RUSSIA — Earlier this month, Francis Manufacturing Co., here, quietly announced its acquisition of SMC Aluminum Foundry in North Baltimore, Ohio.
That’s the sixth takeover by the company since 1985, but President Bill Francis and Vice President Dave Francis are not interested in headlines about the firm’s growth.
“We just pull our boots on every day and come to work,” Dave said recently.
The Francis brothers are sons of the company founder, the late Thomas Francis, who started the operation in 1946 after returning from World War II service in the Navy. A case in the lobby pays homage to Thomas, displaying his Navy uniform, a letter written to his mother from the Philippines and a model plane Thomas created from shell casings and bullets.
Thomas and his brother, Leo, began by making aluminum pots and pans to replace those that housewives had donated to be melted down in support of the war effort, but it didn’t take long for the market to be saturated, Dave recounted.
Thomas and Leo flipped a coin to see who would keep the aluminum business. Leo won the toss, took $500 and opened a gas station. Then, he began selling garage doors and eventually sold out to Clopay.
Thomas began casting aluminum parts for Aerovent Fan in Piqua and Airstream in Jackson Center.
“They were growing, so we were growing,” Dave said.
Today, Crown Equipment is the company’s biggest customer; but the firm ships parts nationwide to some 200 others in industries ranging from lighting to medical equipment, firefighting fixtures to gasoline-pumping apparatus, popcorn machine pans to RV hinges.
Those millions of parts are custom-made using a sand casting process: Sand is filtered onto a pattern to create a mold. Molten aluminum is poured into the mold. If there are places in a part that should remain open, sand cores are inserted into the molds to prevent the molten metal from filling those spaces. After the metal cools and hardens, the sand mold and cores are broken away and the aluminum piece is filed to remove rough edges. The sand and extraneous metal pieces are recycled.
Francis Manufacturing pours 3 million pounds of aluminum each year. The work supports one shift of 135 workers and a small second shift in the cleaning and grinding room.
“We change 30 to 60 jobs every day,” Dave said. “We’ve been told that we’re one of the largest job shop foundaries in the U.S. Our niche is orders for 250, 500 or 1,000 pieces.”
While the foundry business in the U.S. has suffered from competition by companies in China and India, the local firm is growing, partly because it is too costly to ship small orders from Asia to the U.S. and partly because the number of area foundries has dwindled.
“In 1946, there were 35 in Dayton and 17 in Springfield. It’s down by about 80 percent,” Bill said. That’s left a door open for Francis Manufacturing.
“Our goal is to make each year a little better than the last,” Dave said. That happens through sales efforts, but also through acquisitions. The owners of SMC Aluminum Foundry, nearing retirement age, approached the Francis family about buying the North Baltimore operation.
“They were concerned about their customers’ receiving quality castings,” Dave added.
Other Francis acquisitions — Acme Precision Castings in Dayton in 1985, Arcanum Aluminum in Arcanum in 2003, Kerr Aluminum Foundry in Indianapolis in 2008, and Birkhold Aluminum, in Sentreville, Michigan, and Portage Aluminum in Portage, Michigan, both in 2009 — happened when owners called the Russia company or when the brothers put out feelers through suppliers for “mom-and-pop” operations that were struggling.
They did not purchase buildings or land. They moved appropriate equipment to the Russia location.
“We got more patterns and a new customer base,” Bill said of the takeovers.
The brothers have saved every pattern that has ever been used by Francis Manufacturing — 8,000 of them, about a third of which are still in regular use.
“But if someone comes in and wants replacement parts from years ago, we can make them. We still have the patterns,” Dave said.
He is quick to share credit with his employees for the firm’s prosperity.
“I don’t know if we could have survived in Dayton, Indianapolis or Cincinnati,” he said, “because these guys grew up knowing how to work. We attribute a lot of our success to good farm boy labor.”
The brothers are always looking for qualified applicants, they noted, and “we have an awesome pension plan for our employees,” Dave added.
For information about Francis Manufacturing Co., visit www.francismanufacturing.com.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.