Still Making Innovation History
Cincinnati Incorporated, now branded as CI, boasts a legacy of innovation, strength and performance. After more than a century of success, it shows no signs of stopping or slowing down. This is one of a handful of US-based build-to-order machine tool manufacturers.
CI is now a successful fourth-generation family-owned operation. CI was founded as the Cincinnati Shaper Company in the late 1890s. In the 1920s, it broke into the metal fabrication equipment manufacturing market which remains its core strength to this day.
Products are built to stand the test of time which is imperative for the customer’s operations and CI’s reputation. In fact, equipment manufactured throughout the decades is still in operation and is still being serviced by the company.
Throughout its history, CI has also demonstrated durability in withstanding market challenges. When challenges arose a few years ago, its growth needed a catalyst, and that is when it discovered opportunity in the market for large-scale 3D printing of plastic and composite parts.
In 2015, the company came under the new leadership and vision of Chief Executive Officer Carey Chen, and the decision was made to reorganize operations and rebrand as CI which it felt better reflected the direction the company was headed, as well as the uniqueness of its offerings.
That same year, Business in Focus featured CI’s electric press brake, Goform, and the world’s first large-scale, high-volume 3D printer, Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM), in advance of their respective launches at fabrication exposition Fabtech. The innovation of these advancements is changing the market landscape.
“The electric press brake, Goform, was extremely well received at Fabtech,” Chen noted. “What highlights the demand for the Goform are unique features such as long forming stroke, multi-axis backgaging, eco-friendly power consumption, variable tooling types, ease of mobility, and touchscreen graphics control. The Goform also presented a fresh look in industrial design and graphics to the CI press brake product line.”
CI is having the same level of success with SAAM or Small Area Additive Manufacturing, which Chen referred to as “BAAM’s baby brother.”
“SAAM offers small-scale 3D printing and cloud-based programming with automated part removal from the unit, allowing for ongoing printing with no manual form and functionality. SAAM can also be used as a small scaled ‘print preview’ for BAAM to verify form, fit, and functionality.”
BAAM continues to generate interest in the market, drawing the attention of several industries such as automotive, aerospace tooling and rapid prototyping. It is no longer in the beta stage and is set to be a production-ready machine for CI in the near future.
“To reach the destination of a production-ready machine, BAAM needed to be installed in a variety of customer applications to demonstrate a repeatable process. Additionally, the development of process parameters for different material types needed to be established,” said Chen.
“A derivative of BAAM has been a new commercial offering called the additive service bureau. This group focuses on doing contract 3D printing utilizing our showroom BAAM machine. Customers utilizing this service represent many industries, and this business line provides a platform for sales leads for BAAM.”
SAAM was added to the service bureau business line and can be purchased both online and through direct sales channels. Its introduction was the result of another partnership with Boston-based New Valence Robotics (NVBOTS) which builds SAAM. It is exclusively private labeled for CI through a commercial arrangement.
Once again, CI has some tricks up its sleeve for Fabtech, which is taking place in November. At that time, it will introduce a higher wattage fiber laser with a new light source vendor and its first ever plasma table. Building on the success of the 40 ton Goform from last year’s Fabtech will be a 60 ton model as well as integration into a robotically integrated bending system (R.I.B.S.). The table is five feet by ten feet and includes a three-hundred-amp power source.
CI’s new management teams also have a refreshed strategic plan, which includes improvements to company culture based on transparency, openness, product focus, and a commitment to continuous improvement.
This renewed spirit is being supported by significant investments in facilities, equipment and capabilities to modernize its operations in preparation for growth.
“Adjustments are made with the support of the executive team. By using CI-developed ‘voice of the customer’ methodology, meaningful and applicable innovations are identified, prioritized and executed,” stated Chen.
‘Voice of the customer’ is CI’s approach to actively engaging customers, internal and external, and incorporating their ideas into product development from the earliest stages of the process to encourage next-generation research and product innovation.
To increase product focus and collaboration between its engineering, manufacturing, customer service, training and marketing teams, CI has reorganized its products into two streams: vertical motion products and computer numerical control (CNC) table products. Vertical motion products include press brakes, shears and powered metal presses and CNC table products include lasers, additive manufacturing, material handling and automation.
“The message of ongoing innovation starts with the CEO and is fostered through the leadership of the product-based teams. Each team is granted the autonomy to offer ideas on expanding on our core competencies and exploring completely new opportunities,” said Chen.
An internal feedback loop has also been established for its employees that aims to encourage the transfer of ideas in regular meetings and on projects. Management teams have been instrumental in the development of CI’s strategic plan, building upon the contributions of the employees at multiple levels.
CI operates out of its corporate campus in Harrison, Ohio, a modern 500,000-square-foot plant and technical center. The facility sits over 300 acres which can accommodate future growth. Its operations are vertically integrated and supported by a team of over four hundred employees, ten percent of whom are degreed engineers.
It is because of its capabilities, resources, and customer commitment that CI has been able to achieve the level of success that is has over the last century, and longer. Its reputation and demonstrated ability to innovate has resulted in many awards, as well as industry firsts for the company.
CI is where the words ‘Made in America’ still have meaning. To remain innovative and competitive as a domestic manufacturer, it has recently implemented Operational Excellence (OpEx), an advanced, lean manufacturing system that improves workflow and quality.
“A CI machine is known to last for decades while maintaining a high resale value. Throughout the decades, CI has listened to customers’ challenges and introduced groundbreaking innovations such as first to market with variable speed mechanical press brakes, hydraulic press brakes, CNC controlled press brakes and shears and multi-axis backgaging,” noted Chen.
“The laser product line led the way with flying optics, dual pallets, linear drive motors, dynamic power control, and fiber lasers. And, most recently, in additive manufacturing, CI was the first to introduce large-scale 3D printing with BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing) in conjunction with our partner, Oak Ridge National Laboratories,” with which a new cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) has been executed.
Understanding the value of its employees and their vital function in its operations, CI has made great efforts to be an employer of choice by making investments in its processes and procedures.
Employees of CI experience annual profit sharing, company sponsored social events, tuition reimbursement, leadership development and operational excellence training, medical, dental, vision, life and travel insurance, 401K plans, holidays and paid vacations, an employee assistance program and much more.
“CI’s manufacturing labor is unionized, and with our new management, CI and union relations are at an all-time high. This is a result of increased collaboration with the union and offering union leadership opportunities to be a part of the CI business planning, training and development,” Chen explained.
Additional workforce development efforts are also being undertaken, given the increased demand for skilled labor across multiple sectors North America-wide.
“The more technical the role, the more difficult the hire tends to be. Currently, CI hires interns, works with local technical community colleges, has a referral program, hires veterans and retains search firms as necessary,” noted Chen of CI’s efforts to address this gap in the workforce.
For CI, success is not just about remaining competitive; it is about upholding the reputation it has earned. It has a legacy in the industry, and by making the necessary changes with the market, it will make history for another century or more to come.