4 Star Tool & Die in Wichita, Kan. builds tools, dies and other metalworking solutions for customers ranging from major worldwide manufacturers to the guy walking in off the street looking for a part to repair his lawn trimmer. A true job shop with more than 30 years of experience, no job is too big or too small for Ron and Shawna Miller and their team.
The company was started in 1980 by Ron’s father and four partners – hence the name 4 Star Tool & Die. By 1997, through death and retirement, Ron’s father, Ed Miller, became the sole owner of the business. Not long after, he offered to sell the business to Ron and his wife, Shawna.
“He approached my wife and I in the fall of 1999 and said, ‘Well, I’m going to retire so you can either buy the business or find another job,’” said Ron Miller, owner of 4 Star Tool & Die. “It wasn’t quite what I had planned years ago, but we decided to buy the business and try to make a go of it.”
The business was founded on building class A dies, stamping dies, progressive dies, form dies… just about any type of die. However, over the year the economy and the industry has changed with the introduction of lasers and new technology so, like many other job shops, they’ve had to adapt to meet different needs.
“We still build dies, although few and far between now because the needs of the customer have changed,” said Miller. “Today we do a lot of fixturing work. We make a lot of specialized tooling per customers’ drawings.”
For the past 15 years, 4 Star has used punch and die components from Impax Tooling Solutions®, a division of Wilson Tool, in their tool and die production.
“We’d used tooling from other manufacturers because we didn’t know about Wilson Tool or Impax. When the offer came to give them a chance, we did and found out that their quality is every bit as good as they claim,” said Miller. “After having dealt with other manufacturers, sometimes the quality is not the same as what’s advertised. Impax has done a great job of delivering on that promise of quality.”
But what has really made a difference in the way 4 Star does business today is the ability of Impax Tooling Solutions® to provide high quality custom solutions.
Purely by chance, 4 Star’s sales person from Wilson Tool, Scott McMillan, happened to be visiting the shop one day when a customer submitted a truly unique request, which Miller shared with him.
The customer was looking for a punch and bushing that were very non-conventional and unlike anything that would come close to a catalog item – something they had developed for their own use.
McMillan looked at the request and thought that it was something Impax Tooling Solutions® could handle, so he asked Miller to give Wilson Tool a chance to quote it. Miller sent the electronic file to Wilson Tool’s sales desk and engineers, which came back with a solution and a quote the next day.
“The price was very reasonable, so we went ahead and placed the order,” said Miller. “It came in on time with the same top-notch quality as always and our customer was very pleased.”
The ability for 4 Star to partner with Wilson Tool on custom orders like this has changed the way they do business.
“It’s opened up new doors for us as far as how we consider building a tool,” said Miller. “We’re a small shop, so we don’t have all the resources the much larger shops have.”
Previously, if 4 Star received an order for a tool or die they could not produce in-house they would work with several local shops that provide services like wire EDM, CNC lathe or anything they couldn’t do on their own.
But according to Miller, that usually required the company to rely on several shops for a single job. The process meant that 4 Star’s lead times on custom orders were not very competitive.
“Now, I can take that job to Wilson Tool, which has big facilities and big capabilities and can provide a turnkey solution that we’d have to rely on several shops for otherwise,” said Miller. “So the turnaround is usually much quicker than getting it done locally.”
While not every custom job is a good fit for Impax Tooling Solutions®, Miller values the ability to work with a partner that not only provides high-quality tooling, but one that understands their business and is able to offer valuable insight and turnkey solutions.
“Scott has really been a champion for us at Wilson Tool. He’s very involved in making sure that we’re being taken care of and serviced,” said Miller. “And Konnie Helwig at the sales desk, as well as the engineering team, do an unbelievably good job of making sure we get the right solutions for ourselves as well as our customers.”
June 01, 2013