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Manufacturer's top product is training Educating its customers on machine tools helps set Sandvik apart

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At the heart of Sandvik Coromant, in Fair Lawn, is the “productivity center” — a place where the company's computer-programmed machine tools transform hunks of metal into parts for industries like aerospace, automotive and life sciences, and where customers come to learn how to use machine tools more efficiently.

And while parent company Sandvik, of Sweden, is one of the world's largest makers of manufacturing equipment, employing 50,000 worldwide — including several thousand in the United States and 200 in Fair Lawn — the productivity center is in "a world that most people don't even know exists," said Kevin Mayer, manager of Sandvik Coromant's productivity center. That world, of course, is the one of high-tech, computer-programmed manufacturing — the industry sector many have pegged to grow as manufacturing in general struggles to compete with overseas competitors.

Sandvik Coromant makes about 30,000 different computerized machine tools: high-speed tools that cut, drill and machine metal. Among the center's customers are hundreds of machine shops across New Jersey that need to use machine tools more efficiently, to stay on the cutting edge in the global manufacturing arena.

Mayer said a machine shop will turn to Sandvik Coromant's productivity center when they need faster ways to manufacture parts, or more efficient ways to do so through technology — the company helped an aerospace customer cut the time it spent machining a part from more than 30 hours to 10 hours, he said. The center also is sought out to retool production processes when a customer can't afford the downtime.

"The customers want us to do the analysis, because they are trying to make parts and keep up with their output," Mayer said. "Revamping their process is a distraction. So they come here, we work on it here, we show them what they can do and then we integrate it into their production facility."

In addition to analysis, product training is a major focus of the productivity center. Sandvik Coromant has 26 productivity centers around the world that train 30,000 salespeople and customers a year; Fair Lawn is one of three such centers in the United States. Sandvik Coromant has been in Fair Lawn since 1955 when it moved there from Brooklyn, N.Y., and manufactured machine tools in New Jersey until about six years ago; it continues to make machine tools at several other U.S. locations. The Fair Lawn location has a bright future: beginning early next year, the company intends to embark on a major, 18-month renovation that will transform Fair Lawn into "a state of the art, energy-efficient facility, " said JoAnn Mitchell, senior project leader.

The emphasis on training at Fair Lawn is of particular interest to Meredith Aronson, director of ManufactureNJ, a talent network created a year ago by the state Labor Department to build the state's work force in "advanced manufacturing," which requires high-skilled workers who typically use computer-aided processes.

She said Sandvik Coromant plays a key role in the manufacturing supply chain by training its own customers in how to use its products, thereby fostering the kind of innovation that flows from manufacturing into the supply chain.

Through its training and consulting work, the company helps "keep manufacturers on the front edge of innovation," Aronson said.

Furthermore, Sandvik Coromant is helping lead the transformation from manual machine tools to computer controlled tools, which is revolutionizing manufacturing, said Bob Loderstedt, head of the nonprofit New Jersey Manufacturing Extension program that helps manufacturers tune up the efficiency of their production processes.

"The result is tremendous gains in productivity and quality, to create the kind of extremely tight tolerance that you need to supply NASA" and other high-tech applications, Loderstedt said. Sandvik Coromant, he said, "has a large customer base, and they provide good customer service and response, which is how they have remained competitive."

E-mail to: beth@njbiz.com

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