Made in America. It’s a three-word phrase that carries a lot of value, even though it might get thrown around too much in marketing circles. At HE&M Saw, however, that phrase is nothing short of a mantra. After a half century of producing its products from the ground up, the company continues to invest in innovation as well as its community.
For years, people would ask Doug Harris, the company’s president and CEO, why he didn’t take the company to China or somewhere else to produce saws at a lower price point. For many, his answer might have been a tad shocking: Moving outside of the United States was never an option, even if it meant more profits.
“I have a strong belief in America,” says Harris. “I’m a veteran, my father is a veteran, my brother served. I feel there has always been great opportunity here in the United States. I’ve always been very committed.”
Harris explains that American-made goods around the world are viewed as extremely high quality, and he wants HE&M to constantly prove that it always puts its “best foot forward. That means producing the best quality product and standing behind it,” he says.
The way the company achieves that level of quality is by producing all the parts for its saws in-house. It has its own weld shops, machine shops and electrical shops, so nothing has to be outsourced.
“We are very vertically integrated,” Harris says. “We learned that you’re only as good as the quality of the product that you bring in. But how do you guarantee the quality of the standards of the parts that you bring in? By being vertically integrated, if we had a problem, I could go immediately to the source and be able to control the quality of the products. Being ‘Made in America’ allows us to produce a really high-quality product and do custom engineering for people.”
For HE&M, the benefits of producing its products stateside are vast. For customers buying American-made products, however, sometimes those benefits aren’t as obvious. Beyond jobs, Made in America products can improve local economies, result in higher quality products and give customers quicker access to service and support.
Giving Back to the Community
HE&M serves as a great steward of the philosophy that Made in America produces stateside jobs. But HE&M takes that idea to the next level. The company works with just about every walk of life in Pryor, Okla., where it’s been located for the past several decades.
In fact, HE&M regularly takes interns from local Oklahoma colleges as well as interns from colleges in nearby Missouri and Colorado. Harris also meets with representatives from local high schools to garner interest from young students in engineering careers.
As a veteran, Harris is also committed to helping other vets. He does so by working with Workshops for Warriors (WFW), the only accredited school in the nation that trains, certifies and helps place veterans, wounded warriors and transitioning service members into advanced manufacturing careers. As a proud member of WFW’s board of advisors, Harris works side by side with the organization that has graduated 388 students who have earned over 1,800 nationally recognized credentials in the industry.
With no federal, state, or local funding, WFW remains committed to keeping all courses free to the veterans who attend until the school is approved to accept GI Bill benefits in April 2019. HE&M has entrusted over $73,000 in saw donations to the school.
In addition to supporting the good work WFW does for U.S. veterans, Harris takes a different mindset where everything isn’t about profit. Yes, he admits that the company needs to make a profit to continue to do what it does, but as a privately owned company, there aren’t shareholders that he and the HE&M team have to answer to.
“Everything for us isn’t based on money,” he says. “Instead, everything is based on how we produce a product and then how we can take care of our employees and our community.”
Harris says the company has three generations of workers employed at HE&M. With 200-plus workers employed in a community of 10,000, the impact the company has on the region is palpable. For instance, if an average household is comprised of four family members, HE&M is affecting 800 people in their community.
“When you look at a community that’s 10,000 people,” he says, “we have an extremely large footprint here.”
Like so many companies based in the United States, HE&M could most likely do quite well making its products overseas with 30 or so salespeople spread around the country. But that wouldn’t help local economies much. Instead of having its employees spending their dollars at local businesses, the far-flung salespeople – even collectively – would have little impact on their local communities.
“We’re a family-owned business,” Harris explains. “Our employees are our family, and they’re our team members. When I take a look at the amount of people who have been with us for more than 20 years, for a company our size, that’s enormous. We have to be profitable, but it’s not always about the bottom line. That’s what Made in America means. God, country, community. We care.”
For HE&M, Made in America also means strengthening the country as a whole. The company’s advanced engineering prowess is making America stronger, literally. The company’s equipment is used in the aerospace industry – by Lockheed Martin, among others – to put together the equipment that sends people into space. The company also has equipment being used in the war effort.
“We have equipment in Afghanistan,” Harris notes. “We have equipment at facilities that build the ammunition that our servicemen and women use. We have equipment at Boeing where they make the aircraft for our military. We are involved in so many facets of our government. “
“We’re an engineering company that happens to build saws,” says Harris. “A friend of mine says we build equipment that builds America.”
Thanks to a knowledgeable engineering department and manufacturing personnel, HE&M is able to design and build a solution to almost any bandsawing application. Furthermore, the support service side of the company includes a national technical support network able to troubleshoot any problem via telephone or on site.
HE&M, which stands for Harris Engineering and Mfg., is also known for having replacement parts available for any model of saw, and the company will ship them out the same day they’re ordered. Staying with the American-made theme, any part the company doesn’t have in stock, it will purchase from other American companies and get them to the customer in short order.
“As a company,” Harris says, “we always put money back into research and development. Even in times of deep recession, we always put money back into R&D. This allows us to solve our customers’ problems.”
While the engineers continue To seek out advanced solutions for customers, they already have innovative products integrated into HE&M’s saws and material handling products. For example, they’ve introduced touchscreen controls that offer advantages related to improved diagnostics, improved icon-driven job and program entry, intuitive interfaces and integrated help files.
HE&M engineers are also currently working on designing next-generation controls that will improve capabilities added to the exiting platform, such as remote diagnostics and sensors, that have been added for closer monitoring and reporting of the saw’s functions and cutting performance.
The next-generation controls also include internal systems to provide suggestions and answers to sawing productivity questions. Report generation functionality helps management with job scheduling and operator performance. Finally, this new technology includes integrated maintenance reminders that will help to extend the life of the equipment.
The future also means developing a legacy system that is focused on helping customers get a faster payback and reduce the overall cost of ownership.
Manufacturers want shorter lead times on equipment, service and parts, and that’s something that fits into Harris’s philosophy about the way HE&M approaches its products. Harris says that if a product is put inside a container, it becomes a commodity.
“Commodity has never been something we do,” he confirms.
That’s because Harris knows that to remain competitive, his customers need their desired products, parts and service as quickly as possible. As many manufacturers and fabricators have learned, acceptable timeframes have dropped significantly in response to the current need-it-now economy.
In addition to quick lead times, HE&M saws are known for their fast processing speeds. In fact, over the years, many shop managers would often ponder how they could increase the speed of their saws to improve productivity, and HE&M always had an answer for them: Beyond engineering top-notch equipment, the company’s engineers also worked to provide customers with tailored solutions.
It’s not just about the speed of the saw. Efficiency serves as a huge factor in achieving greater productivity. For example, a saw is set to a specific speed to make a quality cut, but the optimal speed
is also chosen to prevent the blade from wearing out too quickly. Faster isn’t always better when it comes to cutting speed, and HE&M gets that. That’s why the company also focuses on other factors that can improve productivity, such as material handling technology.
“We’re really an engineering-based company,” Harris says. “And our goal is to engineer solutions for today as well as tomorrow.”
As an example, Harris points to an issue one of the company’s customers ran into. The customer lost more than $3,000 over one 10-hour shift cutting 33 bundles. One of the reasons they lost money was because they didn’t have a material handling solution. Whenever the saw was ready for a new bundle to cut, there wasn’t one ready to feed the saw. Because of its proximity, HE&M was able to visit the customer’s site and make the determination that a material handling system could help.
Every day, more and more service centers, mills and fabricators that cut high volumes of material are moving toward material handling systems. They want to move their material in and out of their saws more efficiently and effectively. At a moment’s notice, HE&M can step in and offer advice on solutions, configurations and more.
One solution developed by HE&M is its automatic bar feed with power conveyors that use power assist. Not only does it speed up the cutting process, it also takes the load off the bar feed and provides a smoother movement of material. This, in turn, provides more accurate cuts.
With various material handling solutions now in production, HE&M can turn a customer’s standard bandsaw into a profit center. From simple to complex systems, the material handling systems serve the same purpose – reduce the time and materials needed for efficient sawing while increasing production speeds.
Gerald R. Harris, Doug’s father, gained firsthand knowledge of machinery – and American pride – during the post-World War II industrial boom. After attending engineering school and through his tool instrument training, Gerald took an entrepreneurial approach; he began to build customized machinery for acquaintances out of his garage in Livermore, Calif., in 1964, officially founding his company – HE&M Saw.
The quality of his first pieces of customized machinery gained Harris a reputation and a following. Eventually, he moved out of that garage and into a 1,100-sq.-ft. facility 30-plus miles west in Hayward, Calif. He and three employees made up the entire company, but that would change soon.
It only took 13 years for HE&M to outgrow the shop in Hayward. Needing something more central in the United States, the company relocated to Pryor, Okla., which also provided HE&M better access to a skilled labor force.
Doug Harris followed in his father’s footsteps by going to engineering school. By 2003, Gerald was ready to hand over the company to Doug, who took on the role of president. Two years later, Doug bought the company from his father and is now president and CEO.
Harris says the engineering background runs deep in the family. His father helped develop the early nuclear test shops in Nevada before jumping into the saw business. Doug is an engineer, as are his son and daughter. They hire experienced engineers and always have an eye toward innovation.
From those humble beginnings, 200-plus HE&M employees can look back from their 250,000-sq.-ft. facility in Oklahoma and take pride in the fact that they are an American company making quality products. In fact, the company is now making 70 different models of production bandsaws for the metalworking industry, including vertical, horizontal miter, dual column and horizontal saws ranging in capacity from 12 ft. by 12 ft. to 80 ft. by 80 ft.