Freer Tool & Supply creates components used in the design and manufacture of stamping dies and tooling for sheet metal.
In a 23,000-square-foot manufacturing facility with 33 computer numerical control (CNC) machines in Clinton Township, Michigan, Freer Tool & Supply carries out an impressive achievement: The company is the largest manufacturer and supplier of NAAMS components in North America.
Freer CEO John Fulton was early to join meetings on the standards, which Chrysler LLC, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. implemented in 1994, the same year Freer Tool was founded. The standardization concepts aligned with Fulton’s expertise, gained through a background in fixture building since 1972.
“We started making products,” Fulton says, “and we made them better than anybody else.”
The standardization effort actually began under sponsorship of the Auto/Steel Partnership in 1992, and was transferred to the United States Council for Automotive Research in 2010.
“By quality and word-of-mouth we started making blocks for everybody in the country,” he says. “We sell NAAMS all over the world. The most important aspect of the NAAMS was quality. Customers quickly realized, they got what they paid for.”
In 1996, there were projections that NAAMS would be a billion-dollar-or-more industry.
“Within the next 10 years, it will probably be a $10 billion industry,” he says. “In 2015, there is still a lot of growth here.
“Not only have American companies like Ford, GM, Chrysler and Fiat joined, but so have others: Nissan, BMW, Tesla and Volkswagen,” Fulton adds.
Adopting the standards is more cost-effective and efficient, Fulton says. Clients do not have to design prototype components for each project. This saves a tremendous amount of time and expense.
Though the company is known as a supplier to the automotive industry, other clients enjoy the benefits of Freer’s manufacturing ability.
“We go way beyond the automotive,” he says. “We fabricate for the Food and Drug Administration, railroad and transportation sectors including aerospace.
“We are very diversified. We can handle any kind of detail or fixture components required,” Fulton adds.
Each fabricated tool is tailored to customer needs, he says.
“We receive a detail print and make the product to their specifications,” Fulton adds.
A Price and Quality Edge
In 2002, Chrysler asked Freer to provide fixture details too, such as bushings and pins.
Freer stepped into distribution, adding brands like DeStaCo, Carr Lane, Halder and Kobold.
Freer is now a master distributor for workholding details, and because of the company's manufacturing capabilities, the discount rates are passed onto customers.
“Customers purchase everything at a discount,” he says. “We share our price benefits with our clients.
“It’s a great pricing advantage over a storefront distributor,” Fulton continues.
Freer implements ISO 9001:2000 quality accreditation, plus ISO 17025 accreditation to supply the aerospace industry.
“Customers just started coming to us,” he says. “We have the ISO in place, which requires that every 10th piece is inspected.
“We have quality inspectors in place,” Fulton adds. “We have first-piece inspection. We ensure quality.”
With quality-backed products, Fulton says Freer is poised to continue expanding.
The company's sales run from $8 million to $10 million annually in manufacturing and distribution. Clients now include global companies, and Mexico’s automotive industry is among the company’s largest clients outside the United States.
“A lot of Tier 1 transplant companies are moving operations to Mexico, but many still buy components here,” Fulton says.
Company leaders have added a subsidiary, Automation Recovery, which takes excess company assets and sells them online. That company has been in business now for five years, Fulton says, and likely will rival the size of Freer Tool in the future.
He also just started a laser company, Clear- Cut Laser Co., and Freer now offers repair services on programmable logic controller robotics and high-definition multimedia interface units. Freer and its related companies employ nearly 50.
“All our companies are growing,” Fulton says.
As with other aspects of the company, the expansions evolved organically, Fulton says.
“Freer Tool was sending a lot of product out for laser cutting,” Fulton says. “I contacted a business associate involved in another company. We projected an increase in demand, and decided to open a laser company.
“Like the other companies under the Freer Tool umbrella, our laser business has dramatically increased,” Fulton continues. “We work diligently to provide quality and value in every sale.”
In 15 years, Freer Tool has added seven vendor codes, has grown each year and has expanded its customer base primarily because of NAAMS and distribution capabilities.
“There are very few companies out there who do what we do, both manufacturing and distribution,” Fulton says. “We do it well, on both sides.
“The first thing is being honest with your customer,” Fulton says. “Honesty is the most important aspect. The second most important is quality and doing what you say you're going to do. We have to be very competitive with everybody else, but what sets us apart is being honest and delivering when we say we will.”
The company prides itself on delivering quality products and services on time, competitively priced to meet or beat both domestic and overseas competition.
Gaining an Edge
Being a manufacturer and a distributor helps Freer price competitively, selling all of its products under list price by 5 to 20 percent. The capability to perform in-house manufacturing sets the company apart because Freer is not solely dependent on other manufacturers.
That leads to better bargaining power with the manufactures and allows Freer to pass on the best prices to customers. With innovation as the company’s driving force, the company focuses on maintaining a dedicated workforce.