Scrap sheet metal aplenty and a generous dose of fresh ideas. With its Creativity Department, TMCO gains access to an entirely new group of customers.
A pile of scrap and a good idea can sometimes be the seed for a success story. But that can happen only if creativity runs free. That’s what happened at the Total Manufacturing Company (TMCO) in Lincoln, Nebraska. The original intention was, in fact, just to create profit from scrap generated by the machining and metal fabrication divisions — by creating simple products such as key chains and corporate gifts.
Delicate products for home and garden
The “Metal & Art Division” that arose from the assignment has long since outgrown the scrap heap. It has made a name for itself among architects and stands solidly on its own two feet. “Our first, simple products were soon followed by more complex items such as garden racks and billiard accessories. Two years later outdoor furniture and sculptures joined the product line,” recalls Dan Moore, who heads up the staff of eight in the Creative Division. “Shortly after that, Metal and Art found its way into local architectural, advertising and real estate development firms, which brought the work to another level,” he adds.
His team has left its mark all across Nebraska — in the form of delicate metal trees on Lincoln’s “Garden Dome”, for example. The creative division also participated in transforming a former factory building into modern residential spaces. The order for the railings enclosing the five-story atrium, the roof terrace, penthouse and swimming pool was quickly followed by a commission for the balcony railings for the individual apartments.
The spark caught fire
This expanded range opened the door to an entirely new group of customers. “Most of the Metal & Art commissions come from new clients,” Dan Moore says. “But once our projects came to be seen everywhere around town, some existing TMCO customers started asking about custom manufacturing. Some even began rethinking the designs of their own products.”
The spark caught fire not only among the clients. Inside the firm, too, the manufacturing and creative departments provide mutual inspiration. This is encouraged by company founder Roland Temme, who sees creative minds and modern machines as the prerequisites for successful products. He has expanded his company, turning it into a job shop that can offer the entire gamut from a single source — from planning and manufacturing to assembly. He is not taken aback even by unusual projects — such as a hair dryer for cows used on farms.
Machinery that inspires
The foundation for this one-stop philosophy is modern equipment. His view: “When you hire the best people, give them the best machines.” A TruLaser Tube 7000 with the auxiliary LoadMaster Tube and a new TruLaser 5030 fiber have provided new stimulus for the manufacturing employees and for Dan Moore’s team. “The equipment also gives us entirely novel capabilities in sheet metal processing,” he says. On the flip side, being involved in grand and glorious projects motivates the colleagues on the shop floor. Diversions are important, says Dan Moore. “I think a little change in pace is good once in awhile.”
Eccentric and artistic
And he knows what he’s talking about. “My background covers a broad field of experience,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. Even the abridged version of his résumé is impressive: automotive machinist, trade school for TIG welding and CAD, factory laborer, college student of art and English, avionic inertial navigation specialist for the U.S. Air Force, printing press operator, student of psychology, and now metal artist and laser operator. “If you mix them together my job as manager of TMCO’s Metal & Art Division seems to make sense,” he says.
He endearingly calls the employees who work in the division “eccentric and artistic.” For his own part, that is also reflected in a somewhat unusual lifestyle. Almost the entire team cycles to work and they all attach great importance to freshly ground coffee. “Coffee isn’t a luxury in our shop: it’s more of a life-style,” he explains. Drawing a comparison with the TMCO manufacturing lines, he describes the atmosphere in the Metal & Art Division as less cadenced and more jazzed. “The diverse backgrounds of the employees blend well with the scientists and engineers we deal with on a daily basis.” That’s one reason why the Metal & Art Division hired its latest employees, Emily Brodersen and Darin Russell, from the field of architecture to bring fresh approaches to their projects.
Attention to detail
A variety of experience lends flexibility — and that’s a prime characteristic for the creative minds at TMCO. “Our employees use both their left and right brains,” Dan Moore says. In addition to individual architectural or art projects, the Metal & Art Division also takes on small custom jobs from the TMCO fabrication department. This small team is also charged with producing equipment for the National Cereal Chemistry line, another of the company’s mainstays. “This equipment is assembled and tested by the guys who are also working on the latest art-related project,” he explains, “because the attention to detail is an absolute must in both fields.”
And then there’s “National Sprinkler” — a hose-guided lawn sprinkler that was invented in the thirties and one that has in the meantime achieved cult status in the U.S.A. In 1985 TMCO took over these operations and the team of eight is also responsible for this product. “Each employee has a specialty but it’s very common for the same person to touch a sprinkler, part of an art project and cereal chemistry equipment all in the same day,” Dan Moore points out. This creative concept has certainly borne fruit. TMCO has quadrupled in size since its founding. As a job shop for every need — including the artistic — the company has made a fine name for itself.
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in autumn 2010.