Last month, I had the pleasure of making a day trip to the Chicago area to see one example of reshoring firsthand. GAM Enterprises — manufacturer of precision gear reducers, servo couplings, linear-mounting kits, and other automation products — offers engineering expertise and flexible manufacturing to support engineers building motion designs.
Now they’re using reshoring of key types of manufacturing to expand their motion-component offerings.
Here’s a video of just some of what we covered with Craig Van den Avont, President at GAM Enterprises, during that visit. After the video jump, we look at the evolution of manufacturing — and profile three individuals at GAM leading the way.
History of manufacturer reflects changes in industry
GAM began 26 years ago essentially as a wholesale distributor for German based manufacturers.
“Over time, we started offering value-add manufacturing services, and our name went on the product … and then we started designing and developing our own product along with in-house manufacturing,” said Van den Avont. In fact, 2000 was a turning point for us. We were a cost leader on several products, but with the wave of manufacturing going to China, we saw that position was going to be short-lived.”
Back then, GAM had no Asian competitors … and now of course, there are several that are quite big.
“So around that time, I was reading a magazine article about the idea of mass customization which allows a customer to configure their end product from a broad range of standard components — a new concept then — and I saw that was our answer for GAM. But we wanted to take it a step further … and design components to give customers custom motion components quickly.”
GAM Enterprises has its origins in the sale of bellows couplings, but is known now more for its gear products, which it began making in 1998. However, the company also makes linear mounting kits and other specialized mechanical products for automation.
“Our expansion into customized products began in response to demand from customers. In fact, we got so good at providing customized gearboxes that our sales channel came to us and said, ‘We think you could help address trouble we have in another area’ — being the installation of linear actuators,” explained Van den Avont.
The problem was that a supplier could get a standard actuator in one or two weeks, but if they needed a motor mount to go on that actuator, especially one that wasn’t part of a standard product line, it could take six or eight weeks.
“So we replicated what we were doing with gearboxes to offer motor-mount kits. Today, we can take anyone’s actuator, anyone’s motor, and anyone’s gearbox — and we can custom-design that mount, machine it, and ship it in a week.”
As a testament to how useful that is to industry, today many leading actuator companies now source standard and unique motor mounts from GAM.
“Flexibility is ingrained in our company’s DNA — from inside sales to production — all the way to the shop floor,” says Van den Avont. “It’s understood that whether a part is standard or custom, we treat them all the same with a high priority on quality and delivery.”
Masters of customization: Profiles of the GAM team
Because GAM Enterprises ships tens of thousands of components a year and has an average order size of four pieces, precision in manufacturing is key.
“After all, many of our orders are of items that GAM is making for the first time — if we don’t make it right the first time, we probably won’t make money on the order and our customer won’t ever use us again,” says Van den Avont.
Core to GAM Enterprises’ expansion through flexibility — and delivering orders to exact specifications — is its people. So while we were on location, we got to walk the offices as well as the plant floor — with a floorplan to reflect “cellular manufacturing” of sections organized by function.
We also got permission to interview three of the company’s own for their views on the organization’s approach to market. Click on these GAM-gear profile images to hear what Peter, Nick, and Mark had to say.