125 Years of American Manufacturing

Extreme How-To speaks to Jon DeArment, president and COO of Channellock Inc., about the company’s long-standing tradition of manufacturing high-quality tools in the USA.

How do feel Channellock’s American work force benefits your company?

To be able to say that our world-famous pliers are still made in Meadville, Pennsylvania, is a source of pride to everyone at Channellock Inc. This pride is felt in our nearly 400 associates we employ. We have associates who have been with us for upward of four decades, and even have second generation associates. That sort of pride, loyalty and professional experience is extremely valuable to the success of CHANNELLOCK®, and we think it shows in the quality of products we make.

From the point of view of the consumer who uses Channellock tools, what advantages in the design or performance of the final product can be attributed to your company’s tradition of manufacturing in America?

We believe that American manufacturing is the backbone of the U.S. economy. The best designed and crafted products in the world, like CHANNELLOCK® pliers, come from the United States. By manufacturing our pliers in Meadville, we’re able to fully control the quality of every plier we produce —from design to production to inspection and even to shipping. Thanks to our associates and lean manufacturing processes, we can fill orders to completion at a very high success rate. In addition to the high-quality product CHANNELLOCK® customers receive, American manufacturing also employs workers and supports families from local communities, and that’s something we are very proud of and believe our customers appreciate too.

The advantage is clear. You can find our iconic CHANNELLOCK BLUE® handled pliers in almost every toolbox and work truck around the world. Our typical clients are tradesmen and professionals, as well as DIYers. When you ask any dedicated tradesman what color their pliers are, chances are, he or she will answer “blue.”

Our customers choose CHANNELLOCK® tools over the competition because we’re deeply rooted in innovation and dependability. We invented the tongue-and-groove plier in 1933, and it has been an industry-best tool ever since. Unlike our competition, we don’t waste time constantly trying to design the latest gizmo or gadget to add to pliers. Instead, when we change something, we make sure it’s a needed change for tool users that will make their jobs easier. In 1965, we received a patent for the conical surface created on the cam side of the pliers when undercut. And in 1984, we received another patent for the PermaLock® fastener we added to our tongue-and-groove and slip-joint pliers.

Our customers know what they’re going to get in terms of performance and durability, whether it is our tongue-and-groove pliers, high-leverage linesman pliers or new American-made Professional Screwdrivers.

How do you feel Channellock has benefited the community of Meadville, Pennsylvania, and the regional economy at large?

Channellock Inc. moved to Meadville, a small town located in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, in 1904. We’re one of the largest industrial employers in the region, and provide a place of stable, professional employment with competitive wages and benefits, as well as reinvestment into our facility, technology and skill levels of associates.

Company size alone makes us unique among manufacturers in the region, and Channellock Inc. is very fortunate to have nearly 400 great associates who exemplify the family-owned spirit throughout the company, community, county and region.

As a company, we’ve always been very involved in the community and the region. With a strong commitment to excellence, innovation, ethics and philanthropy, CHANNELLOCK® is the first to acknowledge the importance of the people who live and raise their families in the community.

We are also very proud of our Falcon Program. This program is a multi-faceted initiative which encourages, celebrates and rewards associates who demonstrate, among other things, leadership skills through participation in community organizations. In 2014 there were eight nominations for the award.

Channellock Inc. consistently supports the local Little League, Crawford County 4-H Fund, the Pennsylvania Future Farmers of America (FFA) Foundation, Park, Relay for Life, United Way of Western Crawford County, George S. DeArment Ice Arena and March of Dimes among many other organizations. We also have associates who serve on various boards including the Advanced Manufacturing Industry Partnership, Precision Manufacturing Institute (PMI), Crawford County School District and Hand Tools Institute.

How do you feel the work ethic and character of your employees compare to the workers of other countries?

There is something special about our associates. There is a sense of pride and ownership in what we create in Meadville, Pennsylvania. Because of this, our associates, across the entire company, have a personal connection and vested interest in maintaining the high standards of quality that the CHANNELLOCK® name is known for.

In addition, many of our associates are involved in the community, and we encourage that. Whether it is being involved in local organizations, coaching youth sports or supporting local charities, our associates are a part of our community beyond the walls of Channellock Inc. This sense of local pride carries over into the work day and really drives home what it means to be an American manufacturing company.

Over the years Channellock has developed a proprietary manufacturing process that involves careful forging, computer-controlled dies and very controlled heat-treating procedures. With the advent of new technology such as 3D printing and the increased use of robotics, do you foresee any major changes in Channellock’s method of manufacturing in the near future?

CHANNELLOCK® has long been synonymous with innovation. Throughout our 129-year history we’ve had a laser focus on quality, which means that research and development have become an important aspect for every tool we make – whether that’s a new tool or an existing one that we can improve. Manufacturing has always been the enabler of innovation and a wellspring for new ideas.

With new technological advances, we’ve made a lot of improvements in our manufacturing process. Over the last 10 years, Channellock Inc. has also moved forward with major operational and plant infrastructure upgrades. Improvements included the implementation of a lean manufacturing program including a certification program that focuses on safety, quality and lean production systems, and maintenance awareness for production operators. A mechatronics apprenticeship program for the maintenance department was also implemented to help with the installation and care of new technologies.

The introduction of 3D printing has allowed us to develop prototypes for new tools and new potential improvements to existing products. It has been a welcome addition to our tool design process because it allows us to see how an idea would actually function before advancing too far along the process. As new technologies are introduced, we’ll continue to evaluate how we can implement them into our manufacturing process without sacrificing the CHANNELLOCK® quality our customers have come to expect from us.

Do you foresee any changes, good or bad, in the future of America’s manufacturing work force?

Manufacturing in America has been in decline in recent decades but we see it coming back. There have been many cases of reshoring, or bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. Last year we publicly congratulated the K’Nex Company for bringing the manufacturing of the American classic toy, Lincoln Logs, back to America. And this year we will continue to celebrate those companies that have chosen to reshore manufacturing to the U.S. and those who have always been American-made.

One challenge we see is making sure that we have a ready workforce for the American manufacturing renaissance. Recently there have been stories of companies that have good, well-paying manufacturing jobs available but struggle to find qualified candidates to fill them. We think that, as a nation, we need to refocus our attention to the trades. We need to celebrate those who use their heads and hands to make something. We need to go beyond simply saying that it is OK to be a welder, technician, plumber or electrician. We need to champion those who are committed to skills that this country needs to continue to be an economic leader in the world. While it may sound idealistic, this country was built by those who were willing and able to pick up a tool, and we are proud to play a part in that.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about Channellock’s rich tradition of American manufacturing?

When my great-great-grandfather George B. DeArment started hand-forging his own farrier’s tools in 1886, he did so because he was not content with the quality of tools that were available at the time. Today, 129 years later, that is the reason we’re still manufacturing in America. Our commitment to quality, continuous improvement and innovation is at the heart of what we do every day at Channellock Inc. I look forward to maintaining and expanding upon that tradition, while ensuring that we’re always producing the best pliers and hand tools for our customers.

Learn more about Channellock at www.chanellock.com, and read our extended interview at extremehowto.com!

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