Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., Inc.
Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., Inc.
Sales: $165 million (1997)
SICs: 3324 Shell Investment Foundries; 3499 Fabricated Metal Products
Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., Inc. is a privately held company founded in 1946 and now headquartered in Milford, New Hampshire. It is the world’s premier supplier of complete-to-print, high-volume, full-service commercial investment castings. It leads the industry for highest unit-volume production, shorter lead times, and reduced inventories. The company designed and built the first mechanized investment casting plant using automated shell-building equipment and conveyor systems. Hitchiner introduced mechanized melting and pouring of metal and is the first investment casting firm to use large-size, induction melting furnaces and automated aluminum dies for wax patterns. The company produces castings in more than 160 different alloys for a broad spectrum of domestic and offshore markets that include a significant portion of the automotive, golf, military, and aerospace industries. The firm’s operations are based in the Ferrous Division (QS-9000/ISO-9002 certified), the Gas Turbine Division (ISO-9002 certified), and the Tool and Die Division, all located in Milford; the Nonferrous Division (ISO-9002 certified) operating in O’Fallon Missouri; and an offshore manufacturing facility, Hitchiner S.A. de C.V., situated in Santiago Tianguistenco, Mexico. These divisions are supported by the research and development activities of Milford-based Metal Casting Technology, Inc., a subsidiary jointly owned by Hitchiner and General Motors Corporation. Hitchiner markets its castings throughout the world and licenses its technology and processes to other domestic and foreign companies. Some of Hitchiner’s major customers are General Motors Corporation, Callaway Golf Company, BMW AG, Chrysler Corporation, General Electric Company, Pratt & Whitney, B.F. Goodrich Company, and Lockheed Martin Corporation.
Founding and Early Years: 1946–1956
When A. Fred Hitchiner worked for the War Production Board during World War II, he saw the successful application of a technology rooted in a 5,000-year-old process known as investment casting, commonly referred to as the cire perdue or “lost-wax” method of casting. During World War II investment casting provided a shortcut for producing near-net-shape precision parts and allowed the use of specialized alloys that could not be readily shaped by alternative methods. This investment casting process was applied to production of the first blades for jet engines.
After the war, Hitchiner was among those who wanted to capitalize on the precision, design freedom, and near-net-shape results of investment casting technology. In 1946 he bought a small brass foundry in Long Island, New York and relocated it to a less expensive site at the Amoskeag Millyards in Manchester, New Hampshire. Unfortunately for Hitchiner, the state was no longer a highly industrialized area and suffered from a faltering economy and low employment. By 1948, unable to cope with these unstable conditions, Hitchiner had to sell his business or recruit a strong investor.
Meanwhile, in 1947 George Abbot Morison had retired to the family farm in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Concerned about the dismal condition of New Hampshire’s manufacturing economy, he resolved to revitalize the dying industrial base and create jobs. He read about Fred Hitchiner’s company and was captivated by the potential of investment casting for commercial use. In 1949 Morison put up 50 percent of the purchase price for the foundry; his son, John H. Morison, paid the other half and became president of the company, which continued to operate under its original name. According to the company’s history published in Casting Granite into Gold (hereafter referred to as Casting Granite), astute Morison asked Hitchiner to stay with the company because no one had “to teach him the technology. He knew it. We didn’t have to sell him on its advantages. He knew them.”
Indeed, once Fred Hitchiner was free to focus on sales and marketing, development of the solid-mold investment casting process began to contribute to the growth of New Hampshire’s economy and to create jobs. By April 1950 sales reached an annual rate of $250,000 and Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., Inc. broke even. The large number of orders brought on by the Korean War taxed the company’s facilities to the limit. In 1951 the company and its 50 employees moved to a newly constructed plant in Milford, New Hampshire.
As leader of an educated and trained work force, Morison emphasized the need for courses in many disciplines, from basic literacy and mathematics to statistical process control, apprenticeships in specialized technical fields and business management seminars. In 1953 Hitchiner was one of the first companies to implement the Scanlon Plan, which gave employees a vested interest in the company. Hitchiner products of the 1950s included castings for sporting firearms, electric motors, electrical connectors, and aircraft components. Sales for 1953 reached nearly $400,000 and rose to $1.7 million by year-end 1956.
Creative Pursuit of Excellence: 1957–1974
To increase market penetration, John H. Morison recognized the need for combining increased productivity with reduced production costs, without compromising quality. The solid-mold process then in use was expensive and too limited; long-term commercial viability hinged on using the lost-wax process in a new way. Hitchiner experimented with ceramic shell molding and in 1961 was one of the first companies to install a shell-building machine that lowered the cost of mold making versus the traditional solid-mold process. Morison recruited Richard T. Carter, who had helped to develop the new method in England, to plan the building of a mechanized shell plant. Thus came about the world’s first mechanized investment casting plant: it used automated shell-building equipment as well as power- and free-conveyor systems. Hitchiner was also the first investment casting firm to use aluminum molds for wax patterns and to put large-size, induction melting furnaces into practice.
In 1962 the company acquired Hackensack, New Jersey-based Delta Microwave Corp., a manufacturer of small non-ferrous, aluminum investment castings for electronics. “Delta was strictly solid mold. We needed more capacity and a site closer to nonferrous markets where the shell process could be installed,” said Morison, according to Casting Granite. In 1969 Hitchiner opened a new full-service nonferrous plant in O’Fallon, Missouri. Shortly thereafter all of the company’s nonferrous operations, including Delta’s, were transferred to the new facility. The Nonferrous Division specialized in the production of complex, thin-walled configurations in aluminum and copper-based alloys and expanded into the commercial aircraft market.
Morison continued to seek out “the best and the brightest at every level” of the industry. In 1966 he hired Nicholas Babich from the Singer Company to become plant manager of the Milford facility and who later became vice-president of operations. In 1967 he hired G. Dixon Chandley, chief engineer and technical director at TRW’s metals division. At Hitchiner Chandley and his team revolutionized the industry by creating new processes. They invented a countergravity low-pressure air melt (CLA) process that made for greater automation and lower costs by using a vacuum to draw metal into a mold rather than pouring out the melt in open air. Then came another process, countergravity low-pressure vacuum melt (CLV), for casting reactive metals.
These processes were acclaimed as the most significant enhancement to investment casting technology since the shell process. They established Hitchiner’s exclusive countergravity advantage and reduced slag, improved grain structure, increased loading of parts on a CLA sprue (the opening through which molten metal is poured into a mold), and produced castings of thin (0.015-inch) sections in nickel-based superalloys. Application of these processes resulted in more efficient manufacturing of better products at a lower cost. Rapid growth in the sale of castings for golf club heads and telephone equipment brought revenue to $28 million in 1974.
Riding Out the Recession: 1975–1988
Although the recession of the mid-1970s caused sales to fluctuate, the company continued to invest in capacity, research, technology, and automation. The CLA and CLV processes were patented in 1975. When high-volume automotive orders came in from General Motors in 1977, Hitchiner developed and patented a process to supplement ceramic shells with less expensive resin-bonded shells. During the late 1970s, operating in a recovering economy and faced with an influx of new orders, the company opened a new facility in Plymouth, New Hampshire for all wax pattern and ceramic-core work. At year-end 1981 Hitchiner reported sales of $54.5 million, and Nicholas Babich returned to the company as president and chief executive officer.
For more than 30 years the company had generated income and extended its reach into global markets by licensing Hitchiner technology. The first licensee (1964) was OY Saco AB, a member of Finland’s Nokia Group. Other early licensees included Daido Steel of Japan, Chateau Roux Foundries of France, and Shivaji Works Limited of India.
Hitchiner’s steady, dependable growth as industry and employer rests on sound financial management, a long-term outlook, private ownership, capital reinvestment and continuous technical innovation. Hitchiner will persist in the development of investment casting and related technologies in order to offer ever-better products and services to its established and new markets throughout the world.
The long-range value of research and development came to the fore with the 1979 opening of a pilot plant at Hitchiner’s Technical Center for exploring the economic viability of an enhanced CLA process known as the countergravity, low-pressure air melt sand (CLAS) process. In 1986 General Motors bought the CLAS technology (enhanced in 1985), renamed it VAC, and made Hitchiner its licensing agent. The two companies set up a joint venture, called Metal Casting Technology, Inc. (MCT), to continue the research activities begun at Hitchiner’s Technical Center.
Nicholas Babich, Hitchiner’s president and CEO from 1981 to 1995, believed that a growing trend to one-stop shopping would influence customers of the next decade to select only the companies having the technical capability and production capacity to offer single-source, complete assemblies of finished parts. He put into motion a strategy for Hitchiner’s continuing evolution from an insolvent brass foundry to a global, full-service, high volume/low cost manufacturer of investment castings and fully machined and assembled parts. Boosted by leading-edge automation and state-of-the-art processes, the company pursued golf and automotive business and new markets.
One implementation of Babich’s strategy was the 1988 opening of the company’s first offshore production facility, Hitchiner S.A. de C.V., in Santiago Tianguistenco, Mexico. With an eye to recapturing business lost to foreign investment casters (especially in the golf industry) and to producing castings for hand tools and select automotive components, Hitchiner built a state-of-the-art facility and hired the best local managers and workers. By year-end 1988 the Mexican plant’s sales amounted to more than $4 million. And the creation of Hitchiner S.A. de C.V. had not eliminated a single domestic job.
New Markets: 1989–95
Encouraged by the success of machined prechamber programs for General Motors and Navistar International Corporation, Hitchiner expanded its value-added machining capability to include golf-club finishing. The company also marketed polished and machined components to the medical industry and sold machined and assembled roller rocker arms to BMW, INA Bearing, Competition Cams, and General Motors Corporation. The Metal Casting Technology Division patented its loose-sand vacuum casting (LSVAC) process, a VAC development for cost-effective casting of lightweight and hollow parts. Then followed patents for SSCLA and SSCV (supported shell CLA and CV), processes that cut material costs and increased the number of pieces per mold.
The quest for global markets made it crucial for Hitchiner to work toward certification by Geneva, the Switzerland-based International Standards Organization. The purpose of the organization is to develop a common set of manufacturing, trade, and communication standards. ISO-9000 Certification is the worldwide standard measurement of total quality management. ISO-9000 is divided into several subsets, including ISO-9002, the level that provides quality guidelines for manufacturing. In 1993 Hitchiner became the first American metal casting company to be ISO-certified.
President/CEO Nicholas Babich retired from Hitchiner in 1994, but his long-range strategy and organizational development initiatives had set the company’s evolving strengths on growth paths for the 1990s. His successor, John H. Morison III, reaffirmed the company’s tradition of integrity-based leadership by launching a continuing ethics training program for all employees, agents, and suppliers. According to Morison, quoted in Casting Granite, “The foundation for [Hitchiner’s] success has been the creation of innovative technology, superior quality and service and, perhaps most of all, the integrity with which the company conducts its affairs.”
Extending Global Reach: 1994 and Beyond
Metal Casting Technology, Inc., Hitchiner’s research arm, brought revolutionary reactive-casting processes to production readiness and established a prototype production facility for a new higher-quality, lower-cost process known as liquid hot isostatic pressing (LHIP). Another new process, rapid prototyping technology, allowed the production of patterns directly from CAD files. The combination of these two processes eliminated internal-casting porosity in sand and investment castings at a much lower cost than had been possible previously. MCT also pioneered low-cost, metal-matrix composite casting and maintained a high level of LSVAC consulting and training. A multiyear licensing agreement for the use of the LSVAC process was drawn up with Infun, S.A. of Barcelona, Spain, and a similar license was issued to Yoosung Enterprise Co., Ltd., Seoul, South Korea.
The research division also used its LSVAC process to build prototypes for five new exhaust manifolds for General Motors. The division envisioned a $30 million market for this product by 2003. In 1997 MCT had ten licensees for sand and investment casting processes and negotiations were in progress for two more. Many new applications for the CLIX titanium-casting process were developed in 1997 and were expected to reach significant production in 1998. MCT also built a larger, upgraded SSCLA casting machine for the new Automated Casting Facility to be activated in 1998.
The Ferrous Division added production shifts and ran plants at full capacity to meet increased demands of current and new products for the golf and the automotive industries. The division built on its lead as the investment casting supplier for multi-tools, the 1990s version of Swiss army-style knives. Work for the U.S. Air Force included nine investment castings for Textron Defense Systems’ Sensor-Fused Weapon Program. The Ferrous Division, with a significant portion of its sales coming from the automotive industry, prepared for the QS-9000 certification program developed by Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors. These auto manufacturers added specific requirements to the already established ISO 9000 standards. In March 1998 the Ferrous Division qualified for QS 9000 certification.
In 1996 incoming orders for the Gas Turbine Division (GTD) exceeded product shipment; intense attention to cost reduction increased return on the division’s sales by almost 500 percent over 1995. The nation’s major U.S. manufacturers of large gas turbine engines, Pratt & Whitney and General Electric Company, remained the division’s largest customers. The division made initial deliveries to Rolls Royce, the third largest engine manufacturer; to Vickers Aerospace, a major Rolls Royce subcontractor; and to BMW/Rolls Royce, a fast-growing European manufacturer of smaller commuter-aircraft turbine engines. Sales for 1997 exceeded those of 1996 by 80 percent and were projected for a hefty increase in 1998. Consequently, plans got under way to expand capacity to support demand for the division’s thin-walled, high-temperature alloy aerospace products.
The Nonferrous Division, in 1996, increased sales by 9.2 percent over 1995 and operating profit by 59.3 percent; it maintained a 50:50 ratio of military/aerospace to commercial business. The division geared up production of the aluminum-induction module casting at the heart of the new Harley-Davidson electronic-fuel injection system. Exports to Australia brought in more than $1 million. The division won a tooling contract for a set of three castings used for a mobile satellite telephone sold by NEC, the Japanese electronics giant. In June 1997 the Nonferrous Division achieved ISO-9002 status.
Hitchiner S.A. de C.V.’s unprecedented growth in 1996 resulted from an expanded portfolio of clients in the automotive and golf industries in North America and other continents. The Mexican Division took on new automotive programs for Chrysler and won business away from major European and Brazilian foundries. The division shipped more than one million pieces for traditional customer Taylor Made Golf Company and added programs for Titleist and Foot-Joy Worldwide, Cobra Golf Incorporated, Odyssey, and other leaders in the golf industry. As the alternative to the Far East, Hitchiner S.A. de C.V. produced the finest castings for quality golf clubs at competitive prices. Non-U.S. shipments increased 45 percent. By year-end 1996 Hitchiner sales had reached $138.3 million, a 10.4 percent increase over 1995.
The Tool and Die Division was established as a separate operating division. It absorbed the company’s tool-making operations in Amherst and Littleton, New Hampshire, and provided tool design, manufacture, and tool-repair services for all of the company’s operating divisions.
In April 1997 the company announced the erection of yet another plant in Milford. This Automated Casting Facility, scheduled to begin operation in late 1998, would include an environmentally friendlier and lower-cost water-based, rather than alcohol-based, shell-building system. This was not the first time that Hitchiner showed concern for the environment. In 1996, for example, the company recycled 6,789 tons of ceramic, 1,023 tons of scrap metal, 141 tons of cardboard, 11 tons of office paper, and 1.8 tons of aluminum cans. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized the company’s waste-reduction and recycling programs by approving Hitchiner as a participant in the new EPA program, “Partners for Change.”
In short, Hitchiner’s commitment to total quality meant more than simple conformance to technical requirements and delivery of near-net-shape parts of high metallurgical integrity, just-in-time, and ready for assembly. It meant continuous attention to the techniques of Statistical Process Control to monitor and control the consistency of the investment casting process from waxing through finishing. Thus it was by controlling the variability of the manufacturing process that the company was able to reduce scrap, rework, and inspection—and to increase quality. Hitchiner’s determined efforts to enhance the product while lowering the cost to its customers earned the company some of the industry’s most coveted quality supplier awards.
As the 20th century drew to a close, Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., Inc. had established its leadership in foundry technology and positioned itself as the foremost global supplier of commercial investment castings. The company was ready to maintain its premier rank by continuing to realize the promise implied in its motto, “Imagination in Metallurgy.”
Metal Casting Technology, Inc. (50%).
Ferrous Division; Gas Turbine Division; Hitchiner S.A. de C.V. (Mexico); Nonferrous Division; Tool and Die Division.
Casting Granite into Gold: Fifty Years, 1946–1996, Milford, N.H.: Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., Inc., 1996.
Cleveland, Kathy, “Happy 50th to a Good Corporate Friend,” The Milford Cabinet, October 30, 1996, p. 1.
“GM, Hitchiner in Technology Transfer Pact,” New Hampshire Business Review, May 12, 1995, p. 29.
Imagination in Metallurgy, Milford, N.H.: Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., Inc., 1997.
“One To Grow On: Renovation Will Give Hitchiner a Second Location in Milford,” New Hampshire Business Review, April 25, 1997, p. 40.
Stauffer, Robert N., “Automating the Grinding of Investment Casting,” Manufacturing Engineering, June 1981, pp. 70–71.
—Gloria A. Lemieux