Minden company’s products keeps can-makers rolling
When you open a can of soup or pop the top on a beer or soda can, you probably don’t think about the technology that goes into creating those common, everyday containers.
But a company in Minden has put a considerable amount of thought into that technology. So much so, in fact, that American International Tooling has become the market leader in one important niche in the industry.
And it has big expansion plans in the next few months.
The company founded in Carson City in 1994 currently has no customers in Nevada, although that is about to change. One of its largest customers is in the process of locating in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center in Storey County east of Sparks, a decision driven in part by its desire to be near American International Tooling.
“The general public has no idea of what we do,” says John Konvicka, vice president of sales for American International Tooling.
The technology to manufacture cans dates to the early 19th century. Napoleon Bonaparte’s army needed a way to transport food, and in 1809 Nicholas Appert discovered that food heated to high temperatures and sealed in an airtight container would keep for a long time.
Appert used glass containers, but in 1810, Englishman Peter Durand filed a patent for a tin can, and his basic design is still used today. From an early production rate of about 60 cans a day, over 130 billion cans per year are now produced in the United States alone, according to the Can Manufacturers Institute.
Manufacturing at that pace requires high degrees of automation and sophisticated machinery.
American International Tooling doesn’t make can-making machines, but manufactures the tooling that is at the heart of those machines. Because tooling tends to wear out over time, the company has a steady market for its products. It has become the largest aftermarket tooling manufacturer in the United States as well as growing a healthy export business.
“We have had double-digit yearly growth for the past 13 years,” says Konvicka. “We have customers in 27 countries, and that is growing.”
The quality of its tooling and its customer service are keys to American International Tooling’s growth, Konvicka says.
“Our competitors sell parts,” he says. “We sell a machine running without a problem,” he says.
The company’s service is the stuff of legend.
“We have made parts and delivered them in person on an airplane within 48 hours,” continues Konvicka. “Our competitors’ lead times are measured in weeks or months.”
The company keeps a stock of the more commonly used parts in inventory for same-day shipping — but its range of parts is mind-boggling.
It provides aftermarket chucks, rolls, and pin assemblies for nearly all of the machines used in can manufacture.
These parts are used in machines that make cans from steel, aluminum, and composite materials for the food, beverage, and non-food products such as motor oil. The parts help make containers ranging in size from the little cans of mushrooms in your pantry to 55-gallon drums.
American International Tooling makes its parts from American-made stainless steel and tool steel, with a variety of coatings that give their parts extended wear.
In addition, the company makes parts of a material called “Stoody,” a hard-faced alloy that’s high in cobalt. With a titanium carbide coating and ceramic bearings, these parts have produced as many as 100 million cases of product for customers before they’ve needed replacement replacement.
American International Tooling products are held in such esteem in the can-making industry that the company has begun producing “private label” parts for machine manufacturers.
The company moved from Carson City to Minden in 2007.
“We love Douglas County,” says Konvicka, citing the county’s pro-business attitude.
Currently at 28 employees, American International Tooling has serious expansion plans for the coming year. It’s negotiating acquisition of nearby space. Konvicka says production this year is running 13 to 16 percent higher than 2012, and it’s running out of room for growth.
Moving into the new building will accompany a move to incorporating more automation into the process. Engineer Don Winkler is in charge of setting up the new process line.
“We have a new machine ordered that will showcase how robotics can be incorporated into our process,” says Winkler. The plan is to use robotics to take over tedious and repetitive tasks as well as those that require precision placement of parts.
“We will have robot material handlers for our CNC lathes, and robots will also be set up with go/no go parameters to do in-process inspection,” Winkler continued. The implementation will take place in stages, with the building acquisition taking place late this year, the equipment installed early in 2014 and the robots after that. Increased automation will allow the company to run multiple shifts as a “lights-out” operation, with the machines running unattended.
President Lee Bertucci takes pride of his company, particularly its employees.
“We treat our employees well, we pay above the norm, and we provide good benefits. Our employees tend to stay with us for a long time,” he says.
Adds Konvicka, “We provide a good atmosphere to work, and we realize that our employees have lives outside of work.”
Because of the skills required to operate many of the computer numerical control (CNC) machines used in their process, the company encourages employee education. Western Nevada College’s “Right Skills Now” program is one of the avenues used to train employees.
American International Tooling weathered the recent recession very well.
“Because people still have to eat, and a lot of our food comes in cans, our business is pretty recession-proof,” says Konvicka.
Gov. Steve Sisolak made it clear Wednesday night his latest directive urging as many Nevadans as can to stay home is not martial law but a plea for everyone not in a critical, essential industry to not go out and possibly spread the coronavirus.