Department Spotlight Manufacturing

Customer Service and Distribution Update

Customer Service and Distribution Update for 2023

I’m very proud of our team for meeting their accuracy metric of .22% or fewer errors vs. lines shipped per month all but one of the last 19 months. Any mistakes made in our departments are very visible to the customer, and we want to ensure Fastco is viewed as competent and reliable to our customer base. They’ve done a great job the last year and a half with being accurate and thorough in their jobs, and in turn, serving our customers well. They’ve also managed to do this with the smallest crew that we have ever had in Customer Service & Distribution (CS/DS.)

Team Work and Meeting Goals

Our biggest goal as a team is to get as many shipments out by month’s end as possible. Customer Service looks for opportunities to move up orders and works with our customers to ship orders early when possible, while Distribution really pulls together at the end of each month to push out as many last-minute shipments as they possibly can to help Fastco reach its sales goals for the month.

Open Book Management as a Tool for Success

Open book management has given us all a better grasp on how we are doing as a company, and helps us to see the impact of the shipments we can make by the end of each month on our profits, which will hopefully turn those into profits that we can all share.  It helps provide motivation and gives everyone a better idea of how they can impact our sales numbers through hustling on shipments, pushing for orders to ship early, or asking to sell excess inventory when available.  The improved awareness has also made the team more mindful of looking out for little things we can do to save the company money and help the bottom line.


by Emily Bradfield, Customer Service & Distribution Team Leader


Continuous Innovation: New Dump Pans

Continuous Innovation: What is it?

At Fastco, we believe in continuous innovation. But how does innovation happen? It happens through small actions, through thoughts that spark ideas that turn into discussions, which turn into trying something new. It all starts with our team members.

Ergonomic Improvements are Essential

Over the last several years, Fastco has been making strides in improving the ergonomic impact of the working in manufacturing. These jobs are hard on a body and it is imperative that we continue to explore innovative ways to lessen the physical burden of the labor to keep our team members physically healthy, happy, and productive.

Sometimes, it takes someone outside of the job to come up with a clever and effective solution. Brandon Schell has been with Fastco for over 9 years. He started in preventive maintenance, moving up to machine repair, and now serves as our 3rd shift lead. He has been an integral part of the maintenance team during his tenure, and helped us make a range of improvements. This includes improving the dump pans in our cold heading bay 2 so that the bottom pulls out to dump parts instead of the operator having to lift and dump the pan.

While pulling is a better ergonomic solution than lifting and dumping, our Facility Manager, Steve Kowalczyk, and safety team were still hoping to find a better solution. In addition, most of our cold heading machines were still set up with dumps that require lifting and dumping, a motion that also requires the operators to twist their bodies.

Continuous Innovation: New and Improved Dump Pans

To eliminate this, Brandon thought that if you designed a pan that rotated, it would be an improvement. First, he developed a model, a miniature version of the concept. It was a semi-circular pan, rather than rectangular, that would be mounted under the conveyer. Parts would go from the machine into the pan and then, when it was filled and checked, the operator could simply turn a wheel on it, rotating the entire pan and dumping the parts with minimal effort.

New dump pan mounted on a cold heading machine

After receiving approval for the idea, Brandon and our other 3rd shift machine repair tech, Luke Vawter, worked to set up the pan. They mounted the brackets and added the stoppers to lock it when it rotates and prevent the pan from tipping. They started by mounting it on machines with higher conveyer belts. As of now, the device will not work for machines with a lower conveyer. Luke is working on an idea for an arm on which to mount the dump pan. This will allow it to be moved and adjusted for lower conveyers.

We are currently testing out a couple of these dump pans to gage effectiveness. We will be checking in with operators that use the equipment to determine how well the pans work. The goal will be widespread adoption in all the bays. Eventually, we’d like to replace the turning wheel with a button to automate the process further, removing all physical strain from the operator.


Department Spotlight Manufacturing

Improvements in Inspection: Productivity and

Productivity Improvements in Inspection

In recent months, Inspection has made great strides in improving productivity through our mini game, which started in May and ran through July. Mini games are part of playing the Great Game of Business, which Fastco has been doing for over two years. The purpose of the mini-games is to bring focus and awareness to a particular area needing improvement and to motivate and incentivize the team members involved to improve in that area.

The goal of this mini-game was to increase the department’s labor productivity and volume produced on a monthly basis, averaged over the three months. For 2023, Inspection’s labor productivity goal is 57% and our volume produced goals is 67%.  We worked hard and finished strong, beating our goal in May, June, and July.

Inspection’s Overall Goal

Productivity improvements in Inspection have helped us meet our department’s #1 goal, which is to positively impact net income and on-time delivery. With open-book management, the team has gained awareness of how each department impacts one another. In addition, it has helped us develop a line of sight to reaching our goal.

Personal and Professional Development

As we grow as a department, I’m eager to help each sort crew member meet their development and career goals, along with their personal goals. This includes goals outside of the workplace.

As Fastco continues to progress with open-book management, I hope we continue to focus on beginning with the right leadership. Having the right people in the right places is important. In addition, it is important to build a strong foundation of servant leadership for each team member. We can all be servant leaders in our areas.

by Julie Rogers, Inspection Team Leader


Visual Sorting: Human vs. Robot

Visual Sorting:

Human vs. Robot

At Fastco, we use have a few different options for visual sorting parts. There’s EZ sort (shown in the video) in which parts feed down a track and a person inspects them as they pass. There is also table sorting, in which a person picks up and inspects parts by hand. And finally, there’s our 6-axis robot, Ellie.

So which is better: the human eye or a robot?

Here’s a quick breakdown.


Team Robot

Robots don’t need breaks or vacation.

Robots don’t lapse in attention. They are 100% binary and will always find the defect they’ve been programmed to find.


Team Human

Humans can find other potential flaws, not just what they are “programmed” to find.

Humans can visually sort very quickly. EZ sort is fast, though not as thorough as table sorting.

Visual Sorting Winner

Sorry to disappoint, but this one is a draw. There is no definitive “better” method of visual sorting. There are benefits to each sorting method and different parts call for different methods of inspection. In addition to Ellie, Fastco has many other state-of-the-art machines capable of sorting for everything from length under head to presence of patch or threads to hardness and cracks.

About Fastco Manufacturing

The Process of Cold Heading Manufacturing


The Process of Cold Heading Manufacturing

What does the process of producing cold headed fasteners look like? And how does raw material become a fastener? This infographic outlines the process of cold heading manufacturing in 7 steps.

Cold Heading Process Description
Learn more on our LinkedIn page.

Step 1: Raw Material

First, we establish the rod size and material type based on print and progression.

Step 2: Tooling Created and Designed

Fastco’s engineering team makes prints and designs tooling. Then, our tool room builds the tools and purchasing orders anything we can’t make in-house.

Step 3: Cold Heading

A Cold Heading Setup Tech sets up the job on the machine. The machine forms parts via a series of high-speed, high-pressure punches and blows.

Step 4: Thread Roll

The Thread Roll machine rolls the cold headed blanks between two dies to form threads, knurls, or fetters. In addition to thread rolling, some parts may bet secondary machining on one of our 3 pointers. 

Step 5: Outside Processing

This step could include Heat Treatment, Plating, Patch, or Outside Secondary Machining. Fastco has an in-house wash to clean parts as well.

Step 6: Inspection / Sort

Next, parts are received in and sorted for quality assurance. Then, our inspection team packages the parts for shipment.

Step 7: Store and Ship

Boxed parts are stored in our distribution building. Fastco ships these parts to customers per purchase order agreements.

Department Spotlight Manufacturing

Thread Roll Update

Thread Roll Update 2023

Thread Roll Update Panoramic Photo of the Factory Floor

Thread Roll’s Improvement in Cost of Poor Quality

This year, Thread Roll’s greatest achievement has been reducing our cost of poor quality. As of the end of June, we were at about half the  COPQ as we were at this time in 2022, so this is a huge achievement. We are meeting our COPQ goal for the year and I’m really proud of my people for this. We have been emphasizing visual inspections along with parts being in spec and the team has been keeping their eyes on the parts. Our goal for 2023 is to be at less than half the COPQ that we had in 2022 and we are well on our way to meeting that goal.

Thread Roll Department West


Thread Roll Update on Productivity

Another big achievement for Thread Roll this year has been our productivity. We have even been able to incorporate additional volume from an cold header that was struggling to keep up with their thread roll volume. I have been pleased with how everyone has come together to add these parts into the mix. Receiving bonus checks as a result of our hard work has helped show the team the importance of working together and the impact of what we can accomplish. In addition, the quarterly incentive profit shares, financial education, and huddles have helped me, the Thread Roll team, and many other team members understand the financials in an eye-opening way that has motivated us to do.

by Matt Kik, Thread Roll Team Leader

Industry News

Cooling Inflation and Improving Supply Chains

Cooling Inflation and Improving Supply Chains:

Lessons from the Chaos


The latest inflation report from the Fed shows that inflation continues to cool. This year through May, overall U.S. consumer prices rose 4%, not including the volatile markets of food and energy (core CPI was 5.33%). This is the slowest rate of growth in more than two years. Still, it is twice the rate of what was considered normal growth before the pandemic. Steel prices, which matter acutely to companies in fastener industry and our supply chains, remain well above pre-pandemic levels.

But the good news is that inflation is trending in the right direction. And most economists predict that it will continue to moderate. Similar to cooling inflation, disruptions to supply chains, while still persistent in many sectors, are beginning, and should continue, to lessen. Given the cause-and-effect relationship between supply chain disruption and inflation, it makes sense that healthier supply chain would go hand-in-hand with inflation reduction.

Given these positive developments, it may be tempting to settle into a more complacent, less proactive mentality in terms of spending and supply chain management. While the Fed has not ruled out interest rate hikes and inflation is still a concern, we are looking toward a (hopefully) more stabilized economy. Here are some key lessons that we should take with us from this period of extreme disruption:

Quality Matters

To ensure a robust and healthy supply chain, you must have quality product. Sometimes, this means paying more money, but the return that you will get is worth it. The costs of poor quality are about more than just dollars; poor quality creates a timing disruption as well. It is important to have quality suppliers with meticulous control plans and fair labor practices, quality customers who are financially secure and share your values, and quality team members who care about the company and are engaged in the culture.

A team member inspects a part for quality assurance


Diversity is Paramount

It goes without saying that companies should not rely on a single source for any product they bring in. Diversity also matters in terms of customer base. A company serving many industries is more likely to survive a range of economic downturns because most economic slumps are industry-specific.


Invest in your People

Inflation has caused wages to go up as well. The average salary bump is now about 5%, as opposed to 2 or 3% previously. For employers, this may feel like just another rising expense, but paying your people fair wages that meet the demands of the time is important. A well-compensated, well-appreciated worker is more likely to be an engaged and loyal worker.

Fastco team members celebrate at a cookout.

Certainly, more lessons can be added to this list, but these are three that have mattered to Fastco, our supply chain, and our community. What lessons has your company learned post-pandemic?




Cold Heading Initiatives


Department Updates: Cold Heading Initiatives

In 2023, Cold Heading has been working on several initiatives. For this reason we have developed an “SQDC” board in every bay. SQDC stands for: Safety, Quality, Delivery, and Cost.

Safety, Quality Delivery, and Cost

First and foremost is Safety. Working safely every day is and always will be our department’s top priority. No other initiative is as important, since nothing can ever replace lost lives or limbs.

Quality of product is our second focus. Making lots of parts and hitting our delivery or production targets are meaningless if the product is not useable.

Next is Delivery. As part of this focus, we use “heat maps,” which tell us what parts are due and how many are due each week. Being in tune with what is needed to help the downstream operations (thread roll, outside processing, sort) and to keep the customer supplied is critical.

Last, but certainly not least, is Cost. To this point, the primary way that cold heading helps contribute to the success and profitability of the company is to generate as little scrap as possible. This year, we continue to reduce the amount of scrap we generate compared to previous years. This is a never ending battle with the ultimate goal always being zero scrap.

For each of these categories, we have simple reporting systems. Because the process is new, we continue to learn how to use these boards in the best and most efficient ways possible.

Cold Heading Initiatives in Bay 2
Cold Heading Bay 2


Open Book Management Initiative in Cold Heading

These boards help support Fastco’s philosophy on open book management. Open book management has been a real eye opener for many reasons in Cold Heading.

For one, we now better understand the impact of raw material expenditures, the number one cost for our product. In addition, we also have a better understanding of how more we have to sell to make up for the losses associated with a quality issue. Finally, we have a better understanding of what our true profits are after expenses.

For me, it has been humbling to realize how long I worked in manufacturing without truly understanding how the business worked. The only comfort is to know I was not alone. It is a privilege to work for a company that educates us and involves us in strategic decisions.

by Jim Wolters, Cold Heading Team Leader


Stainless Steel Alloy

What exactly is a stainless steel alloy?

Simply put, stainless steel is an iron and chromium alloy containing at least 10.5% chromium. Other common additives include:

  1. Nickel – Nickel containing grades make up 75% of stainless steel production. In fact, more than two thirds of global nickel produced is used in the production of stainless steel alloys because nickel improves the formability, weldability, and ductility of the material.
  2. Carbon – To be clear, steels that are typically referred to as “carbon” steels contain less than the 10.5% chromium required to be stainless. Stainless steels have less than 1.2% carbon.
  3. Manganese – High-manganese (200 series austenitic) have lower nickel content, making them more affordable in the current market.
  4. Molybdenum – This element improves the resistances to pitting corrosion of stainless.
  5. Nitrogen – Nitrogen is a strong austenite stabilizer, increasing the strength, hardness, and brittleness of stainless steels.
  6. Copper – Copper can improve corrosion resistance in stainless steels.


Stainless Steel Alloys

In addition to improving corrosion resistance, adding other elements to stainless steel alloy may also:

  • Improve high or low temperature resistance
  • Improve weldability or formability
  • Control magnetism

Different stainless steel grades will contain different additives in different amounts. When selecting a stainless steel, the forming process and end application should be considered.

At Fastco, we work primarily with 300 and 400 series stainless steels, as well as high-nickel alloy A286. Learn more on our materials pages.

Got a stainless steel fastener need? Send us an RFQ on this form or give us a call at 616-453-5428.

Department Spotlight

Administrative Support Spotlight

Direct, In-House Administrative Support

The Finance/IT/HR department provides administrative support for the entire company. The primary function of this department is to support manufacturing by ensuring our network systems function smoothly, keeping our financials in order, and managing the employee life cycle.

The four members of the administrative support team
The four members of the administrative support team

These are functions that can be outsourced. However, having internal and direct support means quicker turnaround on tasks, less down time, and a more humanized approach to these processes.

Humans Helping Humans

I think it’s important that everyone at Fastco remembers that we are here to help you and make your jobs easier. But we are humans, too! We mess up from time to time and we don’t always have the answers, but we will always try to get them for you.

Cross-Training Improves Function

As a member of our department, I am really proud of how much cross training we have done. It makes it fairly smooth to ensure critical functions are still maintained whenever one of us needs time off. I’m also proud of how well we all get along with one another. We address any conflict right away and we don’t hold grudges.

by Kati Tap, HR Specialist