Major Custom Cable, Inc. – Jackson
Scott Wachter, president of Major Custom Cable (MCC), Jackson, a manufacturer of cables for almost every conceivable electronic and data use, was about to meet with representatives from a Liechtenstein company. Liechtenstein is a tiny, wealthy principality that sits snugly between Switzerland and Austria.
Executives from that nation were coming to Missouri to test Wachter’s firm’s brand-new, 12-fiber, ultra-high resolution broadcast cable. Why has a team from a country many people have never heard of, much less visited, fly all the way to Missouri? “Because we are the only manufacturers of that p roduct in the U.S.,” Wachter says.
Liechtenstein is not a place Americans associate with business. But Wachter, whose casual use of words like ferrule, interferometer and end-face geometry point to decades of expertise, believes this miniature Alpine nation can create very good business for MCC. And Wachter says he has Becky Nace, assistant director, Mid-America TAAC and the TAAF program to thank for a good chunk of MCC’s success.
Since its inception in 1990, MCC has evolved into one of the largest manufacturers of data and communication cables in the United States. In addition to the Jackson business complex, the firm operates a wire facility in Massachusetts, a Canadian production unit and a contract manufacturing facility in Mexico.
Like many domestic manufacturers, however, MCC was hit hard by import competition, especially from China. Chinese manufacturers began churning out cables of acceptable — not great — quality for lower prices than those of MCC.
MCC had gone through ISO certification in 2000 with ISO-inspired improvements built it into their systems. But it wasn’t enough. The firm also considered lean initiatives, but they weren’t right for MCC, either. Lean concepts are more appropriate for assembly lines than a low-volume, high-variability one like manufacturing industry-specific custom-made cables.
“We felt like we needed to focus, to get our processes as good as we could get them,” says Wachter. “We had to sharpen our pencils to produce the same or a higher quality product at a competitive price.” The key, he felt, was rapid delivery, which is all but impossible for Chinese manufacturers.
In the meantime, Wachter heard about TAAF, and he contacted Nace in early 2012. Nace determined the firm met the program’s criteria. That Nace is also a Certified Global Business Professional, one of only about 1,400 worldwide, was a plus in understanding the business. Once the funds were available, MCC began to upgrade its development software to refine the company’s systems and to purchase an interferometer, which is essentially a microscope that uses electromagnetic waves to examine, in this case, fibers and ferrules (sleeves placed around the fibers to prevent splitting) in 3-D. The tiniest scratch, tear or imperfection in a fiber or ferrule can compromise the quality of the entire cable and the systems it supports.
Nace has been invaluable, Wachter says. “Becky has just been great to work with,” he says. “She always kept me abreast of things, and her help made the entire process straightforward. I am thankful for the program and for her help.”
Nace cautions that a TAAF grant, as valuable as it can be, is just a tool. Its effectiveness depends on the craftsman using it.
“I have seen similar companies fail to take action, and they are simply no longer in business,” she says. “Scott has made the best use of his funding and is on the right track. His leadership skills combined with the additional resources TAAC brought to the table have made a difference in the company’s competitive ability.”
A perfect example is the introduction of three new lines of cables, one of which is the broadcasting cable being eyeballed by the Liechtensteiners. “With TAAC funds, we went from behind the curve and not being able to compete in the worldwide market to ahead of the curve,” Wachter says.
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