in the U. S. - Fishers, N.Y. and Pell City, Ala. - and sell to Europe, Canada, Mexico, and South America from their U. S. plant. They have a plant in Tianjin, China to market to customers such as John Deere and Caterpillar that have plants in China. About 90% of their business comes from North America and Mexico. They are very vertically integrated and qualified to have their product stickers say “Made in USA.”

I met and spoke to several of the top executives at TigerStop,located inVancouver, Wash., including president and founder Spencer Dick. Spencer founded TigerStop in 1994 and focuses on developing new product lines and enhancing their current products to simplify production processes for their customers.

TigerStop LLC, is the global leader in stop/gauge and pusher systems that includes precision measuring systems, saws and material handling equipment. National Sales Manager Erland Russell told me that their products can easily integrate with most machinery used in the woodworking, metal, fenestration and plastics industries. He said one of their models can measure and precisely saw material up to 20 feet. in length. TigerStop maintains an aggressive research and development program with over 100 patents awarded or pending.

TigerStop’s manufacturing is very vertically integrated in their Vancouver plant, but they also have an additional manufacturing and distribution facility in Wierden, Netherlands. The TigerStop distribution network spans six continents and their products are supported in five languages. TigerStop provides world-class customer support through experienced service technicians, on-going dealer training, and online technical resources.

Next, I interviewed Mike Albrecht, national sales manager at Scotchman Industries.Scotchman Industries Inc. has been a leading manufacturer of metal fabrication equipment, accessories, and custom tools, such as ironworkers, cold saws, band saws, tube and pipe notchers, and measuring systems for nearly half a century.

Art Kroetch founded Scotchman Industries in the early 1960s to make and sell farm-related products, such as pickup stock racks, corral panels, gates and chutes. In 1966, Scotchman Industries purchased the patent for a hydraulic ironworker, the first machine of its kind in the world, and began manufacturing ironworkers. This machine, using hydraulic pressure, created up to a 35-ton force that could punch, bend and shear metal.

In 1978, Scotchman Industries purchased Excel Manufacturing Ltd. of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and was able to provide a line of ironworkers that ranged from 30-ton to 90-ton capacities for the world market. Today, Scotchman Industries, Inc. has a complete line of 13 different ironworkers, ranging in capacities from 45 tons to 150 tons, with component tool design, and a fully integrated European style; both are available in either single- or dual-operator models. Scotchman has successfully acquired and maintained a large portion of the ironworker market.

Scotchman Industries is proud to be an American manufacturer that has always been export-minded. The company was given the President's "E" Certificate for Exports in 1981 for excellence in its increased exporting of products. Today Scotchman Industries continues to export their products to many countries around the world.

Scotchman is located in Philip, S.D.; Mike said that all of their products are manufactured in the US. They have donated equipment to the Workshops for Warriors located in San Diego, Calif.

Finally, I interviewed Heather Gaynor, marketing communications managerat Swagelok, located in Solon, Ohio. Swagelok is a privately-held company that designs, manufactures and delivers an expanding range of the highest quality fluid system products and solutions, such as tube fittings, valves, regulators, hoses and other products that are vital to fluid system solutions in industries such as power generation, oil and gas production, chemical processing, biopharmaceutical, research, semi-conductor manufacturing and more. They manufacture everything in the U. S. and are very vertically integrated.

Swagelok products and services are delivered locally through a network of more than 200 authorized sales and service centers that support customers in 57 countries on six continents.

While the products and services of the companies I interviewed are quite different, there are common threads: 

  • All of the products are sold to other businesses (referred to as B-to-B) instead of to consumers.
  • The products fill specific needs and requirements of other manufacturers.
  • All of the companies manufacture their products in America.
  • The companies export their products to other countries.

In addition, three of the six companies are privately held so that that management isn’t under the pressure to maximize quarterly profits and can focus on long-term company goals.

What this shows is that American manufacturers with unique products that satisfy customers’ needs can compete successfully in business-to-business global markets where the predatory mercantilist countries of China, Korea and India haven’t targeted to take over the market and destroy their American competition.

If American manufacturers truly had a level playing field provided by “smart” trade agreements instead of the current lopsided, dumb agreements we have in place now, they would be able to compete successfully in the global marketplace. It is time to address the predatory mercantilist practices of these countries. Designating China as a currency manipulator would be a good start!

Michele Nash-Hoff is president of ElectroFab Sales. She is the author of "Can American Manufacturing Be Saved?"

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