Santiago Martin, a 10th-grade student at the Rochambeau French International School, recently completed a two-week internship with RMI. During that time he researched companies and interviewed RMI Board members representing various employers in the state. Since Santiago does not drive, all but one interview was by phone. Below is his interview with Doug Hamilton, President of Hamilton Associates. Santiago was referred to RMI by a representative of Local Motors who attended the May 3rd Techtonic Shift event

Today, I spoke over the phone with Douglas Hamilton III, the president of Hamilton Associates. As written on their website, it is the corporate and administrative backbone of three associated, but diverse manufacturing companies: ELSCO, ATI, and Dirt Killer. Elevator Safety Company or ELSCO is a company that manufactures parts that go into improving elevator safety and ride quality. Air Techniques International or ATI is a company that designs, manufactures, and tests equipment for specialized filters. Finally, Dirt Killer is the only distributor in the US of a high quality line of German pressure washers manufactured by the company Kränzle; in addition, it manufactures the Dirt Killer line of pressure washers, which use the Kränzle pump.

Douglas started by giving some historical information about Hamilton Associates. I learned that it is a third generation family business, currently being run by him. It started as a job shop in 1950, where they competed against other job shops to take orders from companies for customized mechanical parts. In the ‘60s, it bought its first company with ELSCO. They had noted that it was better to design and manufacture one’s own line of products, rather than competing to manufacture custom parts. Douglas explained that of the three companies owned by Hamilton Associates, ELSCO and ATI were more focused on assembly with machining of metal components and rubber in ELSCO’s case and with optical tech in ATI’s case. Dirt Killer, however, is now more of a distributor of pressure washers, rather than a manufacturer of them.

The two main technologies used by these companies that Douglas told me of are ERP systems and CNC machining. I learned of the vital importance of having reliable computer systems such as ERP systems. ERP stands for enterprise resource planning. It is a shared database, supporting multiple functions used by different business units, that stores, filters, and provides information for all employees in the company, as stated on Oracle’s website. Douglas explained how efficient it is in the sense that it allows an entire company to store archives of information into just one system, accessible to all. For example, he said that “better metrics give more visibility into problems.” In addition to ERP systems, these companies rely on CNC machining, a technology which they first adopted about two years ago. CNC machining stands for computerized numerically controlled machining, which is the name given to new automated systems. Douglas explained that before installing CNC machining, it could take several weeks to finally get out an order to a company because the product had to go through three machines, all with different uses, while waiting in line behind hundreds of other orders going through the same machine. This was very inefficient and now he says he is able to do the full process in a matter of hours. He referred to it as “reducing cycle times”.

I asked him how he stayed up to date on the latest technologies, to which he responded that he often reads publications from several media outlets that talk about technology. He also said that being a part of big networks of people such as RMI provides a lot of exposure to new technologies. Finally, he occasionally attends tech events like Impact Manufacturing in Las Vegas, to which he recently went.

We then discussed problems and concerns he had as a manufacturer. He affirmed that for all manufacturers, cost is and will always be an issue when trying to adopt a new technology. The example he gave was of the time they had to shut down all operations for several months because they were replacing all of the old machines, which dated back to the ‘70s, with new CNC machines. In addition to dealing with the high cost of the machines, they had to deal with not being able to produce over the course of several months, therefore missing out on orders. The solution to this problem was to increase production by the double or even more before shutting down, in order to compensate for the lack of production in the following months. This is where I learned the term “lean manufacturing”. This is a way of manufacturing that makes clear what adds value by reducing everything that doesn’t. It is a managing philosophy that originated in the Toyota Production System. Douglas told me that this philosophy was tough to adopt; however, in the end, it proved its worth. He has three main concerns. The first is that he does not want to take away good job opportunities by replacing them all with automated systems; however, his second concern cancels this one out in a way. He told me that they have experienced a very difficult time filling low- and un-skilled labor positions with reliable personnel.  Although they pay more than double the minimum wage, “there seems to be a shortage of quality workers at the entry level.” This second concern pretty much forces him to invest in autonomous machines as he said. The third and final concern is that he struggles to find people who are qualified to work with new machines. With the advance of technology, hundreds of new machines are designed every year and it becomes close to impossible to find someone who knows their way in and out of the system. His solution for this, he said, is hiring individuals who are motivated and willing to learn and, essentially, investing in training them to work with these machines.

We concluded the interview with him asking me why I’m interested in manufacturing, to which I answered that I’m fascinated with new technologies, especially the ones that go into designing and manufacturing automated vehicles such as Tesla cars. We briefly commented on the evolution of technology and how it affects the workplace. After this and to finish, he just cleared up a couple things to me regarding all the information he gave me over the course of the interview and then we were done, after a good hour of speaking.

-Santiago Martin