James Dyson once said manufacturing involves much more than just putting parts together – “It’s coming up with ideas, testing principles and perfecting the engineering, as well as the assembly.” In Ohio, operational perfection and principled professionalism add to the engineering expertise of an enterprise whose solutions in precision machining support a wide assembly of industries.
Fredon Corporation of Mentor, Ohio, is a respected resource for complete manufacturing solutions involving precision machining. Operating from a 70,000 square-foot, climate-controlled facility, Fredon has amassed more than 30 CNC turning and milling machinery (of 3, 4, & 5 axis capability), the most state-of-the-art design tools, and a cadre of exceedingly-experienced machinists who are not only accustomed to working with the range of basic metals, but also highly complex castings, forgings and high-temperature Super-Alloys. Fredon additionally specializes in manufacturing not-so-easy machined materials; products comprised of plastic, fiberglass, polycarbonates, PVC and more. Beyond the machining of parts, Fredon also offers grinding solutions involving outside/inside diameter, centerless and surface grinding; processes which ultimately help eliminate excessive lead times when requirement call for close-tolerances (as tight as 0.0002). Customers further benefit from Fredon’s fully-integrated assembly services as well as the range of secondary services such as coatings, thermal treatments, welding and electrical component assembly; services that collectively empower Fredon to provide a complete manufacturing solution.
Fredon’s services are furthered by the focus on quality and in this case, that quality has not only achieved ISO 9001 certification, but also AS 9100C certification essential to become a trusted supplier of parts to the aerospace industry. Components produced by Fredon support the functioning of commercial airplanes, rescue helicopters, nuclear energy facilities, medical devices, locomotives and technology critical to America’s space program as well as instrumentation vital to national defense. Fredon is recognized as a Federal Aviation Administration Repair Station and is rated for limited power-plant, limited nondestructive inspection, testing and processing. Its experience in component repair and overhaul has enabled Fredon to work with a range of airline, OEM customers and small to mid-size engine shops throughout America. When quality and precision matters in high performance applications, some of the world’s most dynamic forces of industry rely on services provided by Fredon, and to be sure, the parts it has produced has beneficially impacted lives beyond one’s ability to immediately recognize. To that point, consider the housing deployed on the steel cable hoist from which a helicopter might lowers or raise the basket in a rescue operation; or consider the bearings, cams and shafts necessary to propel a powerful locomotive along a rail – these are just two examples of applications in which Fredon’s engineering expertise has been exacted.
Yet, don’t think the significance of this company’s work or its powerful client base has gone to the head of the company owner, Roger Sustar; a man who has been credited as a “manufacturing maven” and one of the top “Names to know in Northeast Ohio” by Crain’s Cleveland Business publication. Despite 44 years of operational fortitude and recognition in industry, in tones of utter humility, Sustar simply says, “I’m just a simple little guy in business trying to survive … if I had been highly educated in my youth and realized all I was getting into, I probably would have been too scared by the amount of work it was going to require, but I was stupid, just jumped into it and learned a lot as I went along … we’re just regular people here, trying to do something good.”
Fredon’s capabilities have evolved through Sustar’s guidance and adherance to principles of integrity, accountability and respect. While self-effacing and quick to credit the support he has received from his staff and colleagues in industry, Sustar’s professional character and values have certainly attributed to Fredon’s positioning as a trusted supplier of machined parts. Sustar started the company not long after being honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, an experience that found him stationed in Germany during the height of the Berlin Crisis. After returning home, he would marry the very woman that picked him up from the airport and go on to raise a son and daughter. His father was a machinist, and Sustar’s goals at that time were proving to his father that he too could run a successful business. He enrolled at a university for a time, but says after failing in the diagramming of English sentences, he opted to pursue a different path. His entry into the Machine Trades Industry occurred in 1965 when he landed a job with a company known as Non Ferrous Metals Fabricating. Four years later, a colleague of his father’s contacted him with an opportunity to invest an ownership stake in a metal fabrication enterprise and Sustar agreed to consider this, but said he wanted to talk it over with his wife. “That guy immediately called my dad and asked, ‘What kind of a wimp of a son do you have that he needs to discuss it with his wife?’”
Sustar went on to sole owner of Fredon Corporation, a company named from the combining of two names who were early partners (a “Fred” and a “Don”). Sustar acknowledges the early years were far from easy; competition and lack of capital resources were challenges he encountered along the way. At one point, more than twenty years ago, the fiscal situation seemed so bleak as to prompt a banker advising to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. As Sustar recalls, “This fellow was explaining how we could save our assets, but shirk our responsibilities to others we had been doing business with. I told the banker, this little guy wearing suspenders, I would just as soon kill him before I ever screwed anybody out of anything … somehow, I was going to pay off everyone I owe.” The bank, which had considered foreclosing, ultimately decided to loan the company more money. “They said I might just be crazy enough to turn the operation into a success,” says Sustar, who ultimately proved them correct. By the 90’s, loans had been repaid and Fredon Corporation was expanding its services and presence throughout the market to ensure a new era of profitability. None the less, profitability isn’t at the forefront of Sustar’s considerations. He will also share a story about a professional mentor who helped him don a new perspective as to life’s priorities. “I used to think work came first, then family, then God … today, I realize God has to come first, then family followed by work … and by putting God first, that ultimately benefits family and work.” Though conceding that he often falls short of being the absolute reflection of moral virtue that he would like to be, Sustar says principles are more important than profits. He expresses disappointment that this fundamental truth has been obscured in many professional practices today. “When I look at what is happening in corporate America, it is very disheartening. It is all about profitability, and many companies don’t care about how they’re affecting America … they don’t care about the communities from which they operate … it is so much about money, but business should be about something more.” This philosophy has contributed to Fredon’s advancing in quality standards, customer responsiveness, operational efficiency and expertise that makes the company such a model for industry.
The work of Fredon Corporation isn’t limited to what takes place on the floor of its plant, in fact, the company is also considered as a pioneer in youth training programs. Fredon was the first company within its region to develop a program introducing the machine trades industry to members of the Boy Scout’s of America Explorer Post 2600. After it inception in 1992, more than 350 scouts would go on to complete the program known as “Cannons of Fredon,” an initiative which also inspired other local companies to create similar educational programs.
In more recent years, Sustar was the driving force behind the creation of another initiative known as the Alliance for Working Together (AWT). This organization helped establish a forum for manufacturers to discuss common business issues and partner with local schools to develop specialized curriculum to ensure students are both properly trained and aware of opportunities that exist within the manufacturing industry, a move to help mitigate skill gaps in the increasing need for a new generation of welders, machinists and other professionals. One of the most fascinating byproducts of the work with students has been the creation of a RoboBot competition. Students from a variety of area schools annually construct a mobile mechanical contraption, complemented with a unique system of weaponry, for a much anticipated battle of the bots. Winning teams emerge to represent Northeast Ohio in a national level of competition. Sustar says that competition initially involved teams from 11 schools, but today, teams from as many as thirty different schools participate. What’s more Case Western Reserve University has stepped in to provide one of its engineering students to work with each respective team. The program advances education, accommodates hands-on training in the creation of mechanized metalwork and promotes interaction with the veteran machinists whose mastery of craftsmanship is evidenced everyday at Fredon Corporation. “What makes us feel really proud is to see the number of young ladies who participate on these team … they know how to build the devices, know how to take them apart, and some may go on to become engineers. They’ll be able to write their own ticket because there are companies that will want to hire women … it’s very exciting to see how this has grown,” says Sustar.
While Sustar expresses gratitude for the opportunity to work with area students, he also takes particular delight in working with his son and daughter. Though both pursued separate career paths for a time, they ultimately returned to Ohio to work with their father and are now fulfilling vital roles in sales and accounting for the company. Some years ago, Sustar went through a sudden mock exercise where he was informed that he could not speak a single word for the following three hours. During that time, he sat with his children in a boardroom where they were informed that their father had died during the night. The exercise was designed to determine what they would do next in terms of notifications, operations, procedures, etc. Sustar says it was an eye-opening exercise which helped drive successful succession planning, which is as essential to company staff as it is the customers they serve. And not that he is planning on fading from the picture any time soon, Sustar simply says when that day does arrive, he knows the company will be in good hands.
Through focusing on the future needs of its customers and employees, by fulfilling service to the best of its capabilities today while contributing to education critical to the advancing of industry, and providing quality in a process that promotes principled professionalism over profits, such is the foundation that has fostered success of the Fredon Corporation.
For more information, please visit their website at FREDON
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